How to Impress at Company Presentations

As campus recruiting season kicks off, companies are quickly lining up to come onto campus to tell you that they are hiring, they are looking for the best & brightest, and why you should come work for them. Students’ lives for the next month turn into 20hr days where you get up early (if you can) to head to a full day of classes, followed by a quick change in the bathroom into your business attire, to attend the nightly company presentation. If you’re lucky, there’ll be free food and drinks, which becomes your dinner, before you change again, come home around 10pm, and finally start work on your assignments & projects.

Attending all these company presentations can be a tiring and time consuming process, but many students feel that if they don’t go, it will lessen their chances in getting hired. Is that really the case? Well, not necessarily. While making a good first impression can get you noticed and help you score some early points, the opposite can also happen. Being rude, too competitive, or asking the wrong type of questions can also get you noticed, but for the wrong reasons. In this article, I want to let you in on some of the secrets and the mindset from the company / recruiter’s perspective.

As an employer, the main reasons for conducting on-campus information sessions are the following: (1) You want to promote your brand and get some free publicity. (2) You want to build and continue to maintain a strong presence at the school, in order to attract the top students, and let them know you’re hiring. (3) You want to try and spot potential strong candidates, and at the same time, spot ones you know for sure won’t be a good fit.

Before an event would start, I would always brief my team about some of the key messages we want to send and be consistent on throughout the evening. For a management consulting firm, the team would typically consist of at least 1 HR representative, 1 senior Partner, and then a range of actual consultants (usually alumni) with varied levels of experience and background to give students a wide-range of people to talk with. Next, I would remind them to try and remember the names of the students they talk to that really stood out to them, in both a positive and negative sense. For the good ones, I might suggest they even give their card or contact info out, and ask the student to email if they have any more questions. At the end of the night, we then would trade stories about some of the more memorable conversations we had and I would take down a list of names we remembered. Over the next few days, the list may grow as forwarded emails from keen students get sent my way.

What then happens with the list? It gets passed onto the resume review team. At the end of the resume screening evening, where we categorize our resumes into the “yes, no & maybe” piles, we would then review our selections with the list. If you were on the negative side and made it into our “maybe’s”, this was easy for us; you move to the “no” pile. If you made it into the “yes” group, we would have a second and third look at your resume, compare you again with some of the yes’ and even perhaps the maybe’s. If we still felt that an interview was warranted, we’d add a little warning note to the file of our initial negative impression of you.

The exact opposite would happen if you had made it onto the positive side of the list. An original “yes” will get a note added to make them a stronger yes. A “maybe” will have a second or even third review to see if there’s a possibility to be pushed into the “yes” pile. And most importantly, if you’re in the “no” pile, we’ll take an extra few minutes to pull your resume out again and see if perhaps we overlooked something.

Making a good strong impression at the information session won’t guarantee you an interview, but it can help increase the likelihood we spend more than just 10-20 seconds reviewing your resume. However, making a memorable bad impression almost certainly ensures that even if you do make it to the interview stage, you’ll be starting at a slight disadvantage.

What’s one of the main things to take away from this story? Whether you know it or not, you’re being evaulated and “interviewed” even at during what would seem to be a marketing / PR-type presentation, so make sure you behave accordingly. The safest way to play it may be to simply attend, don’t say anything to anyone, and basically go un-noticed, which by the way is probably 90% of the people. However, I believe you’d not only be wasting a great opportunity, but your own time. You might as well stay home then. If you really want a job with Company X, go prepared and with the right mindset. In today’s competitive environment, you can definitely use all the points you can get.

In Part 2, I’ll share some tips of what you can do to make the best use of your time at the information session and perhaps even make it onto the positive side of “the list”.

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