Have an Interview Horror Story? Tips to Shine at Your Next Career Fair 

Courtesy of Dreamstime You arrive late because you forgot to pick up your suit from the cleaners. You didn’t have a            chance to check you appearance in the bathroom before the interview began, so the entire time you had tomato stuck in your teeth and didn’t know it. That’s just great. Now the interviewer thinks you were running late because you stopped at your favorite pizza joint. How in the world do you climb out of this hole?

 After all, this was the company you’ve just been dying to work for.

If something could go wrong, it most assuredly will during some of the most important times in your life. All of us at some point in our careers will probably endure some embarrassing interview moment. Thankfully, the mistakes can be prevented and embarrassments don’t have to be so life-devastating.

As a journalism student attending Howard University in Washington, DC, I job hunted at several career fairs on and off campus. But my most memorable horror story involved one particular recruiter representing a leading Chicago-based publication. The first year that I interviewed with the recruiter I had a terrible experience. I wasn’t extended an offer to work as a reporting intern for the paper during the upcoming Summer.

The recruiter, who will remain nameless, interviewed with a scowl on her face. My impression of her was that she must’ve really disliked college students or that she hated this part of her job. Despite the first interview experience, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and proceeded with another interview during the following year.

I was so nervous. I tried my best to intelligibly regurgitate what I’d learned about the publication and what was making headlines. But things took a nasty turn with a slip of the tongue. I off-handedly mentioned how I thought I had read that her specific publication might be sold or is going bankrupt. I knew as the words spilled out of my mouth, that this wasn’t going to be pretty.

“Excuuuuse me?” she asked as she twisted her neck in that Soldier Sistah kind of way. I thought the recruiter was going to pounce on me from across the other side of the table.

“Ummmm… Ugh. I mean. Umm,” I didn’t know what to say. I was speechless. Long story short, I attempted to clean up the conversation and change the subject as quickly as possible. Needless to say, I wasn’t extended an opportunity that year either. 

(But almost a year after that incident, I did get a phone call from the same recruiter wondering if I was still looking for an reporting opportunity. She must’ve forgotten about that horrible day.  Whew. I hope so.)

Anyway, all this reminiscing about career fairs had me thinking about some of the top tips on making the most of those couple of hours spent walking, meeting, interviewing and networking and how a little slip can alter a person’s life and future career.

1. Have on hand plenty of resumes. Print it on top-grade resume paper. Store them in a binder so that they don’t get wrinkled, ripped, or torn before they reach the hands of employers or recruiters.

2. Arrive early. The early bird does often get the worm in this situation. You might make a better impression on recruiters because they’ll remember you as the guy or gal who arrived as they were still setting up. (Maybe not that early, but you get the idea.)

3. Look professional. If you’re a woman, wear a dark suit with a neutral-color camisole underneath. For both genders, if you choose a collar shirt, make sure it’s clean and lightly pressed. As far as shoes are concerned, remove any dirt or scuffs. Have a shoe repairer replace the soles if needed.

4. Make eye contact. Don’t be shy. Shy people don’t often get the job cause they come across incompetent or uncertain of their abilities. Speak loud enough so that people can hear you, but not too forceful that it comes across as cocky. Be confident.

5. Do research beforehand. Before you even step out your door, know who you want to talk to and with which companies. If possible, request a list of attending recruiters and the names of people who you will be available to speak with. Find out more information about each attendee. You might discover that you have something in common, which you can casually bring up during conversation. This’ll make you even more memorable. Research the company as well, and please don’t bring up disparaging news about the company in which you’re interested in.

6. Prepare some general questions to ask during the interview or consultation. What type of talent are you looking for? What strengths or capabilities do you think someone needs to have in order to fulfill the requirements of this position? Limit the chit-chat. Oftentimes, the recruiters have other people they need to speak with. So, you want to be mindful of their time.

7. Don’t go overboard with the perfume or cologne. Sometimes, too much fragrance comes across as cheap, and leaves a bad impression in the minds of anyone who gets a whiff of you. The scent of your bar soap should be enough fragrance to ensure you leave a sanitary impression.

8. Comb or style your hair. Now’s probably not the time to rock your bed-head, frizzy- fro. While it may represent you and your personality in social settings, when you’re in the workplace it’s better to err on the more conservative side when it comes to your hairstyle.

9. Avoid outrageous makeup. Be as natural as possible. I recommend a little bit of foundation, neutral eye shadow, a little blush and complimentary lip gloss or lipstick. Also, don’t show up as if you’d just eaten a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Leave the very shiny lipgloss at home.

10. Bring business cards. If you’re still in college or in job transition, order business cards with your name and contact information. If you have a professional online presence, include the link to that as well. Keep it simple.

If you happen to forget all of the above, at least remember to be prepared to showcase your greatest talents and achievements. And if you’re lacking in confidence, do what I like to do and “Fake it ’till you make it!”

Keep the Discussion Going

How do you stand out from the crowd at career fairs? Share your advice. 

What’s your job interview horror story?

Maybe you were on the other end of the table as the recruiter. What are your horror stories?