resume advice, career fairs, friendships, and other advice for new grads trying to find a job

In response to Monday’s post about how to get hired when you’re just starting your career, commenter Chris left a response that I thought was so helpful and insightful that I wanted to share it here. Here are the parts I liked best, but you can read the full comment here.

Recent grad here. And when I say recent, I mean graduated 17 months ago recent. Some disorganized random thoughts:

a) Find someone in your circle that does hiring and get them to check your resume. When I was in college, I had about 5-6 career counselors and professors look over my resume during my Jr and Sr year (when applying for research and internships), and the feedback was always “this looks good. I’ve got nothing to add.” Since graduation, I’ve regularly gotten my resume checked by people at the unemployment office, by networking people, and by professional engineers, and only one person has given meaningful improvement advice (stuff other than “use a sans-serif font or switch from a 10 to 12 pt font in the descriptions”), and she actively hires at Hexcel and teaches people how to deal with Boeing’s notorious filtering software. The point: you’ll probably get much better feedback from people that actively hire in your field than from anyone else sadly.

b) Grown-up career fairs are your friends. Here’s the thing:

-College career fairs have about 600-700 people show up, each with a resume in hand. The other part: college students are very high energy, and have been taught how to network career fairs via the Internet, classes, or workshops. And everyone there is willing to talk about in-field developments. And the lines for SpaceX and Tesla are slightly longer than the line for Splash Mountain.

-Grown-up career fairs are a very different animal. There are a lot less people and that element of hyperness in college fairs is missing. At college fairs, you’ll hear in-line talk of Falcon 9’s and Elon Musk’s amazingness. At grown-up career fairs, the nouns “Falcon 9” and “Elon Musk” will be replaced with the noun “ex-wife.”

The short answer: at college fairs numbers are not on your side, everyone has been trained to talk at these fairs, and energy is high. It is a lot harder to leave an impression on anyone if you aren’t already Jesus. At grown-up fairs, there’s a lot fewer numbers, and the atmosphere can get more dreary than a swampland graveyard. High-energy & optimism makes it easier to leave an impression and the less numeric competition plus the less likelihood that the other people there have been trained to commericialize at fairs can get you more interviews. Personally, in 5 years attending college career fairs, I’ve never gotten an interview. Meanwhile, I’ve netted 2 in fairs post-college.

f) Networking is good. If you went to a networking seminar in college, you were probably told to send networking emails, “develop a relationship with your networkee,” and “network for hidden job opportunities” or what-not. In real life, people are busy, and many many emails you send out will not get a response back. And if you do get a response back, it won’t be about a “hidden-job opportunity,” it’ll usually be some basic hiring information with a “times are tough, good luck” tag at the end. Unless you are asking about what it’s like to work in field X. Some people write really well crafted responses to these.

g) The hardest part of this whole thing is being lost in the fog. You will have 10-20 people telling you that you’ve been doing everything right, and yet nothing falls through. And since, according to every online source and every person at your career center (city and college), you’ve been doing “everything right,” figuring out where to improve becomes an impossible nightmare. When this feeling hits, relax, and grab an IPA. And remember that you’re not alone.

{ 60 comments… read them below }

  1. TL*

    I would just like to point out that the “shared interests” works just as well for women as men, and maybe don’t “run game” on every woman who brings up an awkward subject.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ha, right after I published this I realized that I’d inadvertently included that part of it in the excerpt I used, which I hadn’t intended to since it wasn’t the piece that I thought was especially helpful :)

      (Removed it from the excerpt here, if anyone is wondering what that refers to.)

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I went back to the original to see what you were referring to. Now that I have the context, what is he saying? In spite of the examples, I don’t even know what ‘run some game’ is supposed to mean, although it doesn’t sound complimentary.

            1. Chris*

              Think of it like this:

              If you see a girl you are attracted to, your goal at the end of the interaction (hopefully) is to have her number. However, if you want it to go anywhere, mutual interaction isn’t enough. You have to build arousal. If you talk with her just about interests but don’t build any attraction, such as by having stories that demonstrate your high value or by breaking the touch barrier early, you run the danger of getting friend-zoned, and if that happens, you’re done.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                For what it’s worth, you’re going to find very few happy, socially well-adjusted men over the age of 30 who stand by that kind of philosophy :)

              2. llamathatducks*

                Ugh but the point is, if you separate all the people you meet into “guys, who are people I can talk to about things their interested in” and “girls, who need to be wooed and seen primarily as objects of attraction,” that’s actually pretty dehumanizing to the women because it means you’re seeing their humanity through a lens of She Is Sexy And I Must Seduce Her.

