June 4, 2014 7:23 pm

How to deal with awkward situations at career fairs

Chris Kovitz

Chris Kovitz: "Ask questions that will help you learn about the industry, company or roles you are interested in"

Have you attended MBA career fairs and had recruiters tell you that they have no vacancies in the areas you are interested in, or alternatively perhaps you have received a subtle brush-off?

Recruiters can create awkward situations when they reply to your questions. Here are ways to approach the following recruiter responses which will enable you to handle these with aplomb.

“We do not provide sponsorship for international students”

This is only one person’s response and not likely to be the position of the entire company.

It is often unclear whether a company sponsors or not, but I have seen numerous examples of MBAs from my school secure company sponsorship.

In this case, rather than say “thank you” and walk away, just switch to an information-gathering mode and ask questions that will help you learn about the industry, company or roles you are interested in.

Learn more about the organisational challenges as this will help you build rapport, enable you to share your related experiences and demonstrate your interest. By keeping calm and carrying on, you are on your way to becoming the exceptional candidate who does not take no for an answer and stands out from the crowd.

Whether or not you will move forward in the recruitment process of that company, you have capitalised on an opportunity to learn more about the profession and sector. This will prepare you for future conversations and interviews with the organisation, competitors and other companies you are targeting.

“Please check out our website”

This is a classic brush-off that could be code for anything from the recruiter is having a bad day to “you are not a fit for the role”. Be prepared for this response by having done your company research and look at this as an opportunity. Take the initiative and reply along the lines of: “I have reviewed your website and I was very impressed by . . . and also had a couple questions about . . .”

By not walking away, you have “passed the first test” and shown your high level of interest. This will also show that you have stopped by to learn more, make a good impression and demonstrate how you fit in with the company.

However, be careful to read the interviewer. If it becomes clear they are not interested in furthering the conversation or are looking over your shoulder, show respect. Thank them for their time and move on.

“We are not hiring interns, only full-time employees” or “we are not hiring for your functional area of interest at this time”

So, maybe they will hire in two or three months time! In this case, you should immediately switch into the mode of positioning yourself for a potential full-time vacancy. Inquire about the roles they are hiring for, what functions, skills and experience are they seeking. You may even ask for advice on what kind of internships or other companies they might recommend to prepare yourself for a full-time role upon graduation.

“I do not work in your functional area of interest and therefore cannot answer your questions”

See this person as a contact at your target company who can share invaluable information about the company and the industry, and better yet, their personal career path. Why did he or she move to this organisation? Where did they work previously? What do they like most about the culture? Why would they recommend their company? What advice would they give to someone who is interested? You may find that once you have shown genuine interest in this individual, they will offer to refer you to someone in your functional area of interest or request a copy of your resume or CV.

Finally, how to exit a conversation politely?

At the end of a conversation with a recruiter, it is important to exercise good manners and make a positive lasting impression. One recommended option, especially if there is a queue behind you, is to be respectful of the time that you have already taken and say something like, “You have been extremely helpful and I want to respect your time and that of my fellow classmates….”

Perhaps, offer to leave a copy of your resume or CV – hopefully they will ask for it. Offer to keep in touch to make yourself more memorable and learn more about the company.

Do not ask about job openings as they develop. If you keep the conversation going and build rapport, recruiters will let you know of future opportunities. It is essential to earn the recruiters’ trust and respect first. By having a discussion with them, you never know what may come of it. You have taken the time and effort to attend a career fair, so make the most of it.

Chris Kovitz, senior associate director, MBA Career Center, at the Paul Merage School of Business, University of California, Irvine, in the US.

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