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Cisco recruiter gives tips on how to make an impression at job fairs

With around 200 companies to choose from and a crowd of equally ambitious students as competitors, making an impression on recruiters at job fairs can be a daunting task. Chris Maloney, a senior manager at Cisco and a Carnegie Mellon alumnus, has been recruiting students from the University for the past five years. Get some tips from Maloney as he provides his insights into what recruiters look for in job applicants.

Maloney believes that Carnegie Mellon students already have an advantage over job applicants from other schools because of the type of education they receive at the university. Along with having a strong technical background, Maloney believes that Carnegie Mellon students are good team players. “One of the other reasons that makes it such a good place for us to recruit is that there is such a heavy emphasis on team projects,” Maloney said. “[At Cisco] we’re looking for people that are going to be able to work in a team environment as opposed to folks that are just able to do things on their own.”

However, in a job fair like the TOC or BOC where all the students come with similar-looking, stellar résumés, the students must show the employer what makes them special. Maloney explained that if the students simply read their résumés to the recruiters, it is not enough.

“What you really have to be able to do is distinguish yourself and explain what makes you different from the other students,” Maloney said. “[You may stand out because of] your extracurricular activities, something innovative that you did as part of one of the projects, a patent that you had gone ahead and filed — those are all things that CMU students have come up and told me over the past five years.”

Along with being able to stand out in a crowd, students have to know which companies they want to work with and why they want to work with them.

“When I ask students why they are interested in Cisco and they have no idea who Cisco is or what we do … [then the student] really can’t be that interested in working with me,” Maloney said. He explained that knowing what companies one wants to go to and knowing where the booths of those companies are located beforehand can be extremely advantageous. Maloney said that popular companies like Google and Cisco usually have long lines at the fairs and that even if you wait for a long time, these lines never seem to get shorter.

If students know which companies they want to go talk to beforehand, they may be able to choose the appropriate lines early on.
Maloney also stressed the importance of doing prior research on the company and how it functions. He added that simply reading the latest press release from the company was not sufficient. In many cases, the recruiters may not know what is going on in one branch of the company and may not even know about the press release.

“Understand the company as a whole … rather than focusing on specific things like press releases,” Maloney said.
Another important factor that students should keep in mind at job fairs is to be respectful. Maloney said that one of the worst things students can do is to keep crowding around the booth while one student is talking to the recruiters.
He said that most recruiters want to spend individual time with each student. If other students keep pushing their way forward, it shows that the students “don’t really respect [their] fellow students … and that’s going to decrease [their] chances.”
Maloney described some of his most memorable encounters with students who were hired in the previous years. In one such case, a student came up to Maloney and explained why working with Cisco was her dream job. She then went on to describe how the work she was doing in college was relevant to the kind of work Cisco was doing.

Maloney explained that the student’s knowledge of the company and her enthusiasm were two key factors that helped her get the job.

Although Cisco does look for applicants with basic programming skills, Maloney mentioned that the company has recruited a number of non-traditional applicants as well. In the past, Cisco has recruited students ranging from first-years to graduates, and also students who were not enrolled in traditional technical programs, such as biology majors. Thus, Maloney explained that while technical skills were important, factors such as the enthusiasm and motivation of the applicants were even more important.
“They’ve got to be people that are self-motivated … and really put forth the effort and try to go the extra step to make a difference,” Maloney said.