Seven Observations From My Day at the Job Fair

by Bugni, Dawn Monday, November 09, 2009
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Today, I’m sharing some observations and insights gained while volunteering to do resume reviews at a local mall for a job fair. To say I’m disgusted by what I saw is an understatement. And I’m not talking about the resumes. I’m used to seeing boring career autobiographies, all out career confessionals and self-centered, “this is what I want” documents. That’s not what bothered me. That can easily be fixed. That’s what I do. What got to me was the sheer laziness of the job seekers I met. I am appalled and want to use them as a good lesson in how NOT to approach a job fair, or a job search for that matter.

I understand, from here on, I am generalizing. I also get there are people who understand a job search requires effort and time and energy and follow-up and more effort and some research and more follow-up and even more effort. I’m not talking to them. Those enlightened, focused searchers can stop reading now or pass the link along to a friend who isn’t quite up to speed on the fact that jobs don’t magically appear and the world doesn’t owe them a living.

Now, on to things I learned at the job fair:

1. Show up when offered an opportunity to network with business owners, employers and career people. In 4 hours, I spoke with only 12 people. (I kept a tally to measure efficacy of the event versus my time to participate.) Every exhibitor there commented on the lack of traffic and the lack of participation by local job seekers. If I were not an eternal optimist, I would have packed up after the first hour. I believed things would pick up. They didn’t. And the event was well publicized.

2. Dress the part. Do you know how many flip-flops, t-shirts (with questionable logos), ripped jeans and halter-tops (on women who had NO business in halter-tops) I saw? People, if you want a job, look the part. Slovenly is NOT business casual. If you don’t care enough to look your best, how are you going to convince a potential employer you care enough to do a good job for them?

3. Be able to articulate what you do and what you seek. I sat next to a woman who was recruiting for a local power company. She politely asked everyone what s/he did; what type of position s/he sought. One guy said, “I want a job in business”? What the ____ does that mean?? Prepare a 30-second elevator speech to sell your skills immediately. Don’t know what an elevator speech is? Google it. There’s plenty of info out there; even some YouTube videos to help you boil down skills and express the value you bring to an employer in 30-seconds. By the way, “I’ll do anything” (another frequent refrain) is NOT a job search strategy and makes you appear weak and desperate.

4. Leave your bad attitude at home. One attendee stormed over the power company booth and demanded to know why the booth, two spaces down, was unmanned. “I filled out this application and now I don’t know what to do with it.” To Yolanda’s, the power company rep, credit, she got up, went to the other booth and tried to show the woman what she needed to do and help her figure out where to turn in the application.

True the booth sponsors should have been there or left better instructions, but Earth is a tough town and sometimes the difficulty in the application process is part of the screening. If you can’t figure out how to handle something that is going to benefit you on your own, how effective are you going to be when it comes to problem solving for a potential employer?

Anyway, this woman became more and more agitated. Finally, rather than breathe any more of this Negative Nellie’s venom, Yolanda agreed to take the application and turn it in for her. Yolanda then spent 15 minutes walking to and from the mall office to turn in the application. Frankly, she was much kinder than I would have been. I probably would have trashed the application. (Not really, but I would have thought about it really hard and at least editorialized when I did turn it in...) NO employer deserves to be subjected to that “the world owes me” attitude. Here’s someone trying to her best help and all this attendee can do is spit venom and whine about how inconvenient things are for her. Later!

5. If you’re going to a job fair, bring your resume. Pretty obvious, but I overhead, several attendees say, “No I didn’t bring my resume with me today.” Hello. You’re attending a job fair and you left your resume at home??? I have no words.

6. When offered free job search advice jump on it. I have an interview prep package I provide all my resume clients as a thank-you for doing business with me. It’s also available on my Web site for the nominal fee of $20 for non-clients. Part of my giving back to the community was to give anyone that spoke with me that interview prep package for free – FREE. I started out making an email sign-up sheet, but decided I was taking already a day out of my work week to help and really didn’t want to end up with a typing project when I got home after volunteering. (I was anticipating a lot more traffic than materialized.)

What I did instead was hand every person a business card, told them to send me an email requesting the interview prep info, letting me know they’d met me at the expo – didn’t have to be pretty, didn’t have to be properly punctuated. I wanted them to take some initiative and save me having to type in their email address. After all, I’m giving them something for nothing. The only requirement was to go home and send a simple email. Did anyone, ANYONE do it??? You guessed it. Not one unemployed, job-seeking soul took the initiative to send that simple email and request a valuable package of interview information. (And I waited six days before I proclaimed no one took the initiative.) Guess they’re too busy lamenting the sad state of affairs to actually put fingers to keyboards and do something about it.

7. Say thank-you. Not as proof that you’re polite, but as a way to network and reinforce and resell your value. Of the 12 resume reviews I did, not one person sent a follow-up email. Remember, I gave them a business card with my name and email address. If no one emailed me, it’s a safe assumption no one took the time to a send thank-you to the people who interviewed them or provided information about open positions either.
In not following up, they missed an opportunity to grow their network and have an extra set of eyes out there helping them find gainful employment.

I may appear to be out of the loop because I work out of a home office, but I talk with people around town and across the country every day, via telephone and various social media outlets. Frequently, I’ll have worked with a client, hear about a job that fits their skill set and send them the lead. I won’t recommend people I’ve not actually worked with outside resume creation, but I will share job leads when I get them. None of those 12 unemployed, people I spoke with will ever have the benefit of that resource because none of them made the effort to follow-up or expand their network.

To say I am disappointed by what I saw at this particular event is an understatement. Now, when I read unemployment figures are at 9.1% (or whatever it is for this week), I not only mentally correct the perspective – 9.1% unemployment is 90.9% EMPLOYMENT – I silently add...“and probably a good portion of that unemployed figure stems for the ridiculous lack of initiative I witnessed”. What a sad testament to the American spirit. The America I know pulls itself up by the bootstraps and makes things happen. The America I saw on the 25th saddens me.

Would I participate in this event again? Probably. It’s that indomitable Pollyanna perspective I possess. I do truly want to help others, so yes, I’d put myself through this again. Besides, sometimes, bad things are good examples of how not to be and I can share that experience with my readers. This was one of those bad things/good examples times.