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Career Fairs and Networking

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This week, I represented the provincial CFA Society at the local University’s Business School Career Fair and Networking Event.

I was most pleasantly surprised by the high quality of students I met. Of course, after dealing with my nephew – a recent graduate of said school – over the years, the hurdle bar was awfully low.

Just wanted to pass on a few thoughts.

Dress Code

For student career fairs, there is no set dress code. Being a former impoverished student, I do not expect anyone to go full suit and tie. That said, those students I met who were dressed very professionally left a positive impact.

Not simply the outfits, but they conveyed a seriousness to their approach in networking a future career. That does leave a good impression.

If you do not want to dress business formal, I strongly suggest that you at least come business casual. You are still able to present well and do not need to spend a ton of money.

I met a lot of people in jeans and casual attire. Not a problem for me. And many were great to speak with. But it is an extremely competitive job market these days. You never know what goes on in the minds of potential employers.

I once worked for a guy who noticed if staff were missing a belt, had a frayed shirt, or scuffed shoes. Drove him crazy. If he is the guy doing the hiring, casual attire will cost you a shot at the position.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Play it safe and try to appeal to the largest group possible. It is hard to overdress for these events. If you do err, do so on the conservative side.

Begin Researching Career Paths Early

I met many third and fourth year finance majors. A CFA is the preeminent professional designation for those in the finance industry. If you plan on a career in finance, you probably should consider entering the program.

So I was a little surprised at how few about-to-graduate finance majors knew anything about the designation or program. Only a few people I spoke with had any idea about it. The reason why the CFA Society was at the fair was to explain and discuss the CFA designation. So not a problem that most students knew little to nothing. It was a win-win for both sides.

But I want to make two points.

One, whether you are majoring in accounting, engineering, dentistry, etc., it behooves you to be pro-active and determine possible career paths. School is an expensive investment. You need to know the employment opportunities that may exist. For fourth year students, this is crucial. Before you get to your final year of school, spend a fair bit of time figuring out what may lie ahead.

At this university, majors must be chosen by end of second year it seems. Unless you are in love with a specific field, it may be wise to determine job opportunities and potential career paths prior to choosing a major. And I must say that I did speak with numerous first and second year students. They used the day to try and assess long term potential in different professions while deciding on which major to select. Very smart move on their parts.

Spend some time figuring out what possibilities exist. Then talk to people in those fields to narrow things down. Make an informed choice before beginning to limit your career options.

For example, I spoke with one woman who was trying to decide between financial accounting and financial analysis paths. She had researched the basics on both, so we were able to focus the discussion to the key areas that impacted her. If she chooses an accounting major, she will start a path in that field and may reduce opportunities to possibly become a financial analyst. Or if she focuses on finance, she may lessen the ability to become an financial accountant. Big decisions to be made. And they should be researched fully beforehand.

Two, those who had done some research and preparation stood out in the crowd.

Perhaps I was thinking of hiring a summer student. I meet 10 great students and have some good discussions. But only 2 of those students had researched the profession and were prepared for a slightly deeper chat on the finance industry. Ceteris paribis, those 2 would have topped my list of summer students. Not simply because they knew more about the CFA designation, but because they showed the initiative and ability to be prepared. That translates extremely well in the real world.

Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Show you have the drive, motivation, energy, etc. to take the proverbial bull by the horns. It will be noticed (and desired) by employers.

Jobs Can Arise Anywhere at Anytime

You never know who may be seeking a new hire or when a position may open. Always be prepared.

One student I met yesterday had business cards. Another lady had copies of her resume with her. Both good ideas.

I am not saying you need to apply for a job to everyone you meet. Actually, I find that off-putting. But be prepared in case a casual conversation turns in that direction.

Over the years I have been on both sides of the equation many, many times. A chance encounter in an airport, a professional luncheon, at a sporting event. Maybe I am looking for someone (or know someone who is) and I meet a potential candidate on a flight from London to Nassau. Or perhaps I am happily employed and a colleague on a professional advisory board solicits my interest in working for his firm. It happens all the time.

Be prepared. You never know when you will be riding an elevator alone with Warren Buffett.

So Be Prepared

There are multiple ways to do so, but here are a few thoughts.

If you are actively seeking employment, create business cards. Maybe your contact details on one side, personal highlights on the other.

Carry copies of a short-form resume with you when you are out and about. By short-form, maximum one page of personal highlights. Just enough so that they remember you and that you whet their appetite for further discussions.

Create a small website. Then populate it very briefly with a creative, informative curriculum vitae. When you meet someone, give them a business card or written piece of paper with the url. Many people will be curious (and impressed you took such steps) and visit the site.

There are so many ways to create lasting impressions with people you meet accidentally and/or for brief moments. With today’s smartphones, you can accomplish a lot electronically. Or for my nephew and his antiquated cell phone, at least carry a pen and small notebook to make notes.

The key thing, regardless of the technical details, is when you connect with someone, be prepared in advance to maximize the interaction. Within obvious limits, you will make a positive impression – self-motivation, creativity, business acumen, etc. – and leave the other person with information about you. Information that may lead to a job offer.

As an aside, skip the LinkedIn connection or Facebook friend requests for new contacts. Some people are fine with LinkedIn requests from people they barely know. But most do not. And unless you are liking/linking to a business Facebook page, save the friend requests for actual friends.

Best of luck with the networking and job hunt.