                1. llamathatducks*

                  Plus in your original comment your context wasn’t “if you meet a girl you think is attractive, do this” – which I wouldn’t’ve agreed with anyway, but would have at least made some sense. It was “if a girl asks you about your job search, distract her by trying to seduce her (but if it’s a guy just talk to him about something else),” which pretty much puts ANY woman who you might be talking to into that role.

              3. llamathatducks*

                Also this philosophy is just flat-out inaccurate in a lot of cases. A lot of women (myself included) don’t feel comfortable with physical closeness until after they trust someone as a friend. (I really hope you’re not touching women without their consent!) And as a woman with a history of unrequited attraction to my male friends, I doubly scoff at the notion of “friendzone” as something women inflict on men, both because I’ve repeatedly experienced what many men call “being friendzoned” and because I was friends with these men BEFORE I was attracted to them (and clearly the friendship did not preclude the attraction!).

                If you actually talk to women about their emotions and their histories you’ll find that you simply cannot make these crude generalizations that treat women as predictable machines. Unless, of course, your goal is to manipulate vulnerable women into sleeping with you, which just doesn’t make you a good person.

                I’m sorry for so many comments, I just have a lot of feelings about this! I do appreciate your otherwise very good advice, Chris, I just cringed SO hard when I read this part of it.

              4. TL*

                Just to be clear, since I’m in your age range – a lot of people who “break the touch barrier early” with me get labelled as People I Stand at Least 6 Feet Away From.
                People who make a point of showing how awesome they are – I’m making fun of you in my head. (Or out loud, if I think you’re not going to realize I’m making fun of you.)

    2. Cat*

      Oh come on, that implies women are people with interests rather than possessions to be won! That can’t be right!

  2. holly*

    the first one definitely. i had a career counselor at my grad school review my resume, and she gave me weird advice that would not be appropriate for my field. it was clear she only understood certain types of jobs.

      1. Josh S*

        Falcon 9 and Elon Musk refer to themes of innovative, forward-looking applicants. In a crowd of 3000 people all talking about the very latest thing to post to Gizmodo, it’s hard to stand out. Nearly everyone has the newest catchphrase/jargon/next-big-thing dripping off their tongues, so it’s not a good way to differentiate yourself.

        However, if everyone at a “grown up” career fair is talking about the ex-wife, knowing about the newest thing CAN be a good way to differentiate yourself.

        The whole thing is just an illustration on standing out (for good reasons) vs. being just like everyone else.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          I dunno, wouldn’t being able to correctly use the jargon of your career speciality and speak intelligently on topics related to it be an even better way to stand out? Talking about ex’s or the meme-du-jour seems a lot like putting your hobbies on your resume.

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              Yes, but you don’t stand out by the chit-chat in line, because at that point, you’re not talking to anyone hiring.

              However, the overriding point is still valid: having energy and standing out is a good thing.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I think he was making a point about one set of career fair attendees being consumed with a certain type of industry news, and the other being less so.

                1. EngineerGirl*

                  I strongly disagree. One group is looking at the product (new rocket) while the older group is looking at something more subtle but just as important – the funding of the product. Don’t forget that Musk claimed bankrupt during his first divorce which affected finances for Tesla.

                  These dirty little things can make or break a company in Silicon Valley.

                2. Chris*

                  Can’t find a good place to leave this. I think there’s a mild misunderstanding here:

                  When I referred to “Elon Musk” and “Falcon 9”, I was mainly getting into the line atmosphere and typical subject of chit-chat. It doesn’t have to be about Elon or his rocket, it could be other subjects (composite advancements, new designs in field X, Grand Theft Auto 5, programming, etc.). Basically, from my small sample sized world, it’s higher energy, and the people in line, if you start a convo., are more willing to talk about industry or stuff they know.

                  At grown-up fairs, if you start a convo. with a person in line, you have to prepare for the fact that the guy in line will bring up his own divorce or his ex-wife (not Elon’s), which is one of the fastest ways to kill a high energy mood. This is part of the reason why grown-up fairs seem as cheery as a morgue.

