By Joanne Kelleher
Last week SecureRF had the opportunity to participate in a career fair sponsored by the University of Connecticut’s School of Engineering. There were 60 firms participating that day plus another 60 who attended another fair earlier in the month. The fairs targeted all UConn engineering and computer science majors who were looking for co-ops, internships or full-time positions after graduation. It was clear that many of the students attending were just starting to think about the job search process and could use some advice. So I thought it would be helpful if they could understand what we are looking for.
Identify the firms who are recruiting for your major.
Several students were wandering around with a deer in the headlights look. UConn collected from each firm a description of their business, their website and which majors/level they were looking for. This information was published online before the event and was available on paper at the student registration table. There is no way you can talk to 60 firms even if you stayed for the entire length of the fair. By using this list to identify which firms are interested in your major you reduce the number of firms you need to meet with to a more manageable size.
Spend a few minutes reviewing what these firms do.
Many students approached our table and their leading question was “What do you do?” or “Are you hiring interns?” Since we already provided that information these students did not make a good first impression. Even if the student looked at our banner (SecureRF & Securing the Internet of Things) or read the sign on the table that listed of skills we are looking for (embedded firmware engineer, UHF / NFC RFID engineer, Java web developer, etc.) they could have come up with a better question. We loved when a student approached us with a comment like “How do you secure the Internet of Things?”, “How does your anti-counterfeiting solution work?”, “What would an Android developer do at your firm?” or “What type of cryptography are you using?” I can tell from our web traffic that we had visitors to our site before, during and after the event. I was also surprised by how many students were unfamiliar with the phrase “Internet of Things” since it is such a buzz word right now.
Talk to firms who are recruiting for your major even if you have never heard of them before.
UConn gave the students name tags that had their first name and major in large letters that we could read from a distance. We watched many computer science majors line up to talk with a Fortune 100 firm who was next to us yet walk past other firms looking for the same major. I started approaching students walking by who had a major we were interested in. Having worked for large and small firms there are pros and cons to each, don’t focus just on the Fortune 100.
Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear.
When we ask what software languages you know, don’t just limit to the ones you were taught in class, we want to hear about what you learned on your own too. We specifically asked what students were passionate about and the responses varied. CS, CSE or CompE majors who could only talk about the one language they learned in class and haven’t applied these skills on their own are not the types of people we are looking for. We love seeing students who are self-motivated enough to learn a new language, experiment with single board computer or build something cool, whether a game app, robot or a solution that helped the firm they worked for over the summer. Enthusiasm about your major, even if the specific topic could be considered really geeky, goes a long way.
Presentation is important but not the way you think.
At a college event I am less concerned about the way students are dressed than I am at a traditional job fair. Your dress shoes are at home and you wore your suit with hiking boots – I understand that. Khakis and a collared shirt between classes are fine too. But an untucked t-shirt and gym shorts are too casual. I am more focused on your interpersonal skills. Can you look me in the eye and hold a conversation? A firm, dry handshake gives a good impression; one that is clammy and cold tells me you are nervous so go wash your hands in warm water; and a handshake that is so firm that it bruises leaves a lasting impression of another kind.
Following up with the firms you liked.
If you were really impressed by a firm, send them a follow up email, even if you aren’t available until May. It lets us know you are interested and motivated. Since we did not hand out business cards (on purpose) if we get a message it means you had to spend a few minutes finding my work or recruiting email on our website. Looking ahead to the interview process, follow your grandmother’s advice and send a thank-you note to the person who gave you the gift of their time.
On the flip side of this, we are getting ready to send a message to all the students who gave us resumes. It is much easier for us to do this if you include your email address on your resume. We will also be further communicating with the people we liked and want to learn more about.
Kudos to the UConn School of Engineering and Career Services department who did a nice job running the event. We enjoyed speaking to the staff and faculty members who attended. Thank you for my new pin – I am a UConn Grad.
Best of luck to all students on their job search. Go Huskies!