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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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A Day at the Fair

Illustration by Amy Mackens and Ruby Wallau
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By Amy Henson, LSA Senior
Published February 22, 2014


I’m an imposter in my blazer from eighth grade. Waiting in line at (Fortune 500 Company X), I’m mentally prepping for the eight-or-so minutes I will have to make an impression, and my brain just won’t turn off. Be natural. Be exceptional. Be funny. Be relatable. Be cool. Be smart. Be interested. Be interesting. Just be yourself.

I wipe a sweaty palm across the back of the leather resume holder I felt compelled to buy junior year. It leaves a smear, and I debate blowing it dry with my mouth. Instead I open the thing up, looking at my resume for the millionth time.

My resume. The story of me in a neutral serif font, size 10. Complete with a professional summary, list of experiences and strong action verbs for each bullet point (not forgetting to show the results of my responsibilities with numbers!).

• Spearheaded
• Implemented
• Managed

The result of hours of frustration with unaligned indents and bullets and headlines, this 8.5” by 11” sheet of paper has become my “foot in the door.” Kind of.

“I look at resumes for new hires at Puma, and we really just go through the database and search certain buzzwords.” My cousin, the Global Product Group Manager at Puma, helped me with my resume last year. “Not higher than a 3.5 GPA? Gone. No retail experience? Gone. No leadership experience? Gone.”

“How many people get hired based on their resumes?” I ask.

“Barely any. It’s all about networking.”

So, I learn the art of the palm-to-palm handshake (Remember: only two shakes! Any more than that and you’re stuck in a handshake-death-spiral with a recruiter who will probably dismiss you as unemployable while you incessantly shake and smile and shake and smile). I learn about selling myself, about dealing with recruiters, about “networking.” I learn because I have to, because those around me are also learning, because this is what it takes to become a successful adult, right?

I imagine the career fair from above looks like a hellish, business-casual picnic. The 48 company recruiting tables are draped in brightly colored tablecloths, swarmed by eager-for-employment University of Michigan students — ants in formal attire. We crawl, we schmooze, we shake hands. Employ us, we beg. We take our promotional pens and sunglasses and water bottles and move on. Except in this ant colony, we don’t work together. In this, it’s every ant for himself.

As a senior at a competitive university like Michigan, the job hunt is both exhilarating and exhausting; we hate it, but we love it. All of us aren’t sure what we will really be doing at these companies, but we go for the big jobs anyway. We want the great salaries. We want to be successful and we want to be happy. But at what point do perfected elevator pitches, strong handshakes and font-size-10 resumes make us stand out?

Finally, the recruiter smiles in my direction, indicating that my turn has arrived. She is no older than 24, fresh-faced and happy to have her day away from the office. I go in for a firm, double-pump palm-to-palm handshake, and the dance begins.

“Hi! I’m Katherine. Great to meet you…”

“…Amy. Hi! Great to meet you, Katherine. (insert small talk here. i.e. ‘It’s so hot in here, how are you holding up?’)”

“(Insert response small talk. i.e. ‘I know right? So hot. But hangin’ in there!’). So tell me a little about yourself, Amy.”

Tell her about myself. Tell her that I am always, always, always on time. That I am naturally curious, and love working with smart, creative people. That I am a writer. That I love making people smile. That I am an English major who isn’t planning on teaching or going to graduate school, actually. That my favorite sections of the New York Times are Technology, Opinion and Books. That I would give 100 percent to this company because I’ve given 100 percent to all of my activities since I started dance class at four years old. That I really want to find a job that I love, but fear I never will. That I hate recruiting, hate this blazer, hate that my palms are sweaty, hate that I’m second-guessing my liberal arts degree. That no job offer will be better than these past years as a student and that I never want to leave this place for the real world.

Myself is me, sitting in my Michigan sweats talking with friends about our obscene Oreo intake, laughing at Drake on Saturday Night Live. I am an empathetic listener with a dry sense of humor and naturally decisive tendencies — but somehow couldn’t get all that onto my resume.

Just be yourself, but I don’t see how I can.

Especially when I’m wearing this outfit. Why this is called business casual, I’ll never understand. Casual is jeans and a tee shirt. Casual is sneakers. Casual is comfortable, and I feel anything but. I notice with envy that Recruiter Katherine and all of her recruiter buddies from (Fortune 500 Company X) are wearing jeans and company-logo T-shirts. “We don’t dress up for work. Really, we would never wear something like you’re wearing.” This comment makes me feel weird, but okay. Conversation continues.

Eventually, we end up discussing the job posting I found online for a writing-based position. I’m feeling pretty excited about it, and ask about the recruiting process for full-time hires.

