Through The Looking Glass

“Who am I?  Why am I here?” – Admiral Stockdale, October 13, 1992.

“Will you step into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly – children’s fable

Have you ever felt so completely out of place somewhere that you swore you had to have walked through the looking glass and somehow wound up on the other side instead of in the emergency room covered in cuts with a burly male nurse without an ounce of compassion digging shards of glass out of your arms?

And have you ever then thought “Wow.  I’d rather be in the emergency room covered in cuts with a burly male nurse without an ounce of compassion digging shards of glass out of my arms?”

You too, huh?  We must have been at the same job fairs over the years.

They just suck.  They’re painful, they’re annoying, and worst of all, they’re almost always a complete and total waste of time if you’re a professional. Unfortunately, they’re also everywhere these days, which is just a sad factor of the economy.  And they’ve always sucked.  Make no mistake about it – job fairs have always been what they are, and will always be what they are.  There are just three things that happened recently that made me finally sit down and write this one.  First, an article showed up that said it well.  Next, I linked to that article in our LinkedIn group, and I got some good feedback from it.  Finally…well, I’m going to save the third thing for a bit.

They also always seem to be the same.  The same types of jobs, the same companies, the same useless nonsense that has no possible chance in hell of helping you find a real job.  Even the cast of characters is always the same:

Seriously, this is real.

The Organizers: Meet the spider.  To paraphrase the immortal Colonel Nathan Jessep, they want you to come to their job fair.  They need you to come to their job fair.  Whether it’s because they’re charging the companies $500 and up to have a booth at the event or because they’re charging you $10 to walk in the door to talk to fruit basket salesmen, their very lifeblood depends on your attendance.  Without you, they can’t issue a press release tomorrow talking about how many thousands of people showed up.  They don’t care how many hours you spend in line waiting to get in.  They don’t care if you walk out feeling like you’ve wasted your time yet again.

The Schools: Not that there’s anything wrong with schools.  Education is a very important thing.  However, you woke up early in the morning, and then (hopefully) showered, put on a respectable set of clothes, hopped in your car, drove to wherever the event was being held, and then probably stood in a line like the one off there to the right for a while.  You did all of this because you need a job.  You probably even need a job now, and the last thing you want to deal with is listening to someone pitch you for some certification class that they want you to spend a few hundred bucks (that you don’t have) on, or even better, thousands of dollars to go get a different degree from someplace that may or may not even be accredited.

The Commission Only Gigs: Again, you went through all of that nonsense this morning to come look for a job, not to get roped into selling real estate, or selling insurance, or hawking financial services for some third-rate company that wants you to annoy the ever-living hell out of your friends and family until you wind up in their blocked calls list.  You’re not a salesperson, and more to the point, you don’t want to “invest in your future” by buying some stupid starter kit of forms or having to go to classes…if you were, you’d spend more time talking with the schools.

The Military Recruiters: Okay, nothing against the military…it serves a vitally important component in keeping our country safe and secure…but when I read an article recently that they were at a job fair in Southfield…that was put on by the AARP…yes, the American Association of Retired Persons…I seriously couldn’t help but burst out laughing.

The We’re Not Really Here To Talk To You Folks: For some reason, companies pay for a booth and have people actually show up and sit at them…to tell you to go to their website to apply for a job.  They’re not really there to talk to you, they don’t want your resume, they don’t want to interview you, they really don’t even really want to be there…they just wound up getting stuck with booth duty, and so they’re there to tell you to go to their website.  After you just waited in line for 45 minutes to talk to someone because you really want to work at that company.  Awesome.

Franchise and MLM People: Yeah, I’m lumping them together, because they’re so far removed from the reason why you’re there that you can’t even really figure out why they’re there…the organizers must have needed to fill booth space or just didn’t care where the money came from because, well, it’s all about the money coming in.  There’s no other explanation for having to deal with people shilling for the latest “cleansing juice”, “supercharged vitamin power water”, or whatever other hair-brained scheme it is that they want you to buy in to.

The “Support” Team: Pay me to re-write your resume…even though I don’t know you or anything about you.  Pay me to pretend to be someone conducting an interview with you.  Pay me to be your career coach.  Pay me to be your life coach.  Buy my book to help you learn how to use LinkedIn.  Pay me $200 an hour to tell you why you’re not getting called back for second interviews…and, as a sidenote, so help me, I’ve actually been tempted to go to the Dark Side myself here, because I’ve heard what some of these people do and what they say, and have been told that a chat we’ve had over a beer has done more for their career than that money they might as well have lit on fire and watched burn.  So far, it hasn’t happened.  So far. Anyway, again, you’re not at a job fair looking to spend money.  You’re looking for a job.

And I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking “But Dave…I’ve read on LinkedIn and in other places that people really do get hired from those events!”

I’m sure they do.  I’ve read the same things, and heard the same stories.  I’ve asked around.  People talk.  I hear about people getting hired into hourly call center jobs.  Or temp gigs that last a few weeks and then they’re back looking again.

All in all, here’s one of those situations where the best thing we can do is try to help you ask the right questions and to be prepared.  Before you go to a “job fair”, or even a “networking event”, you should always:

1. Look closely at the website of the group that’s throwing it…for a number of reasons. What’s their scope? Their purpose? What’s their angle? Why are they putting the event on? Are they looking to make $10 off you? Are they trying to get something off the ground of their own? For instance, exists because we hated every other networking group we found for the IT industry. Our angle is “we don’t want to be around That Guy, and if we can help people find jobs along the way, cool.”

