Reflections on Career Fair-ing at Cal

This morning I had the opportunity of representing Airbnb at Cal, my alma mater, during one of the many EECS career fairs held there each year. Basically, it looked something like this:


OK, it wasn’t that many people, but it was still a zoo. That photo is from a career fair in Beijing, just looking at it scares me.

The Berkeley career fair was an exciting opportunity not only to revisit a campus I love and miss, but also to engage with undergraduates who are going through the same process I went through just a year ago, many of them former students of mine.

While exciting, career fairs are also stressful and tiring from the other side. They involve lots of small talk, standing, repetition, and sweat (yes, sweat). A typical conversation with a student will go something like this:

  • They’ll introduce themselves, hand me their resume, and tell me what year in school they are.
  • I’ll ask them what they’re looking for in their next role, and about the thing on their resume that they’re most proud of. I’ll also describe how the teams at Airbnb work, technical challenges that the engineering team faces, and some of the work that past interns and recent graduates work on to set expectations.
  • I’ll usually end by giving them an opportunity to ask me questions.

People have all sorts of questions, and sometimes those questions make a student memorable. Here are a few that stood out to me today:

  1. How can I improve my resume?

I think this is a great question. Not because I know how to improve that person’s resume, but because of what this implicitly tells me about them. It shows me that they are actively looking to get better, that they’re not afraid of receiving feedback from a complete stranger. It demonstrates humility. The candidate is accepting that there might be flaws in their work in front of someone who they are trying to impress. That’s impressive.

2. What is your least favorite part of the job?

I like this question because it’s fairly hard to receive a BS answer. Every employer wants to sell you on their company. They’ll hype the culture, perks, office, impact, mission, potential, people, whatever. Asking someone what frustrates them about their company or environment forces them to be honest, and humanizes what otherwise is a pretty mechanical conversation.

3. Why did you join the company?

Again, a question that makes the person think. What made this person choose the work they are now dedicating over 40 hours of their life to per week? As a student, I’d imagine that this perspective is valuable. Maybe it influences what they look for in their own search. It gives them a glimpse of what this person values, and perhaps that’s a reflection of what the company values.

Visiting Cal is always a treat. After the career fair, I sat in on a class in Wheeler Hall. It happened to be CS61C with Dan Garcia. There were over 600 people in that room. Again, a freaking sauna. All I could do was smile.

Seeing the tired and stressed faces in that room reminded me of former me. Looking over the crowd, I realized I had talked to many of these people just minutes before at the fair. The fair had been just another part of their already hectic day. This morning they had to print out 50 copies of their resume, potentially dress up, and wait in lines to talk to people who pretended to know what they were doing like me.

If only I could somehow slide them each a note during that lecture. It would read: “everything is going to be okay. have fun. you’re great. -Varun”.

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