  3. Josh S*

    “It is a lot harder to leave an impression on anyone if you aren’t already Jesus. ”

    Awesome line.

  4. Lanie*

    Question from a hiring manager – where are all the recent grads these days? My company hires liberal arts majors’ for research and writing heavy positons. Normally we have lots of applicants interested in doing this type of work, but we placed an ad last week and seem to only be getting mid-level people. We really want and can afford are entry-level folks and we are just not getting that this time around.
    I’m curious if something had changed recently and suddenly recent grads are being grabbed up immediately upon graduation and we have to wait until June. We’re in the DC area. Anyone else noticing this?

    1. Zahra*

      Did you contact local colleges to post to their job boards? Some recent grads rely on those boards. If you can, connect with some teachers in the departments, some are very willing to send job postings to their recent grads.

    2. College Career Counselor*

      Agreed with Zahra on contacting local (or other) career offices. Many have postings for alumni. Are you looking for current seniors, or people who graduated in May 2013? You might be in-between, as the current crop of students is not ready to apply (ie, 7 more months of school), and the recent grads may be booked with short-term/temporary activities.

      If you’re looking for liberal arts students, I suggest connecting with the Liberal Arts Career Network, a consortium of 31 liberal arts colleges with thousands of liberal arts majors. They should be able to post your opportunity–for free!

  5. Anon*

    Why are college counselors so terrible when it comes to giving resume advice? You’d think that would be their core competency. Even my grad school is terrible and they at least should have a good sense of what the industry is looking for. I swear they just make sure it’s not in hot pink comic sans and then remind you to check for typos. It’s shameful.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had bad experiences with career counselors at your college, Anon. To address your question, after looking at truly horrendous resumes (with the aforementioned hot pink comic sans), some career counselors feel a resume is “good enough” and will move on to something more obviously egregious. I’m not saying that’s good practice, but I suspect it happens.

      Secondly, career counselors are by definition generalists (we know a little bit about MANY different fields and a fair amount about some), so unless you make efforts to educate yourself on a variety of industry standards, you might restrict yourself to those kinds of comments on typefont, etc. That’s why it’s important to ask industry professionals to weigh in. Your better career counselors will say “I’ve taken this as far as I can–let me help you identify someone in the direct field to give industry-specific advice.”

      (That’s sometimes tricky, as I’ve had to gently tell students that the suggestion of their uncle in business of a four page functional resume with a summary of qualifications is not appropriate for a graduating senior.)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      A huge part of the problem is that most of them don’t have experience hiring; many of them are only a few years out of school themselves or have never worked in a position where they did much or any hiring. They often end up using outdated sources of advice or just not having any first-hand understanding of what hiring managers are looking for.

      It’s one of our many national shames.

    3. Whit*

      I completely agree, Anon. I hate to say, but I’ve been disappointed with my school’s Career Center. I graduated 5 years ago (so I have to pay a small fee to use the CC resources) and after explaining what I was looking for, the only idea the woman I was meeting with had was to google-search “environmental science positions”. I spent the rest of the time silently wanting to ask for my money back…

      My advice would be to meet with an advisor in your department, preferably someone who you have a solid rapport with and has/had a career trajectory you’re interested in. Or even a professor. Both will have good contacts and leads within the community, or at the very least could refer you to someone who does.

  6. College Career Counselor*

    While I agree that college career fairs can be high energy, many of the students I’ve encountered over the years don’t actually know how to work them. Crippling shyness, darting in to grab tchotkes (and then leaving without talking to the recruiter), overly casual approach, etc. tend to be the order of the day. The biggest complaint I hear from students is “why isn’t such-and-such company here?” (Because they don’t HAVE to recruit at a small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere) The biggest complaint I hear from recruiters is “students are unfocused/don’t follow up.” And that’s the inherent problem with college career fairs–the student doesn’t NEED a job right then and there (because, hey, I’ve got another 6 months in school, and that’s like forever, dude) and they’ve got something much more pressing chewing at their psyche in the meantime (“gotta get going on my thesis/greek project/performance art/significant other/campus party, yo”).

