Job hunt

JOB FAIRS ARE A GREAT WAY TO GET a lot of interviews in with prospective employers, though the savvy graduate should already have a job lined up.

This is not for those graduates.

This is for those who somehow haven’t gotten their act together yet and somehow still need to get a job.

As I’m one of those graduates, I went to a job fair recently.

Because it was a job fair for teachers, some of my examples are pretty specific, but you should be able to glean a more general lesson out of them, anyway.

Tip No. 1: Most employers will ask you the same questions. There are right answers to these questions.

Don’t just turn weaknesses into strengths.

That’s an old trick.

Try, instead, turning strengths into weaknesses.

Whenever you talk about your strengths, let interviewers know how you harbor regrets about when your strength backfires.

Express responsibility and shame about when it does backfire. Interviewers love responsibility, but don’t try too hard. You’re not that good at faking it.

“Why did you decide to become an educator?”

For the kids.

There really isn’t any other valid response to that question. If you aren’t there for the kids, you have no business being a teacher.

“What do you say to the teacher who is convinced that back in his day, all the kids were more interested and excited about learning?”

I tell them, in as polite language as I can, that they’re obscenely and blindly nostalgic. Why does it matter what kids were like, even if they have changed since then? Address the needs of the kids now.

“What do you do with the student who just isn’t excited about learning?”

I tend to ask provocative questions, and history worth learning is very easy to make relevant to today, so there will be very few students not at least genuinely interested in learning.

It doesn’t work with everybody, though.

There will be one or two students who, though not at all disruptive, just aren’t excited about learning. They do their work, but without obviously enjoying it.

Now, because that doesn’t mean that they aren’t learning, and because they aren’t disruptive, I can’t be too concerned about not being visibly excited.

There’s a point where I have to address the needs of the other nine in 10 students.

If you don’t know what questions the interviewer is going to ask, interview for a few companies you don’t want to work for to get a feel for it.

At worst, you embarrass yourself in front of interviewers you’ll never see again.

At best, you’ll be offered a job.

Tip No. 2: Practices some one-liners and anecdotes. You’ll have plenty of chances to fine-tune your performance throughout the day. Some examples are in order.

Self-deprecate your background: That inner-city school where I’ve been student teaching isn’t nearly as bad as people make it out to be. I haven’t been stabbed once.

State the obvious: Kids are kids are kids.

They’re the same everywhere.

Jab at a rival institution: The kids at White Kids’ Unified don’t have any better excuses, but they certainly have richer excuses.

Joke knowingly about clients: I used to think that I preferred 4 and 5 year olds, but once I started student teaching I realized that high school seniors really aren’t all that different.

Stay relevant, and keep anecdotes short. Interviews are still all about you.

The value of these jokes is not that they’ll get your interviewer to laugh, but that you’ll end up more comfortable and relaxed, and you’ll be less likely to stress out.

Tip No. 3: Bring more resumes than you think you need, and pass all of them out.

I started with more than 20 job interview packets. At the beginning of the day, I made it a kind of game to pass all of them out.

I ended the day with three, and I left only because I had already kept my ride half of an hour past the designated time for leaving.

Tip No. 4: Interview the interviewer.

Just as you’re there to sell yourself to the highest bidder, the interviewer is there to sell his company as a great place to work.

He should be on his best behavior, too.

I have two examples, and both actually happened.

Picture, without closing your eyes, two well-dressed, intelligent-looking men behind a table: “We’re not doing actual interviews, but we will plan on calling back candidates we like. Today, we’re just getting to know people.”

This might be a nice place to work.

One grouch in a light grey suit stands in front of his table.

With gravel in his voice: “I’m not doing interviews today. I’ll let our new school speak for itself. It’s brand new, and it has all the bells and whistles.”

I’m guessing someone drew the short straw. What a sourpuss.

Don’t rely on the instinct to dismiss this employer, though.

It’s the interviewer’s job to make you want to work there.

Just because he does his job poorly doesn’t always mean his company is a bad place to work, and just because he does his job well doesn’t mean it’s a great place to work.

It just means that his company has hired at least one qualified employee.

Tip No. 5: If it goes all day, get a real lunch. Don’t overeat, but know that skimping too much will leave you without enough energy.

My lunchtime cup of sour-and-spicy meatball soup and pure adrenaline kept me on my feet at my last job fair, but toward the end of my 7-hour day of interviews, my ever-abundant energy was fully sapped.

I should have gone with the bowl.

Tip No. 6: Make business cards.

Quick Google searches will find a number of Web sites that give away free business cards, though they add about $10 shipping and handling.

Stay as professional-looking as possible.

If you aren’t sure what it means to have a professional business card, watch “American Psycho.”

Tip No. 7: Be yourself, even if you do so at the expense of other advice. Don’t lie or embellish to get yourself into a job, because you’ll only get fired once the bosses see through you.

Good luck. Even with this job market, I hope you won’t need it.

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