Employer Insights: How the Engineering & Technology Fair Worked For Me

by Anthony Giorgio

Way back at the turn of the millennium, I was studying Computer Science at Polytechnic University, on the former Long Island campus.  During my freshman year, I learned about the annual on-campus career fair that was held in the spring.  I had visited the career services office, and they were offering students the chance to volunteer at the fair to help setup the various tables and booths.  I decided to take them up on their offer, and arrived at the fair early in the morning.  I carried boxes of tchotchkes and  marketing materials from the recruiters’ cars into the gym, and struck up a few conversations.  Eventually the fair started, and the horde of students arrived.  Being a lowly freshman, I didn’t have much to offer, and was politely rejected from every table.  I didn’t expect anything different, and resigned myself to a fate of again spending summer break working for McDonald’s.  

As the fair wound down, I helped the various recruiters pack up their booths, and they gladly rewarded me with a plentiful supply of keychains, pens, stress balls, and other items emblazoned with corporate logos.  There was one company, however, that I spent more than a few minutes chatting with.  They were a local Hewlett-Packard reseller, who also employed software engineers for consulting work.  The recruiter seemed to like me, and said they would be in touch.

A week or so later, they called me up and offered me a summer internship.  I was elated, since I didn’t expect to be doing technical work as a freshman.  I ended up working there for the entire summer, performing a variety of intern-related IT roles.  As my role was winding down, and I was preparing to return to school, the company hired another intern to replace me.  He was another student at Poly, but he was a senior and preparing to graduate.  In the few weeks we worked together, we became acquaintances, and learned to respect each other’s abilities.  I sometimes spoke to him during the school year, but since he was older than I, our social circles didn’t cross very much.

The next summer I again attended the career fair, and this time I managed to land an internship at Symbol Technologies (now part of Motorola).  I was fortunate enough that my resume had the right key technical terms, and the recruiter gave me a callback.  I spent the next two years working there, as my class schedule permitted.  It gave me excellent insights into how the corporate world worked, and invaluable experience in software development.

As I entered my senior year, I began to look for full-time employment, since I needed a “real” job.  I decided to attend the fall career fair at the Brooklyn campus, since I felt that waiting for the spring one on Long Island might be too late.  I put on my interview suit, printed out a stack of resumes, and climbed on the coach bus the school chartered for the occasion.  I felt confident, since I had three years of work experience, and I was about to complete a combination BS-MS program in Computer Science.   Still, I was nervous – what if nobody hires me?  What if I can’t get an offer?  I put those thoughts to rest as the bus parked in downtown Brooklyn.  

When I entered the career fair, I was surprised at how crowded it was.  The Long Island fairs usually had a decent turnout, but the Brooklyn one was on an entirely different level.  The popular companies had lines 20 students     deep, and there were so many tables they spilled over into the lobby of the library.  As I made my way around the fair, I met with the recruiters, shook their hands, passed out resumes, and recited my spiel innumerable times.  Eventually I made my way to the IBM table.  As luck would have it, my former classmate and colleague from my first internship had returned to recruit!  After the perfunctory greeting, he introduced me to the hiring manager, and we chatted briefly.  He seemed to like me, and told me to head to the career services office after the fair.  I wasn’t quite sure what would happen next, but I eagerly agreed.

After a nervous lunch, I headed over to the career services office, where I saw a number of other students.  Some I recognized from my campus, while others I had never seen before.  The woman in charge of the office said that the representatives from IBM would be individually interviewing us, since we had passed their pre-screening.  When it was my turn, I met with the recruiter once more, and talked for about a half-hour in a private office.  He asked me about my academic career, my work experience, and a number of other things to feel me out as a candidate.  The interview drew to a close, and he congratulated me, shaking my hand.  He promised that the hiring manager would be in touch, and to prepare for a phone interview.  I was pleased, but somewhat unsure.  I had never interviewed on a phone before, and didn’t really know what to expect.  

A few weeks later, I received an email from the hiring manager, asking when it would be convenient for me to talk.  We set up a date and time, and proceeded to have a pleasant conversation with each other.  This interview was rather similar to my previous one with IBM, where the interviewer seemed more interested about my personality and how I would fit in, rather than my technical skills.  At the end of the call, the manager said that he was going to recommend I come up for an in-person interview, and that someone from Human Resources would be in touch.  Within a few days, I received another email, this time inviting me to the IBM facility in Poughkeepsie, NY.  The HR representative gave me all the details, including directions to the site, what hotel I would be staying at, how to be reimbursed for my travel expenses, and what restaurants I should eat at.

As my in-person interview date approached, I realized that this would be the longest drive I have ever taken, and I would be doing it solo.  It was also before GPS or smartphones were common, so I made sure to print the route out using Mapquest directions, and brought along a paper map backup.  I packed an overnight bag, climbed into my old Honda, and headed north.  After two hours, I arrived in Poughkeepsie, and managed to find my hotel.  I checked in, grabbed a bite to eat, and prepared my suit for the interview tomorrow.  

The next morning, I headed over to the IBM facility on Route 9.  Once inside, I joined a large number of other candidates preparing to take the IPAT exam (a standardized test given to job applicants).  I spent about 90 minutes taking the test, and then we were all instructed to wait for our hiring managers to pick us up from the lobby.  A short while later, my manager came by, and I recognized him as being the same one from the career fair.  He explained that his job was to take me around the site and bring me to various groups that had job openings.  We drove around to a number of different offices, and I met a few different hiring managers.  Each one had a specific opening, for either software development or test.  The management team also took me out to lunch, which I later found out was so they could see how I handled social situations.  At the end of the day, the recruiting manager asked which of the positions I’d like to work in.  I ended up picking the sole development one, since it seemed the most interesting.  

I drove home the next day, retracing the hundred-mile journey downstate.  I thought I did well, but I wasn’t sure if I would get a written job offer.  After the weekend, I returned to school, and resumed my classes.  As the weeks went by, I became more nervous about my chances.  I had another written job offer, but it had an expiration date attached.  I was hoping that I would simultaneously have two job offers in hand so I could pick the more appealing one.  Finally, in mid-February, a letter arrived from IBM with my official offer.  I decided to accept, and began communicating with a Human Resources representative on all the things required to start my employment.

In conclusion, pursuing a job opportunity with a large corporation can be a long journey.  Decisions take time, and multiple people are involved in many steps.  From the candidate’s perspective, the interminable wait can be nerve-wracking, but it’s all part of the process.  It’s also important to differentiate yourself from the rest of the candidates.  If you tell the recruiter what makes you a good hire, it will help them to recall you later on.  Remember, having the smarts to do the job only gets you so far, but effective communication, teamwork, and a positive attitude will get you to the prize!

If you’d like to work for IBM, we’re hiring!  We have a number of openings available in the Systems & Technology Group.  These are for both co-ops and entry-level positions.  If you’re interested, check out the following links:

System z Software Developer – Intern (Poughkeepsie, NY or Tuscon, AZ)

System z Software Developer – Entry Level (Poughkeepsie, NY; Tuscon, AZ; or San Jose, CA)

IBM Wave Software Developer – Entry Level (Poughkeepsie, NY)

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO MEET WITH IBM, STOP BY THEIR BOOTH AT THE ENGINEERING & TECHNOLOGY CAREER FAIR. RSVP THROUGH NYU CAREERNET BY CLICKING HERE!

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