2. Who’s going to be there? What companies are listed? If you see more than half of them don’t sound like “hiring” companies – i.e., “schools”, “military recruiters”, “sales opportunities”, etc. – I’d think twice before going.

3. Check out the websites of the companies that are going to be there, and see what positions they have open that you might want to talk with them about. With us, that’s pretty easy – read the “jobs” tab in our LinkedIn group or read our weekly posts with updates and jobs. The recruiters that come to our events post their gigs in there.  But let’s say you see that there are like 10 companies listed on the event’s website that you don’t recognize (or even if you DO recognize the company!) – go check them out and see what they’re hiring for.  Do you really want to waste the time, effort, energy and gas getting ready and getting somewhere just to find out that they’re all just looking to fill some $8/hour call center positions when you’re looking for a Senior PM or Lead Developer role?

Basically (not that this is a big breaking newsflash or anything) you can’t just assume that people are doing things because they want to help you. The companies at the events don’t care if you feel like you’ve wasted your time. The people putting on the event might just be only concerned about collecting your $10 or being able to put out a press release about how many people showed up to try and help them sucker in more people for the next time around.

Here’s a little secret – cards on the table, we’re not completely innocent when it comes to this either…but our motives are pretty simplistic and harmless in nature:

– We wanted a place where, every now and then, we could get together with like minded individuals, have a beer, and have some real conversations. No sales pitches, no talking heads behind podiums, no marked up lunches. Just people being themselves. By nature, we wanted those people to be in the same realm we were in (the IT industry) so that we’d have something to talk about with each other and provide some varying insights.

– We never intended to be something that could help people find jobs. Never. That’s not what it was about. It’s something that’s happened as a result of how the group has grown and where the folks that were showing up wanted it to go…but it’s not like we had some master plan. We’re not that smart.  We’re thrilled that it’s happened, but it’s sort of like when the owner of a tire factory wound up starting the first mass-market chewing gum company because he noticed his employees chewing on bits of rubber all of the time. Sometimes cool things happen completely randomly.

– We get to know a lot of recruiters. We’re not immune to the job market’s volatility any more than you are. So yep, we get to know a lot of recruiters that might help us find our next gig should we ever need it. But that’s not something that applies just to us…you’ve got the same opportunities to meet with them all as well.

…and that’s about it. As those of you who have come to our events may have noticed, Bob, Jeff and I are almost always there a bit early…because at it’s core, it’s still a way for us to get together, have a beer, play a little catch up and keep ourselves grounded.

That’s why we get feedback like this:

“Before attending ITintheD events, I wandered thru a couple of these meat markets and really got only one solid lead thru networking with an exhibitor. Thanks to all of the core people for bringing sanity, not self-interest, to the job search, at least for the information technology culture.

Seems that the word has leaked out, too. The Social this month attracted a few non-IT people hoping for their own “break” even if they were a bit out of place. I had brief conversations with a Buyer and a Financial Analyst. Though cordial, they left with a quizzical look, like why doesn’t my expertise area have events like this?” – Ray Braun

That’s why exists.  Not for the “atta boy” or the pat on the back – but for people that get it and want an event like we always wanted but could never find.

That’s why our unofficial tagline (because we like the one with “beer” as our official one) is “Making professional networking in Detroit suck less.”

That’s why, no matter how many times we’ve been asked (and it’s been a lot)…we don’t “do” job fairs.  We don’t attend them.  We don’t promote them.  And we certainly aren’t going to be putting one on any time in the foreseeable future.

Oh, and that third thing from the introduction?  Bet you thought I forgot about it, huh?

Not a chance.

Click to see it in all it’s glory.

The third thing that happened was a constant twitter/update stream that showed up every few hours from the same person in the LinkedIn updates on my home page.  It is, of course, about a job fair.  I saw the link, and I clicked the link.  I was so annoyed at what I saw, that I simply had to take a screen capture and annotate it with everything that I saw was wrong with it and send it off to the person posting the updates.  I have, I think, “redacted” any identifiable information from this version of the screen shot…there’s really no sense in causing this person any public embarrassment…but I still have to share it, because it just made my head hurt that someone claiming to be a professional, an owner of a company, especially in the field that this person’s company is in, would put something like this out there.  Not only put it out there, but not notice all of the things that I noticed within seconds of seeing it.  Typos.  Links that don’t do anything.  Generic items still left from whatever template they grabbed to create it in the first place.  It’s just…sloppy.  And then not only put it out there, but constantly and continuously link to it, and never be any the wiser.  I have to believe that I’m not the only person that noticed all of these things…so is it just that it can’t be fixed?  Do they just not care?  Are they just okay with it as it is…and if so, then what does that say about the event that they’re putting on?

I don’t know the answer to those questions…I haven’t gotten a response to my note.  It’s been a week now, so I’m assuming that one isn’t coming, either.  And, as of the time I’m writing this, it’s still getting linked to…and it still hasn’t changed.

But then again, I guess that’s my point here, isn’t it?  Nothing about job fairs changes.

That’s all for this time.  Make sure you check out our Don’t Be That Guy entries, and we hope to see you at one of our upcoming events.  Bring a flyer from a job fair that you went to, and we might even buy you a beer to help ease the pain.