    That’s not all students at all schools, of course, but those attitudes are out there. It’s too bad that college career fairs aren’t conducted in the summer after graduation, when many graduates start taking the job hunt seriously.

    TL;DR: Recruiters are from Mars, Students are from Venus

    (and belated +1 on the IPA choice by Chris)

        1. llamathatducks*

          As a linguist I always find this funny because my primary definition of “IPA” is “International Phonetic Alphabet.”

    1. D*

      At career fairs at my university, every recruiter there tended to say “just apply online”, something I didn’t have to go t university to figure out on my own. What’s the point of showing up and making an effort to connect with the HR people if it doesn’t give you a competitive advantage?

      1. Another Ellie*

        That was my career fair experience, both university and “adult.” The most annoying thing was that my university (top 10) attracted far too many consulting/finance/technology firms looking for very specific skill sets that a large portion of the students didn’t have. So a subset of the school gets great networking opportunities, and the rest get shuttled toward yet more internships and teach for america.

        1. Tina*

          It’s true that career fairs tend to attract a certain type of employer. It’s a function of supply and demand – certain types of employers don’t need to spend the time and effort at a career fair because they already have plenty of candidates to choose from. And believe me, contrary to what some think, we do active outreach to a full and varied range of employers, not just invite specific types of companies. Ultimately, we can’t force an employer to come.

          In most cases though, a career fair is simply one of many events and services that any college career center offers. My office knows which types of employers are more likely to come to a fair or not, and we deliberately plan other career panels, large networking events, etc for the benefit of students interested in other types of fields, so that we’re providing service and help for all our students, not just a subset. Job searching is a multi-pronged process – if any of my students told me they were only using one resource, like just a career fair or just one particular website, for their search, I’d say they weren’t utilizing all the possible resources and needed to expand their options.

          As for their recruiters who don’t provide any other information or insight than “apply on our website” – well let’s face it, in any field there are people who are better at certain tasks than others. Some recruiters are great at interacting with candidates at a career fair, learning about the candidate and sharing info/promoting their company, and others, not so much. Though I’d also point out that some of the competitive advantage comes from the candidate using the information they gained to fine-tune how they present themselves in their resume and cover letter.

        2. Joey*

          I don’t think some students realize that lots of employers don’t need to expend the money or the time participating in career fairs to find candidates.

          The only time I’ve ever participated in career fairs was when I had the extra money and time to spend for little return. Or, I was hiring for undesireable positions that didn’t require any specific experience. Because in my experience job fairs produce a hodgepodge of people with random backgrounds.

          Interestingly, out of the probably thousands of people I’ve seen at job fairs I have yet to hire even 1 person from a job fair (been close a couple of times).

  7. Former LEO*

    ” The hardest part of this whole thing is being lost in the fog.”

    The real problem is many people do not offer real advice, won’t offer hard honest critiques (which you can do without being harsh), and are too quick to try and encourage when a jobseeker really needs some input on what they might do better and/or different.

    I’ve had much better results doing honest resume reviews and red penning the hell out of them for people. This has had results, but most people they show their resume to tell them “I’m sure it’s fine” or “I don’t see a problem” and I can usually find room for improvement with just a casual once over.

    Same thing with interviews, networking, or any part of the job search. A lot of this is an art and needs to be tailored to the jobseeker, company, and industry. That said, offering up potential improvements and making a point of calling out SPECIFICALLY what they are doing well rather than a broad abstract statement that makes it sound like they can’t do better is going to be more helpful.

    Just trying to encourage or placate jobseekers so they never feel the sting of criticism is what causes that “lost in the fog” feeling and doesn’t actually help. I don’t believe they need a kick in the pants, but they also don’t ALWAYS need a pat on the back either.

    1. jmkenrick*

      I actually think that a big part of the “lost in the fog” feeling is simply being out of a structured environment, which can be new to many students. After years of having a set “next step,” it’s really disorienting to no longer be working in such a clearly outlined path.

      Also, in school, you get rewarded if you work hard and do a good job. In job-seeking, there can be a lot of candidates doing “the right thing” and there’s still only one spot! Especially if candidates were a big fish in a small pond in their school, that can be a new and upsetting experience that throws them off their game.

      So I don’t think it’s all about not receiving criticism. Much of it is an adjustment to a new life stage. So much easier in theory than in practice. :)

      1. NonMouse*

        “After years of having a set “next step,” it’s really disorienting to no longer be working in such a clearly outlined path.”


