Hacking The Stanford Career Fair

February 24, 2015

Notes from Stanford’s Bases Career Fair and some contrarian tips for companies and students that want to score.


Leave the swag bag at home. (Except if you’re the company that brings pizza, it’s always nice to have options from the free boxed lunch.) Some companies try too hard. It’s like the stranger at the bar that insists on buying everyone a drink. It screams, “Please like me!” [Also, did I see some was a recruiter wearing a bear costume, like the one from the tv show Work-a-holics?]

The best companies don’t have great swag. They have good jobs. The hedge fund that your buddy works for does not give out swag, actually they are complete a-holes to everyone. And that works for them because it is step one of the interview. If you get your feelings hurt because they are not nice to you, working there is going be nightmare if you expect everyday to all candy and smiles. Bring your laptop, do some work. Career fairs have ebbs and flows of traffic, and when it’s a little slow you get bored and you want to leave. Your body language will reflect this quickly. Get up, get coffee. Check out the other booths. Break up your time there so you finish up with energy, because there is almost always a last wave of students that pop in scrambling from lab. This is the perfect location to knockout emails. Sit at the table, dont worry about being off-putting. Also if an applicant is too shy to come speak to you while on your laptop, they are probably going to be too shy to ask for help later on in work environment. I’m not saying be a jerk, no I am telling to let the students self-select. Leave company logo shirts for the interns or for the gym. It’s been a cliche ever since you can pick up PipedPiper shirt on Amazon.

It’s not 2009 when kids rocked Techstars American Apparel in two sizes too small. It was like a nerd badge of honor, or like supporting your favorite band, or something…. Those were the days. Bonus Round If you want great advice on recruiting. Listen to Lowercase Capital’s Chris Sacca. He has a great story about some kid who lost it at Google… because they were out of pheasant as a lunch option. Sacca in his new ventures has different attitude. I love that he looks to see if they have had a ‘terrible job’. Most people highlight the big name internship, when maybe they learned more about hard work going to door selling knives. Those men and women laugh in the face of rejection; they are hard as nails. [Same thing if is they are a veteran or ROTC… welcome to the next round.] Sacca hinted that Google was either attracting and/or training a culture of entitled prima donnas. You need to ask yourself what happens with this person is faced with adversity and rejections for the first time, that they not going to crumble? Or are they a flight risk? It does not matter how talented someone is if they are gone in a few months.


Have more than one resume. Did that just blow your mind?! You just spent hours cramming every detail into a one page doc. But you also left off anything about things like travel, or the fact that you brew your own beer, or other interests, because you thought it was not important. Well it is important! Because I am not reading the top sections. I only have a few seconds to scan your resume, so tailor your career fair CV for the context. The resume is just an ice breaker… and SAT or GPA scores are not riveting conversation. So do some A/B testing. Throw a ton of resumes out there to these recruiters.

I can care less about the some of the top sections. For the most part I am not looking at academics. (Un the interviewer is an alumni.) they don’t have much reference to talk about course load… I don’t know/care that’s the hardest professor…. –Also, what’s the deal Stanford? Everyone has a 3.9 GPA, no hard math here… but it seems the average student has an A average. That is a lot of A’s! Do you have to commit a crime to get a B at Stanford?Carry a blue pen and a travel bottle of Scope. Be memorable but not too memorial. – The small bottle of mouthwash is self-explanatory. You want to pass the ‘would I sit next to this person on a long flight’ test. But here is why you should keep a blue pen on your person…. When it’s really busy the recruiter will jot a note or throw resumes into different groups. You want to be in the ‘good’ pile. You need a way to stick out. I have even seen people write noted on the back of the resume so that the blue ink will stand out in a pile of white CVs. …Sounds nuts, but as you talk to the recruiter circle to highlight things on your resume. Later on when the company goes through a large pile and there is a bold “IS NOT AFRAID TO COLD CALL” listed on the back, HR is going to think he or she just made it in the ‘winner circle’. Learn to market yourself. Seriously, even download marketing software. If you are not asking yourself ‘is this borderline spam?” Then you are not casting a big enough net. How many hours spend and colleges did you research before choosing college? You’re not a high school anymore, you need to work harder for a job. –Protip: Talk to everyone and sign up for every interview. This included even companies you have no interest in applying to in the first place. Why? 1) Because you don’t know if that quiet wallflower of a company is actually your dream job soulmate. 2) Also you need practice with the later round interviews and the only way to do that is sign up for more interviews. After knocking out a bunch practice interviews you are going to be more confident in that face-to-face with you really want. Lie when necessary. When someone asks, “do you know JavaScript?” Don’t reply with “No. I only know Python and C++”. Next time you are going to say, “Actually, I’m just starting!” Because guess what… you are now learning it! Otherwise, you are basically telling the recruiter that you are not game for trying new things. It just brings the conversation to a stop. Save detail for later round interviews (this is especially true for startups). The CTO is going to know really quickly if can do the math with a pop quiz in a phone call interview. Facebook or Google are getting so many applicants that they need excuses to cut people out, so load up your resume for them accordingly. Frame The Conversation. Lead with a question. “Hi I am Jane Doe. What do you do for SoAndSo.com?” Tailor your conversation to the audience. If its the CEO or CFO, all they are asking themselves is ‘can this kid make me money, if not, can i train him/her?” if its the CMO or a customer/growth driven role they are thinking ‘Can this kid talk… or is he or she ready to cold call some customers or are they a shy little wuss.” If it’s a project manager or CTO/COO, then they are more interesting in knowing, “is this person autonomous, or how much of my time is going to get eaten to babysitting them?” I and one of the co-founders were surprised that not one person asked what our position was or anything that would give them a frame of reference. Ask questions also reduces saying stupid things…. “I want to work for you guys!”… What? You don’t even know what that means. You have not worked there you dont know if the team is a bunch of jerks. Why not ask about other recent hires, are they like you? What is the attitude of the people in the office, or what are those qualities of your best hires? Oh, but whatever you do, DO NOT ask, “So what do you guys do at SoAndSo.com”… Never ask a question that you can look up on Google. You just come off as lazy or wasting the interviewers time.

Let’s close this up with a quick story.

There was a tall female undergrad that walked right up to table next to ours and immediately she explained 1) who she was, 2) what she is looking for, and why she is going to 3) make them money and 4) be a solid hire. I overheard all this while in the middle of having a person telling me how smart he was for about 5 minutes, and at the risk of looking like a complete jerk, I was tempted to cut him off mid-sentence and get this woman’s resume. Looking back, I probably screwed up. The point is, startups are looking for different things then MegaCorp Inc. Traditional niceities and behavior don’t matter. Formality is out the window; we need people that get stuff done. Your resume says that you love to cold call and you are not afraid to get your hand dirty! Are you serious, I love you! It is not a fluffy, boring summer internship at large firm, filing documents. You are going to work and generate value with your internship in a small company. Give the recruiter confidence that you are worth investing into. I can’t stress this enough, if any thing college students offer time and energy. Companies don’t expect you to have all the answers, or you would be in charge. The smartest students actually take notes and ask questions, and write down.