One of my students jumped for joy last semester. She got a job offer during class—specifically, during a field trip.
I consider the exercise an example of great teaching.
I couldn’t make the last class of the semester and wanted to make it up. An email from NYU inspired me. It was about a series of job fairs including one for start-ups. I had already planned a session on applying the course’s skills to contexts other than basic marketing and sales—for example, to treat raising capital as marketing and selling shares in a company, to treat hiring as marketing and selling your company to potential hires, to treat making proposals as marketing and selling ideas to your boss.
My idea was to use the job fair for them to entrepreneurially market and sell their labor. If you’ve sold, you know only selling something you care about to people who can challenge or reject you is selling. Nothing else prepares you for the incredibly and intensely emotional experience. If you teach sales and you don’t give students a chance to experience that gut-wrenching experience and learn to turn it into exhilaration, you haven’t finished teaching sales, at least in my opinion.
I decided to offer the students a chance to attend the job fair as a real-world opportunity to practice the skill we learned, face to face with people evaluating them in the moment. We would look at the job fair as a chance to entrepreneurially market and sell their labor.
I’ve worked in the field with coaching clients to hone their business skills in real-time like this. Clients tell me they love it and that a couple hours of it teach more than years of reading. We would attend a networking event like a trade show. Actually, first we spend a couple hours preparing—deciding whom to approach, practicing interaction skills, and so on. At the event we act. I observe my client in action and give immediate feedback on what I saw work or not. Sometimes I demonstrate what my client could have done differently.
Since clients love that type of learning, I figured students would too, and my client work gave me confidence to teach well.
How I did it
First I needed buy-in from my students. I put the NYU email in a slide at the beginning of class with the logistics. I said
“Making the last class will be hard for me, but students usually have hard times making last classes because of final projects and tests, so I want to propose an alternative. If everyone can make this event, we can use it to practice your entrepreneurial marketing and sales skills in real life, viewing the job fair as a chance to entrepreneurially market and sell your labor. Check your schedules between now and next class. If everyone can make it, we’ll treat the fair as a class and spend time the class before it preparing.”
I also called the NYU staff organizing the event. They loved that I was bringing a whole class that I would train to interview. Everything was coming together.
The class before
We spent half the class before the job fair preparing, in two ways: working on their mindsets and practicing skills (belief and behavior in the context of my Model).
I used a two-pronged approach to work on their mindsets: to get them thinking about job fair differently than any before and to give them freedom to experiment by having them see they had nothing to lose.
To get them thinking about working a room differently:
“Has anyone in the class hired anyone before?
A couple had.
“Did the person you hired work out?”
At least one said yes.
“What made the person you hired work out?”
The answer came as I hoped. The main value of the person hired was trust. I think more than one student answered about people they hired and they talked about things like enthusiasm.
“How many people have worked at jobs here?”
Nearly all had.
“If you liked the jobs, what did you like about the jobs?”
They all talked about things like what made the hires great—how they felt at the job, how they got along with colleagues, and things like that. Nothing about job descriptions.
“Of all the things you guys said you liked about people you hired or about jobs that you liked, how much of it had to do with anything on a resume or job description?”
They thought a bit and said not much.
“We are going to approach this event as a way to practice the skills of entrepreneurial marketing and selling.”
They were intrigued.
To give them freedom to experiment:
“Have you all been to job fairs before?”
“Did you like them?”
All we do is give them our resumes and they tell us to call later. We don’t have to go there to do that, so what’s the point in going?
“How many of you were planning on going if I hadn’t scheduled it?”
“Do any of you know of any companies that will be there that you want jobs with?”
The school hadn’t published the names of the companies with tables, so no one knew of any.
“If the usual way of doing things doesn’t work, you weren’t going to go anyway, and you have nothing to lose with the companies there, is there any reason not to try doing things differently?”
I think this question had an effect on them. We weren’t going to the event to drop off resumes. We were going to learn new things in a new way—in-person, practicing new business and social skills.
I set up a table in the front of the room and had each practice the beginning of a conversation with me, playing the role of a recruiter of whatever company they asked me to represent.
Each took a turn walking in the classroom door, approaching me, shaking my hand, making eye contact, and practicing one of the core elements of the class: “Sales builds relationships.”
I prepped them with what to talk about and how, which was to treat the company representative like a person more than just a representative of a company and to learn about the parts of a job that mattered, to lead the interaction and show their skills.
I gave feedback on things as basic as the handshake (I got a dead fish handshake from someone from another culture and had to tell the student, politely, that in the United States such a handshake was unacceptable in business, for example). Each student got to learn from each other but, more importantly, got to practice a new technique so when they did it with actual company representatives, they wouldn’t be doing it for the first time.
At the event
At the event I had each list the top five companies by personal interest, then to approach the fifth for practice, then fourth and so on up to the first. If they couldn’t find five, I had them approach what companies they could. The point was to create a personal connection and practice the skills we covered in class but with people who could reject them.
The student who ended up jumping for joy told me she couldn’t find a single company offering a position in design, what she wanted to do. I told her, “Great, you have the most freedom here. You can talk to any company.” She ended up talking to company representatives like people. One of them ended up saying, “We weren’t looking for a designer, but we want people like you.”
I tried to give each student who wanted it a chance to talk to a recruiter with me nearby to give feedback immediately.
I’m pretty sure all the students got a lot out of the experience. I think they all enjoyed the job fair, viewing it not just as an event to drop off resumes but to make personal connections. I hope one day they find themselves using the skills in a job interview or sales situation.
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