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Career Fair Strategy and Interviewing Workshop with Patricia Cook

By Ian Flueck

It is that time of year. The University campus comes alive with students, the weather slowly cools into a beautiful Illinois autumn, and companies turn their attention to recruiting the best and brightest to their talent pipelines. Facing perhaps one of the most challenging job markets in recent memory, the prospect of landing a summer internship or full-time position looms in many students’ minds.

In preparation for this tough fall recruiting season, T&M hosted the wonderful Patricia Cook for a 90-minute whirlwind of advice, instruction, and encouragement. With the evocative opening, “Let’s sit down and get uncomfortable!”, Patricia outlined the strategies that will differentiate top students from their peers with characteristic enthusiasm and conviction. While I cannot compete with her wealth of knowledge and clarity of purpose, I hope to highlight key themes from Monday’s workshop so that the overwhelmed career seeker may find the confidence to succeed in this competitive environment.

Practice, practice, practice

If there was one key takeaway from Monday, it would be to practice more than you think you need to. Since the recruiting process will function differently this fall, your established habits and strategies may need to be revisited. For example, have you practiced making eye contact through your camera instead of during a handshake? Your freshly pressed suit may look great, but have you prepared a clean and professional background with pleasing lighting? Patricia’s advice is to control what you can and simulating an interview will test your preparedness and generate confidence. Whether you promised Patricia to complete at least 3 mock interviews by waving your arms wildly in your Zoom box or not, make sure you dedicate the time to practice your elevator pitch and interview responses.

Connect with T&M

One of the benefits of the T&M program is the professional community of students and alumni. This is a resource that can be leveraged with great success! Take the story of Matt Condon as an example. Matt was able to land a hardware job at Microsoft through a connection with a T&M peer. In the spirit of paying it forward, Matt (and many other alumni) are willing to talk to you about their careers and experiences. However, do not just ask for the available jobs at their company. Do your research and ask the questions that cannot be answered by an Internet search. You might learn that small piece of information that sets you apart in a later interview!

Be authentic and memorable

A challenge during a virtual recruiting event is conveying your character, passion, and commitment. Recalling her experience as a recruiter, Patricia explained that “I want to hire people who want to do the job”. While this may seem obvious, make sure that your enthusiasm is noticeable and sincere during every interaction with a company or recruiter. Practice is the best tool to refine how you will let your genuine self shine through a computer screen. Also, during Monday’s workshop, there were a few examples of how small details can be a distinguishing factor in an interview. Your goal should be to stand out among a pool of equally qualified students. However, make sure you are memorable for the right reasons through dedicated research and preparation.

Tell a story

When crafting a resume, elevator pitch, or interview response, consider how you will demonstrate your skills. A powerful strategy is to connect your skills to a part of your resume and then have a story prepared that explains the connection. A reliable framework to accomplish this is the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Results). Another part of your story will be your experiences last summer. After hearing many interns say “I was supposed to be…”, Patricia recommended reframing your language to say “I had the opportunity to or experience of…” which conveys your initiative, tenacity, and growth mindset. Everyone was affected by the rapid changes last spring; prove that you took the opportunity to develop new skills, foster new relationships, or cultivate your personal brand. Simply put, make lemonade from the summer’s lemons.

I left Monday’s workshop feeling motivated, energized, and confident. Now is the time to reach out to recruiters and T&M connections, research target companies or positions, and do those mock interviews. If it feels uncomfortable now, embrace that feeling because it is better to be uncomfortable when practicing than when you join your first career fair chat room or video call.

Good luck to everyone these next few weeks as we navigate career fairs, interviews, and info nights through entirely new mediums. In Patricia’s words, you’ve got this!

Ian Flueck

Ian is currently in T&M Class XXVI, a Junior studying Materials Science and Engineering. He recently worked as an Operations Intern at Bluewater Thermal Solutions.

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