Beating job-fair jitters

Mar 3rd, 2009 | By | Category: Job Fairs


One of the most efficient tools that recruiters use to meet a lot of talent in a little time is the job fair. Colleges hold them, journalism associations organize them and so do individual media companies.

What do you do if you’re just not comfortable with the whole job fair scene? What if you feel like road kill, run over by others who are more confident, but no more qualified than you, and drive up for the opportunities?

You just have to move out of your comfort zone and learn how to join the fair. Here are some tips for handing the jitters:

People handle stress in different ways. Some get excited, more animated and even seem to think sharper under pressure. Job fairs are great for them. Others get frazzled, go quiet and feel they can’t think of the right answers fast enough. They feel awkward. If you are one of these people, the secret is to break down the job fair and to put it on your terms. Approach it as one interview at a time. You are not on display in front of all these people. After all, they are busy doing their own interviews. They are not all looking at you. During your interview, the job fair becomes just two people — you and the interviewer. Hear just what he or she is saying. Don’t be distracted by what could seem to be a sideshow going on around you. It is not important. All that matters — and it matters just for the time you are there — is what happens in the six-foot circle around you and the recruiter. Just as good recruiters try to create tiny pools of listening and attention inside noisy job fairs, you should isolate the interview space as a tiny pool that you can easily manage.

Everyone gets anxious for important job interviews. That’s just natural. But some people show it more than others. Some people sweat more than others. Some can feel their skin flush and know that their necks or faces are turning red. Others may get a little tongue-tied.

If you’re one of these people, start coping by being honest. One student who knew she turned red when she was nervous told me during the interview that she was nervous and asked whether she looked red. I said she did, a little, and we both laughed about it. With that out of the way, the student’s discomfort melted away a little, her normal color returned and we went ahead to the interviews. If you’re concerned about nerves, just bring it out in the open. Say, “I’m pretty nervous meeting you.” You’ll start to feel better immediately.  It is far better to admit that your anxious and to wipe your brow that to sit there and try to hold the sweat in. Most recruiters can see what is going on, anyway, and will appreciate your good humor in breaking the tension.

One strategy to make job interviews less stressful is by doing more of them. Although practicing your interviewing skills puts you through torture more than you’d like, it prepares you for the truly important interviews by getting you used to different recruiters’ approaches and questions.

Some people hate job fairs because they seem so artificial. They don’t feel comfortable “schmoozing,” “working the room” or “playing the game.” It can feel like a meat market.

That’s understandable. I have started conversations with thousands of people, and I am comfortable doing that because I am interested in finding out a little about who they are and what they’re thinking. If I hit someone who is no fun to be around, I don’t worry about it. The next one is usually better.

In some cases, applicants are intimidated not so much by the recruiters, as by the other candidates. Some people are so smooth, so polished and so knowledgeable about the industry, you feel you’ll look just awful next to them. Don’t worry about it. The person may not be as impressive as you — or they — think they are.

I once met a candidate who knew the industry better than I did, who had heaps of experience and a great resume. He dropped names and lorded his contacts and connections over fellow students. He could have used his knowledge to help the others, which would have impressed the recruiters, but he chose instead to show off and to pick away at the other people’s confidence. He was a bully. Recruiters noticed that, instead.

Don’t let people trick you into thinking that it’s all about who or what you know. It isn’t. It’s all about who you are, what you do and what you will do. Media managers want results. People who have nice suits, talk about their connections, exhibit how much they know about the industry or how many business cards they collect are not necessarily better journalists than those who do their work. And, yes, we do notice when people help each other out.

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One Comment to “Beating job-fair jitters”

  1. [...] Calendar of upcoming journalism conventions and job fairs. Top things to do — and not do — at a job fair. Beating the job fair jitters. [...]

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