For many of us, it is job-hunting season (as it is through the year). So we all head out to brave the careers events, armed with our CVs and our smiles, and having dispensed with any lingering shreds of modesty, prepare to shamelessly sell ourselves. I know that this talk of modesty and selling yourself sounds very unseemly, but every job guide I’ve read talks about selling your skills and talents, so it’s all innocent enough! If you’re feeling nervous about attending these events, I have an experience that should make you feel a lot more confident. This is the story of my first recruitment event at LSE (or ever, for that matter).
It was the very first day of term, so I was thinking about my future after LSE before I had so much as attended a class at LSE! This was an exclusive presentation and networking event held by a large bank, and a friend had told me about it that morning. So I thought, why not, let’s just go?
We had heard the presentation was being held at some hotel in the Strand area, so we just walked down to the place from campus, relying heavily on GPS as it was all so new. Being young students, we thought nothing of heading down in our campus attire: jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers, with a backpack. So we walk down to the venue. This “some hotel” turned out to be the Strand Palace Hotel, where even the doorman was dressed in a finely tailored three-piece suit. It is mildly embarrassing, to say the least, when the doorman looks at you with a “and-who-might-you-be” expression, but when we flaunted our LSE ID cards and said we were there for the exclusive banking presentation, we were allowed through. But that was the least of our worries.
We went down into the conference hall, and were taken aback when asked for our booking numbers at the entrance. “What bookings?” I asked, and was informed that usually only students who pre-registered could attend. I was bemused – the event was only open to students from one campus, and it was the first day of term, how many students could possibly attend anyway? The answer was hundreds, as I discovered from the stack of pre-booked forms on the other side!
Anyway, the lady at the desk took pity on us and handed us our name tags and also a “poken” which is this really cool device that works like a flash-disk cum business card. When you meet someone and talk to them, you exchange contacts by touching your pokens to one another, and their details are saved! There were also many huge screens around the hall with information about different departments in the bank, and if we touched our poken to a screen, instantly, all the information was saved to our poken. I was amazed by this “zen” technology, which is quite an up from exchanging business cards.
The single most painful moment was walking into the hall and seeing that everyone was wearing a suit! Even the women were in these elegant slim-cut suits or else in attractive evening dresses and high heels! Oh, if only I could pretend to be part of the red carpet on the floor! I decided to brazen it out and pretend that I had always intended to come looking like a teenage tourist. I study psychology and write books – I am a creative, so I can dress anyway I like….right?
As the presentations wound down, they pointed us to the dining room, which was all posh finger foods and canapés with an open bar. In my (grossly limited) experience back home, this was the part of the events students anticipated most: being invariably broke meant the refreshments were a welcome attraction. When the presentations ended, the students did pounce, but not on the food, as I had expected, but on the executives who were entering the room! The CEOs were surrounded by eager students wanting to talk to them, and the poor food was ignored!
Now, this was my first ever networking event and I had no idea how to “network”. It seemed like “networking” meant fighting your way through a bunch of suit-clad fellow students and telling one of the executives how you revolutionised market research at the age of twelve and were on course to win the Nobel Prize for Economics before graduating! And of course, you had to mention how you would love nothing more than to join their graduate scheme because they and only they upheld the values you identified with. I exaggerate greatly, I confess, but it seemed like networking was a very aggressive business and I was clueless.
I suspected telling people that I write fiction, while wearing my jeans and tee was not going to do the trick. So I quietly skulked around, until I bumped into a very nice representative from HR who put me at ease. And once I started talking to them, I actually stopped worrying so much, and as I engaged with them…I almost forgot that I was wearing jeans!
I haven’t experienced much culture shock since coming to England, but I think I got my full quota in this one evening. A few days old, and I saw first-hand the amount of competition and protocol in such events. It was a huge shock to see the kind of technology and resources available to the recruitment firms and how seriously they took the recruitment process. It was even more shocking to see how ambitious and competitive students were, and how driven.
Don’t just “Turn up” for a careers presentation
I learnt some valuable lessons from this, though. I learnt to do my research about the company, before going to any of these events, so that I know what to expect and can converse in a more informed and intelligent manner (and to find out the dress code!). Most importantly I realised that if for some reason, I am caught on the wrong foot, to stop brooding about it, and to just go with the flow! Eventually, my skills and talents are more important than my outfit, so I should focus on that. A little bit of confidence can help through these awkward situations.
Good luck this job-hunting season!