It seems to be a torturous right of passage to make college students go to a job fair. It is my worst nightmare to have to talk to people who could affect my education while they judge me as a person and as an employee from a 3-minute discussion.
I’ve found that for the most part, my classmates don’t really agree with me. The anxious kids are generally on my side, and sometimes other non-traditional students like me, but in general, your neurotypical mentally stable average college student find the idea of dressing up and talking to people in their field and the possibility of internships or employment to be exciting.
I took a management course last semester, and I learned a lot about what employers expect, and a lot of them were brand new information to me, so since I have to go through this, you have to learn about it too.
1. How You Dress- What’s the difference between a golf shirt and a polo shirt? I’m still not sure, but I know that it’s important, because one of them is more business casual than the other. And in this situation, business casual is important, mostly because on one end, it’s a breath away from being casual, on the other end, it’s almost formal. Formal is what you need for a job interview; for me, that means a suit and tie. For this job fair though, business casual is fine, but not the lower end. I plan to wear purple dress pants and a button-down shirt. Apparently having something interesting about your dress can let employers remember you, so I aim to be the purple-pants-person. For some reason, people are really judgey about what you wear, don’t ask me why. But doing some research about dress can make a huge difference.
2. Your Body Language- People who are in the position to hire you want to know a lot about you very quickly, and that means that they rely on body language a lot. Like way more than normal people. From what I’ve heard, body language can tell how confident you are, if you’re outgoing or not, even if you’re trustworthy. Gut reactions rule when it comes to professionalism. I do know for a fact that my standard body language doesn’t show any of this, but luckily, it can be faked. Standing up straight is important, as is (at least the image of) eye contact. You want to shake with a firm-but-not-finger-breaking grip, and staying as calm as possible can make you seem more confident. Basically, the rule of body language is if you act like you know what you’re doing, then people will believe it.
3. Your Expectations in Life- Interviewers love asking questions, usually about what you want for your future. Being prepared to say why you’re majoring in your major, and what kind of job you see yourself in can go a long way. My Management Professor drilled into us that no one’s going to hire someone who doesn’t have at least some idea of what their future looks like when it comes to education or employment. So having some talking point memorized will definitely help, and while I’m not usually a fan of dishonesty, I think that in this situation, making up some details to talk about won’t hurt anybody; you can always change your mind later.
4. How Much Prep You Did- Apparently not extensively researching the companies you’re talking to is a massive faux pas these days. I have my doubts that an interviewer is really going to care if I know what their mission statement is verbatim, but then again, I find a lot of these professionalism requirements kind of ridiculous. What I can say, is that if you’re really interested in a company (or in my case, a nonprofit), knowing a few things about them can’t hurt. Especially if what they do is something you’re passionate about too. I always like knowing projects that some of my favorite nonprofits have been working on because it gives us something to talk about, plus you know if they’re the sort of people you’d want to be working for. So, research something you’re interested in, not just something that proves you can memorize stuff.
5. Things You Can’t Control- Thanks to autism/auditory processing/hearing loss/learning disabilities, there are things that advice from some random blog (thing one) can help with. I have a serious case of raptor hands that no amount of paying attention can stop me from doing. When I get stressed (for example at a job fair) my ability to communicate verbally drops drastically, plus my echolalia increases, which is always fun to explain. What I’m saying is that no one’s ever going to be perfect, regardless of if they’re neurotypical or neurodiverse, and being prepared is the best thing you can do. Whether it’s a job fair, an interview, or just a meeting, know where you’re going, know what you want to look like, and know what you want to say. The best you can do is your best.
I know I’m in for years of this process, I’m hoping by the end I’ll have a decent handle on it. And, as always, if you’ve got tips, I’d love to hear them!