        Not having a next step is terrifying to me. @_@ Well, it’s… been…um… four and a half years since I got my master’s. Anyway. School was a nice safe routine.

      2. Jake*

        I think that is a large part of why we have so many more education majors than positions. Teaching feels like a familiar, safe next step, even if in reality that isn’t the case.

    2. Jake*

      Oh. my.

      Yes x 1000

      99 times out of 100 these people don’t need encouragement, they need help.

      Now, as we’ve seen on this blog, some are not willing to use the feedback they are given, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it. Not referring to anybody on this post, but in the past we’ve seen issues with this.

  8. Manda*

    My favourite parts were actually the excerpts left out. I’ve kind of avoided my friends because I get tired of being asked about my job search. The online courses can be helpful when it comes to developing knowledge and skills that don’t necessarily require a degree. I’ve taken some time on my own to try and learn some software and programming that might come in handy. And that video about experience was spot on. Sometimes I wonder how anyone ever catches a break.

  9. Jeanne*

    Please, PLEASE don’t just send a mass email to everyone your alumni assoc lists as working in your field saying Do you have a job opening for me? My reputation matters too and I don’t know you so I won’t recommend you. And now that I know your name if I see your resume I will tell people about that email. It makes you look naive and immature. It looks like you have NO idea what the real world is like. Although it’s possible he got that advice at the college.

  10. Anon*

    I serve as a supervisor for senior students who are completing a practicum in the field of human services. Every semester I have 4 or 5 seniors who journal with me each week and I do site visits among other things. (For background)

    One of the projects for the practicum is to put together a portfolio which includes a resume. As an activity, it’s great. I then tell my students to never, ever take it to an interview. And then I chop up their resume from what the career center said and rearrange. And I love this school, it’s where I got my BS and worked for 5 years. They get horrible advice though. Unless you are in graphic design or something like that, don’t take that portfolio anywhere.

    I can’t decide what’s more annoying the new grad who brings the portfolio to the interview or the older adult (50+) who brings a portfolio that’s 2 inches thick of awards and rec letters for the past 20 years. Not kidding. Totally happened. Really awkward 10 minutes of flipping through it.

  11. Lily in NYC*

    I found this post to be very entertaining. Chris, if you are reading this, I like your style!

    1. Chris*

      Thanks. We now have physical tangible proof that posting in a half-sleepy semi-coherent state is more engaging than one from a serious-objective thought perspective.

      As a side note, thanks for making this a thread AAM. It’s a rather new feeling to check a regular site and then notice one’s writing in the topic and might give some perspective for what it’s like to be a new-grad and what one may experience. And then the shock in realizing that one has 15 minutes of Internet glory. Because if there is anything in this world that is rare, beautiful, and sacred, it’s Internet glory.

  12. Tara T.*

    I agree with Anon (Nov. 8 at 9:57 a.m.) that it is overkill to bring in a massive portfolio and it is better to bring only a few recent awards and recommendation letters. However, I do know someone who brought a thick portfolio of her recent work in college, and the interviewer told her he could see that she was “a hard worker” and she was hired. Maybe it depends on how interested the interviewer is in the candidate or how much time the interviewer has. I had an interview once where the interviewer had just been notified that he would need to be at the airport earlier than expected. Needless to say, I cut a lot out of my explanations of my previous jobs and just gave the highlights! There was another interview in which I sensed that the interviewer was not that interested in me. I cut out a lot of my explanations, but when I gave the highlights, he suddenly seemed a lot more interested because he did not expect some of the things I told him about my previous jobs and they were favorable. I did not get the job – there was a candidate who fit better – but it shows how important it is to be alert to the interviewer’s reactions and keep it short if the interviewer seems in a hurry or not receptive to a long explanation.

  13. ADE*

    I’d love to see something on how to use professional associations to your advantage!

    Based on my (shifting) careers, I’ve always made a point to volunteer at conferences and reach out to people in volunteer leadership roles in an industry association. These people might not always be of immediate help to you, but they love what they do!

    I also have had good luck with the job boards that industry associations have over job ad aggregators, even for employers in my field (my employer is larger that the association, which is for people in my field within my employer-type.)

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