failing like never before


College Career Fairs for Engineers

We all know the career fair drill, you push your way through a mass of humanity to stand in line for a company that you hope will offer you a job. After five or ten minutes of waiting, you finally get to yell at an engineer over the din of hundreds for a few minutes, barely enough time to introduce yourself, get asked a few questions, and maybe even ask a few questions yourself. Hardly enough time to make a lasting impression. I attended a few college career fairs earlier this year while recruiting for my company, and throughout the process I realized that a vast number of students were completely misusing their oppertunities at the fairs.

Now, college career fairs present a fantastic opportunity for students. Whereas applying to a job online simply places your name into a bucket with dozens, if not hundreds, or even thousands of faceless applicants, a career fair allows students to cut through the HR and automated resume screener bullsh*t and immediately talk directly with a real life engineer, thereby allowing the student to show off their skills and express their interests. The importance of this opportunity cannot be overstated.

When I was a student, I had a few companies start scheduling me for interviews on the spot when I impressed their engineers at the fair. Now this isn't my company's style, but for a few people, I've scribbled on the back of their resumes phrases such as, "AWESOME, HIRE HIM NOW," and "AMAZING!!." I can assure you those resumes went to the top of the list.

A person's enthusiasm is generally difficult to detect on paper, but in the meat-o-sphere it should become nearly palpable. I look for people that can tell me about some cool optimization they found that made their solution pseudo-polynomial, how much they like Scheme continuations, or why systemd is so terrible/amazing. I spoke to one student who spent his brief time with me, boasting about his rankings in his various classes, which to be fair, were remarkable, but could be easily be found on his resume. But despite my prodding, he failed to talk about his research or projects with any kind of enthusiasm or extended interest. If anything, he seemed almost disinterested by his research. It was a disappointing two minutes for me, because I was impressed by his grades but was thoroughly put off by almost everything else about him.

But energy is merely one part in it all. Over time, I have to come to realize that good engineers are not merely defined by their intelligence and problem solving skills, but also their ability to properly convey their ideas. It is in fact, remarkable, how many intelligent people cannot make themselves be understood by their peers. So when I ask a student or interviewee to explain a project or really, anything, not only am I looking to see if they speak with some enthusiasm and interest, but I am also testing their ability to communicate. "Communication skills" is a buzz word that has been far overused, but we shouldn't let it's overuse diminish it's importance. No engineer works in complete isolation, especially these days. My favorite tech leads have been the ones who could explain their ideas to me quickly and concisely.

I also should also add, that putting down, "excellent communication and interpersonal skills" on your resume is a terrible idea. If you land a resume, your excellent communication skills (or lack thereof) should quickly become apparent. Having to explicitly state this skill, is usually a red flag marking it's absence.

At my company, we have a method for filing resumes at career fairs, that involves sorting them into three separate piles. One pile is for ballers that will be scheduled for interviews, the second pile is for the "mehs" that are honestly, destined for the trash and we'll also have a third pile for the "maybes," that is, the people who seemed pretty good and might get interviews if our schedule isn't filled up. This may seem pretty harsh, but we get stacks of resumes from every school and shifting through them multiple times while providing fair consideration and adequate time to each one is simply too time consuming a task to even be considered.

I have had students who simply wanted to drop off their resumes and not talk to me or any of the engineers at our booth. Resumes that are dropped off go immediately into the "meh" pile, and will probably never even be looked at. Never, ever 'drop-off' your resume without talking to someone. You might as while stick your resume in the trash.

The TL;DR of it all, is that college career fairs allow companies to do two things: take a quick evaluation of a candidate' technical skill sets, and measure their intangibles, the things not immediately noticeable on paper. Too often, students undervalue the intangibles.

Also, bathe. Few things smell as bad as unwashed engineer.

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