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Winning an Engineering Career Fair

It’s not hard to find a plethora of career fair prep advice, and much of it touches on important aspects. However, there are often significant details and perspectives that are left out. While this post will skim through some of the more common advice, we’ll focus on a Yelp perspective. Discover what we’re looking for when interacting with candidates at career fairs, and get our unique take on the topic.

Andrew Easton, Software Engineer

Overarching Themes

From meeting a candidate at a career fair or on-campus expo, all the way through to the end of the interview process, there are four traits that I’m looking for in candidates across the board. These are experience, passion, charisma, and company values, and they should be conveyed throughout all phases of interaction with a company. Almost all companies have core values, and many post them online. Knowing these ahead of time and accounting for them can really help leave a strong impression. There are also many common mistakes people make that prevent these values from coming across in the strongest possible way. Below, we’ll discuss core components of interacting at a career fair, how to prepare, and how to make sure these four values are demonstrated as clearly as possible.

Five Keys to a Winning Interaction

Resume

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the resume is key to a strong interaction at a career fair. After all, it is often the first thing a company representative will learn about you, and will be the basis for follow-up questions. As such, it is important to include all relevant information on your resume, and to leave off the unrelated. Unrelated jobs, experience, coursework, clubs, etc. will only detract from the important aspects of the resume. You don’t need to highlight everything you’ve ever done.

Remember, your resume should convey experience, passion, charisma, and company values. Anything that demonstrates one of these four traits is related, though charisma should be demonstrated more through personal interaction than paper. While related full-time and internship experience may often be considered the most important, it is also great to include side projects, open source projects you’ve contributed to, hackathons you’ve participated in, and more. All of these show additional experience, but — more importantly — show passion. None of these were necessarily required of you and can show a love for taking on challenging technical problems or solving common problems in innovative ways. Participating in related organizations and writing blog posts can convey passion as well. All of these things can, and often should, be included on your resume.

The final piece of advice I have is to be specific. I’ve seen far too many resumes that include descriptions for a job that look something like: Worked with a team to develop a quiz site. But as someone screening a resume, this tells me almost nothing about what you did at the job or for the project. Something more specific provides far more context into what experience you’ve actually had. A better description might be: Worked with a team to develop an end to end website for making and taking quizzes using Java, JSPs, HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Was responsible for building backend APIs for quiz creation as well as the full quiz taking frontend. Created modular CSS reused by teammates throughout the site.

Elevator Pitch

Keep it short. For the most part, you’ll be pitching yourself as a recruiter or engineer peruses your resume. If you’ve followed the resume tips above, the pitch doesn’t need to include too much detail, but can highlight your favorite projects, something you’re specifically proud of, or something that makes you stand out from your peers. It should also convey what specific type of role you’re looking for and why you’re interested in the specific company that you’re interacting with, as these are all things that can be challenging or impossible to highlight or call out in your resume. An example pitch could be the following:

I’m Andrew. I’m a sophomore looking for a summer internship. I’d love to work full stack but most of my experience so far is backend. I’ve previously participated in the Yelp dataset challenge and love to build chrome extensions in hackathons. I just read an article on your blog about your recent HTTPS work and thought it was really interesting. Could you tell me a little more about how you did data analytics to measure requests to the site in real time?

Answering Questions

A common mistake people make is not being prepared to answer technical questions. While it’s unlikely to receive a coding question at a career fair, you will almost certainly be asked technical questions, normally stemming from work or projects on your resume. Be prepared to dig into these projects and explain how and why you made the decisions you did.

It is also common for companies to ask why you’re interested in them specifically. It is best to come prepared with an answer to this question. Even if the question is not asked, it can help inform the questions you ask as well.

Asking Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. One of the reasons Yelp attends career fairs is that we believe we’re an awesome place to work, and that if you have a chance to interact with and ask questions to our recruiters and even more so our engineers, you’ll come to that same conclusion. So ask away!

In general, though, the more interested and passionate you come across, the stronger the impression it leaves. Asking about technology we’ve open sourced, blog posts we’ve written, or the Yelp dataset challenge, for example, show that you not only have an interest in Yelp specifically, but also that you used some of your free time to dig into the company a bit. Having at least a question or two along these lines can be a huge asset in leaving a good impression.

Demeanor

Basically, treat your time at a career fair booth as you would an interview or a day on the job. Be well-spoken and confident, make eye contact and smile, be energetic and engaged, and dress appropriately. As you go booth to booth you can get tired or burnt out easily, and your demeanor can suffer. Make sure you take breaks if needed, don’t try to jam in too much, and prioritize booths as necessary.

If you prep for these five keys (resume, elevator pitch, answering and asking questions, and demeanor) and remember to convey experience, passion, charisma, and company values throughout, you should be in a great position to leave a lasting impression on company representatives at a career fair.

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