Tips for nursing students attending your first Job Fair

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Job Fairs?

Here in Hawaii we don’t often conduct a “job fair.” It’s  not how things are organized here.

but now I have readers from That mythical place known as The Mainland,  and a Job Fair is one of those ways to get face time with people who are involved in hiring.

Here is how it works: somebody gets a large public space, like a hotel ballroom during a conference, and rents out booths to exhibitors or vendors. Often the organizer is one of the Nursing Specialty Organizations or the State Professional Association such as ANA-Maine or The OR Nurses. The revenue from the vendors is part of the conference budget. The sponsoring organization brings the nurses, the vendors are promised that the schedule will include free time for the attendees to wander around. Often, the conference program will list all the vendors or exhibitors in advance.

Here is a story about Speed Dating

Ten years ago was the first time I taught the senior level management and issues class at a small college on the east coast. We had thirty seniors, since it was a residential college they were all about twenty-two years old. Our career center organized a small job fair right on campus, to which about two dozen local employers came. The Job Fair was held on the day of the class, and I decided to cut class short so as to allow all the students to attend.

I wandered down to the job fair myself about fifteen minutes later and watched what happened. Where was everybody? Half the students were gone within a few minutes; they had strolled through and spoken to nobody. The others were standing in small clumps on the other side of the room from the vendors. This is not good, it’s like a junior high school dance, I thought to myself.

Within a half hour all the nursing students had left. We were a bit embarrassed, as the hosts, because we had hoped that each vendor would make some kind of meaningful contact with our group. Fortunately we had not charged the vendors very much, and nobody came from a long distance, or I would have felt like we should return them their money.

The Assessment

At the next class meeting we spent a bit of time talking about getting over your nerves when you make a “cold call” to a job recruiter. The students expressed the idea that they didn’t know how to start the conversation, or how to act. Now, when these same students were in uniform in clinical they were confident and verbal, comfortable with the hospital setting where they meet patients and families every day. But somehow when the setting changed, the confidence took a hit.

The Plan

We needed to role play a job interview, and we needed to have a better strategy. So, the next semester, when we repeated the Job Fair, we did things very differently.

The week beforehand, we role played an interview, and assigned readings from the book using the chapter on the hiring process.  This included a review of basic body language that people fall back on during times of threat or stress.

The Implementation

The day of the job fair, we did two things. first we paired the students, and gave them an actual role to play. for each booth at the job fair, one was assigned to be the Talker, and the other was assigned to be the Observer.

The Talker was expected to ask all the questions and do the interacting. The Talker was expected to bring a list of questions to ask. At any interview there is always a time when the job seeker is asked “what questions do you have?”  – this is a time where the Job Seeker can display their verbal ability and enthusiasm. If you are the kind of person whose has a brain cramp at this moment, it helps to write the questions down and practice them. There are some standard questions used by a lot of interviewers, and you should be prepared to answer.

The Observer was given a small checklist, and told to stand back and – Observe. Complete the checklist during the interaction, as if this whole thing  were an experiment in a sociology class.

The checklist was simple. it included:

eye contact?

handshake and introduction?

“open” body language?

asking three questions?

answers to questions?

looking enthusiastic?

positive statements?

Each pair was to use this at six booths, taking turns so they Talked three times and Observed three times.  In between each booth, the pair was assigned to go to a corner and debrief, so the Observer could give their partner feedback as to how she did in meeting all the elements.

Picking the order of booths to visit is a strategy

I also told the students  to choose the order in which they approached each booth. If there was a vendor that was truly the one they really really wanted, they should go to that one last. If there was a vendor there representing some hospital or agency that was too far away or where they Talker never intended to apply, don’t simply omit this one. Go there anyway, and talk with them. You might find that they are more interesting than you think, and also, the stress will be lessened because there is nothing at stake.

The Evaluation

When we used this approach, the students stayed a lot longer, and after it was over, the vendors expressed their appreciation. Every vendor at a Job Fair works to send people who will be approachable and nonthreatening, and every Human Resources Professional knows that the person being interviewed will be nervous. The vendors could tell that the students were not so nervous as the previous time.

At the end of the exercise, the paired students submitted their raw notes to me. This wasn’t really “graded” but it did support the self-learning about socialization and seeing how you come across. The only way to do this better would be to video the interaction and allow people to have an instant replay.

One of the students said “it’s like Speed Dating for job interviews”  which is exactly what it was. The Observer partner was the “wing man” for the Talker, and the opportunity to discuss the interaction with a nonthreatening friend was very valuable.

You can go a long way with the dating analogy. Just because you talk to somebody does not mean you need to go down the aisle with them…..

It goes without saying that you should dress for a job fair as if you were being interviewed; and that you should consider writing a followup to each recruiter for whom you have a specific interest.

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