With its concentration of startups and a tight-knit tech community, NYC's job fairs provide uniquely rich opportunities to connect with potential employers while also getting a feel for the scene. There are many job fairs and other events worth attending just a train ride away.
Here are a few job-hunting tips to help you make the most out of tech-startup speed-dating. It's a more social and potentially more educational alternative to sending out PDFs all day.
1. Less about you, more about them
In his self-help classic How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie relates an anecdote about a shy houseguest who doesn't have much to say, so he listens intently to his host talk about himself, rephrasing key points and learning a wealth of information about the man. Later, after some reflection, the host says that this man was the most charming houseguest he'd ever had.
A firm handshake is only the beginning.
“We encourage job seekers to worry less about their resume and more about researching the companies that interest them and understanding the roles and expectations each position offers,” said Imri Yekutiel, the National Sales and Marketing Director for the Startup Job Fair and the chief organizer for NYC. “That way, when they’re talking with the employer, they can worry less about the mechanics of the role and more about how well do these future team members work together.”
Related: Best Companies to Work for in NYC
Study up on the attending companies and focus on the ones that genuinely interest you. Think less about your past experience and qualifications, and more about how you can fit in with this particular team. People love to talk about themselves and their work — potential employers are no exception. Listen actively and learn voraciously.
"Keep an open mind and really listen to what each company tells you about themselves," said Jason Malki, CEO of AlleyBoost. This will help you find a job you want, not just a job you need.
2. The human element makes the difference
It's not who you know. It's who you've actually met.
As online job-hunting platforms have proliferated, human connection has become ever more of an advantage on both sides. Job fairs give candidates and employers the opportunity to meet in person, get three-dimensional reads on one other, and make better-informed decisions about whether or not they want to spend a lot of time with each other in the future.
“Generally, startups have limited resources and are flooded with applicants, so hiring teams usually outsource their hiring process to third party gatekeepers at the expense of a personal interaction with the job seeker,” said Yekutiel. “This creates a disconnect.”
You can leverage that disconnect by showing up and making a real connection with the people you actually want to work with.
"Being able to create a personal connection is better than anything that you could try to explain via a job application,” said Jason Malki, CEO of AlleyBoost. “The employer will get a couple of minutes to get to learn about you, your skills, and, most importantly, they will get a glimpse into your personality and mentality.”
Think of this as a refreshing break from the often tedious and repetitive process of crafting cover letters and attaching resumes. This is, above all, a chance to practice making connections. Consider showing up and polishing your skills even if you aren't actively hunting – this is the most crucial skill you can have.
3. Ask intriguing questions
“A classic mistake I notice is when the job seeker bores the employer with a question that they could have found on the website or job description," Yekutiel said. "There is nothing more mundane than repeating the same answer over and over without personalizing it.”
Know before you go. Built In has hundreds of profiles on startup and tech companies in NYC that can help you study up ahead of time and avoid a potentially embarrassing encounter.
A conversation is a collaboration – the first of many, if things go well. Ask well-researched questions that help you understand how you might best fit into a new role, and how things work at the company day-to-day. Ask intriguing questions that prompt employers to think about their everyday work from a new angle. They will remember you for it.
"Getting granular with the conversation will really impress them and will keep your resume at the top of their pile," said Malki.
4. Have a visually strong resume, even if you're not a designer
Your resume is the cornerstone of your personal brand. Invest in it.
Treat every element as a chance to express some part of your professional story. Use an industrial typeface to communicate hard-working perseverance, or show off your multi-platform storytelling skills with an infographic. You may even want to invest in a logo.
Make sure everything is legible and makes sense at a glance, but don't be afraid to step away from the template.
“Startups have purposeful branding and color identity for a strong reason, and it helps to brand yourself as well, showing that you are unique and an asset,” Yekutiel said. “Employers receive piles of the same black and white resumes with a list on one sheet and nothing else.”
5. It's all right to feel anxious
Looking for a job is stressful – there's no reason to pretend it isn't. Consider reframing your nerves as a cheering section, making you bright-eyed and alert when it's most needed.
“It’s important to sound genuine, interested, enthusiastic and willing to collaborate,” said Yekutiel. “It’s also important to keep in mind that mistakes are part of work, and that everyone makes mistakes. It’s about owning up to mistakes and pushing to fix them that makes a good employee, team, or organization.”
If you make a faux pas, consider that an opportunity as well. It's about learning and consistent improvement, not being James Bond.
Again, consider attending job fairs even when you're not actively looking, just for practice. With practice, even the most nerve-racking situations become more familiar.
6. Observe the six-hour rule
"Be proactive, strike while the iron's hot, email within a day or two and follow up after that email if you don't hear back the first time," said Malki. "If you're really interested in the job and want to proliferate the process, pick up the phone and give them a call."
Nevertheless, some perspective is on order.
Job fairs can be overwhelming for candidates and employers alike. It is crucial to follow up with every new person you met at a job fair, but don't rush it.
“I’ve made the mistake of following up with a company too soon, as in the moment I walked out of the door,” Yekutiel said. “This is not wise because I left the room overconfident and the message was redundant as I had thanked them moments ago. It’s best to wait to follow up at least six hours when the employers could use a refresher without completely forgetting the conversation.”
Follow up promptly, but give your conversations at least a little time to marinate. While you wait, take that collection of business cards and make a comprehensive list of everyone you need to contact – this will be handy later.