Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Running Diary: The college job fair

I recently spent a pleasant, sunny day at the University of Wisconsin (UW) working as a volunteer for HP Recruiting at a job fair. Seeing as I originally came to HP in 1993 via HP Recruiting and attended similar events when I was a student myself, I thought it would be an interesting way to give back a little. What was it like to be on the flip side of the job fair experience? Read on.

Getting Involved

I got into contact with the folks at HP Recruiting in a weird way. The HR department, which the recruiting group is a part of, had a random gathering to discuss issues going on in IT and among the things that got mentioned was our starting up college hiring again. As we got into off-shoring in the late 1990's with software development, entry level positions took a hit for awhile, but management is dedicated to bringing in a fresh crop of folks from colleges on a regular basis now.

Since I came from the program myself and armed with my new view of networking thanks to Scott Allen, I eventually worked through contacts until I got put on a list of experienced folks interested in making college visits. I took some training on the process including the question sets we use to be ready for my first opportunity to go to a college. I'd ever been to Wisconsin before, so I didn't exactly have any insider knowledge of the engineering program there, but it ended up being my first trip.

UW and surrounding Madison

Being a SoCal boy for most of my life, I had never set foot on a Big 10 campus before. Wow, was I impressed. UCSD had about 12,000 students when I went there and San Diego State, where my wife went, had just over 30,000. UW has 41,000+ and the size of the campus sure fits that. Impressive buildings and huge throngs of people all over the place. I managed to turn the wrong way down a one way street at one point but thankfully didn't injure anything except my ego.

The geography of Madison, WI is pretty interesting. The state capital and a good portion of the university are situated on a fairly thin strip of land between two nicely sized lakes. That made for pleasant views and a nice breeze on a day in the mid 80's that I'm sure isn't so nice come winter time.

The IT Career Fair was being put on by a campus group called the Association of Information Systems Professionals and had a pretty good cross section of companies there looking for mostly programmers for IT departments. It was a well organized affair that included not only technology companies like us, IBM, and Intuit, but folks like Target and General Mills too.

Setup and give-aways

My first task representing one of the largest companies in the world on a recruiting trip?

Folding shirts.

Poorly, I might add. I could never get hired at The Gap, certainly. It wasn't my recruiting training, though, so maybe it's not my fault I was so bad at it.

We were given a table on the 3rd floor of the Grainger Hall atrium to display our give-aways, flyer's, and a laptop showing our job application web site. The HR folks that were running our table told me that a recent survey they performed showed that college students prefer wearables of some sort. So, we were giving away bright UW red t-shirts (which we also wore) that said "Got IT?" on the front and had (the URL to our job application site) on the back. My job was to help fold them so they could be neatly stacked on the table.

Plus, we had glowy pens (barely visible in the picture above). They had a strobe light in them and actually did a pretty good job of attracting attention to the table. Whenever you attend a trade show or similar event like this job fair, though, you can't help but check out the competition when it comes to the free stuff.

Our table was situated next to General Mills, who was giving away food (Chex mix and a variety of pretty tasty granola bars). Downstairs, our nemesis IBM was giving away slinky's and GE was giving away pens that had this hypnotic robotic-like folding mechanism to them. The consensus seemed to be that Target had the best stuff (highlighted by a small plush toy of their current mascot) and the least desirable freebies were cleaning products (unless college students are a lot tidier than they were back my day).

The meet and greet drill

So me and my three other HP compatriots would stand around this table with all our stuff on it, a student would approach and the following would ensue:

  1. Friendly smiles, firm handshakes, and names were exchanged.
  2. Hand student a flyer describing all HP technical jobs we are hiring for and a business card that has the URL on it that explains the application process.
  3. Give spiel on the software work going on at HP, both in our transformational IT department (where I work) and the growing HP Software division.
  4. Optionally get a resume from them and talk to student about their job experiences.
The main point of the event for us was to promote the fact that we have jobs but if someone had a resume to hand out, we did a mini-interview with them. I cycled through the 4 steps above about a dozen times over the 2 hours I worked the booth and I'm glad I did it (thankful that nobody asked me to fix their printer, but instead, a few people praised HP products, which made me smile). The training helped a lot for the #4 part as I probed for specific fit guidelines for both technical skill and personality fit. The coolest job anybody had on their resume was an IT internship for the Green Bay Packers (no, she didn't get to meet Brett Favre).

More generally, though, it was kinda fun to stand up and talk to people about how cool it is to work for HP. We really are doing some exciting things with software. The transformation our IT division is undergoing is unlike anything that has ever happened before, most famously our activity to reduce our number of worldwide data centers from 85 down to 6 and a host of other application stack consolidations. This isn't something somebody showed me on a slide set, I deal with this exact stuff on a weekly basis, so it was invigorating to talk about with somebody on the outside.

If you measure it by revenue, HP Software is one of the largest providers of software in the world. Nobody knows that because you don't go buy our bits on a CD at CompUSA for your PC, but it is something scores of Fortune 1000 companies use to manage their data centers. As you might imagine, the strategy ties together nicely with the fact that we sell a lot of high end servers to populate those same data centers.

It's hard to realize how neat all that is when you've got your head down doing your job every day. To explain it to somebody who has been in college and to see them get wide eyed about it was very rewarding. It was a nice "time out" for me to realize how good I have it and to get others excited about what we're doing as a company to the point where they want to join up.


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posted by Pete Johnson @ 6:47 PM   2 comments


At 7:38 PM, Anonymous tehnyit said...

Campus day has certainly changed since I attended mine back in the early 90s! All I got was a list of companies that would be attending the campus day, which we could submitted our resumes to. If we were selected, we would be interviewed for graduate positions at the companies. It is all very sterile.

Thank god that today's process is a bit more fun!

At 4:47 PM, Blogger L.J.T. said...

It's a bit more fun a a big school, still the same at the small ones, trust me.


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