“Oh, I don’t really handle that kind of work. I recruit for Sales. But you can go talk to Jessica! She knows more about those kinds of positions than me.”

What?

I move over to Jessica, a girl I swear I have seen walking through the Diag over the years. She is wearing her blue jeans, standard-issue logo T-shirt and a pair of Converse sneakers, and looks more like the college student in this exchange than I do. I go through the hand-shake-small-talk-tell-me-about-yourself routine, and then ask about that same writing position.

“Oh, interesting redirect by Katherine. I actually just started three weeks ago, so I don’t really know much about anything other than Sales. You should go to www.(fortune500companyx).com/careers and check it out though!”

Yes, I have checked that out, actually.

“Great, thank you for your help.”

“Would you like a stress ball?”

Yes, I would like a stress ball.

“Sure.”

I don’t give her my resume, and my foot remains firmly outside the door to (Fortune 500 Company X). I crawl onward, shoving my new stress ball into my purse.

***
I wait in another excruciatingly long line for a different company, and start to chat with the guy waiting in front of me. His blazer hangs folded over his right arm, and the rings of sweat pooling around his armpits make me thankful that my nervous sweating problem is in my palms.

“Yeah, I’m a sophomore. I’m here for internships.”

A sophomore?

“Cool! What’s your major?”

“Computer Science. I just built my own server this summer. I can access it from anywhere in the world. It’s dope. What’s your major?”

Holy shit — what am I doing next to this kid?

“I’m studying English and New Media,” I tell baby-genius.

“Like blogs? Wow, they have classes for that? I thought anyone could blog.”

I decide to disengage, reaching for my iPhone to shut this kid up. He puts his blazer back on and taps his foot impatiently, waiting for his turn. Later on, I can hear baby-genius talking with a recruiter from a huge technology company. His voice sounds different; his hands are working it; he’s doing the dance. I close my eyes. He’s a sophomore.

“NEXT!” My turn.

***

“But are you having any fun there?” It’s my older brother, Max, and I just called to tell him about my upcoming phone interview with (Fortune 500 Company Y).

I pause. I am, aren’t I? I’m still going to football tailgates, still hanging out with my friends, still getting beer at Jolly Pumpkin and ice cream at Rod’s Diner.

“Of course I am. It’s just hard not to get wrapped up in this stuff,” I explain. When your peers are talking offers and salary negotiations and future apartment plans, panic sets in.

“Don’t, Ame. I work and soon you’ll work, too. Enjoy school for now. Go get drunk somewhere.”

He’s right, and I know it. I know that I will get my first job eventually, and it most likely won’t be my dream job. I know that I’m only 22 years old, and have time to figure out my career. I know that that career isn’t going to be my whole my life — that there is more to a person than their job title. I know all of these things, but I’ll still spend the next few days consumed by the importance of this interview.

***

A really great recruiter will make you feel like you’re the best person that they’ve spoken with all day. After leaving the table of (Cool Start-Up Company A), I was Queen of the Career Fair. Recruiter Doug asked me all about my interests, about my work on campus, about my career goals. He suggested an awesome-sounding position for me, and wrote a note on the back of my resume. I’m in. I swagger off, promotional key-chain swinging from my pointer finger.

I haven’t heard from them since.

A really evil recruiter will make you feel like you’re completely insignificant. See exhibit A: Recruiter Dick from (Cool Start-Up Company B). Recruiter Dick was stationed next door to Recruiter Doug, so I went over to introduce myself. He quickly averted his eyes when I told him my major.

“We’re only hiring engineers right now,” he informed me, looking over my left shoulder.

He didn’t give me a pen, and I didn’t give a shit.

I take a break at the water cooler that is stationed at the exit, realizing how parched I am. To my utter amazement, there are no paper cups left. This place is trying to kill me. I seriously consider going over to one of the companies that has been giving out logo water bottles, but then I see a friend waiting in line and decide to chat with him instead.
“Do you even know what this company does?” I ask.

“No, not really. I’m just going to all of them.” He responds. Yikes. We joke around with one another, conducting mock stuffy introductions with firm hand shakes, trying to make fun of the process we’re scared shitless of.

“Well, good luck.” I offer. He smiles, already dismissing me to start his mental prep. Time to go.

I leave the fair with a purse full of useless swag and a deepened blister on my heel. Not to mention a few business cards for the ever-so-wonderful crafting of the follow-up e-mail. I meet up with my roommates on the walk home to compare stories.

“One recruiter asked ‘why us?’ and I have literally no idea what they do. I have never bull-shitted so hard in my life.”

“I died laughing when I heard the girl next to me actually deliver a clearly-memorized elevator pitch.”

“Let’s get out of these stupid dress pants.”

Yes, let’s.


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