By J. Harvard Feldhouse
For employers seeking student employees, it’s not what you know — it’s what you want to know.
On Feb. 21, employers from 67 local, regional and national companies will congregate at Youngstown State University’s STEM Expo. Current students and alumnus will vie for part-time and full-time positions, research positions, internships and cooperative education programs.
The College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics holds this career fair every semester to provide students with work experience opportunities. Sherri Hrusovski, director of STEM professional services, stresses the importance of internships for career success.
“It’s always been that students want to get here, get their education and get out, but if you don’t get an experience that’s being offered to you, then you’re not as marketable as those who have already done it,” Hrusovski said. “If a student doesn’t do one, employers wonder why.”
Though it does take some prior knowledge to get an internship, employers are looking less at what you know and more at the soft skills that show how well you would work with the company and the employees in it.
Salem Tube, a metal tubing manufacturing company located in Greenville, Pennsylvania, offers a paid co-op research program. Students get to meet, interact and collaborate with various departments within the company, as well as with company executives.
For this, they need driven, open-minded employees who are willing to learn.
“We want to use this as a breeding ground for talent,” Melissa Lehman, human resources generalist at Salem Tube, said. “We are looking for innovative minds — people who have these new ideas, who want to innovate to be part of an organization that’s changing. We’re a forward thinking company, looking for forward thinking people.”
Similarly, Vallourec, Youngstown’s own metal tubing manufacturer, is looking for team-oriented collaborators and communicators for summer and year-round paid internships.
“First and foremost, we want to make sure they would overall fit in to the company,” Chris Allen, account acquisition manager for North America, said. “We make sure they can communicate, can work in a team, collaborate, not just with teams, but other functional areas as well. We don’t look at the technical background so much.”
However, internships don’t simply fall out of the sky. Students have to put themselves out there and make a good first impression. It may seem daunting, a conversation goes a long way with recruiters.
Both Lehman and Allen said they pay attention to students who engage in conversation and show interest in learning about their companies.
“It’s important for them to have those conversations, to ask questions, that they know something about us,” Allen said. “It’s this strange ritual that you go through to convey your message and get employment. It makes us remember each student more when you have a genuine conversation.”
When students are closed off and distracted, employers get turned off.
“Nothing turns me off more than someone who looks around at other booths,” Lehman said. “Somebody who has a know-it-all attitude tells me they don’t want to learn how we do it. Your way isn’t always the best way.”
This spring’s STEM Expo will run from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Stambaugh Stadium, gymnasiums A and B.
All STEM students planning to attend the expo should arrive prepared to listen, learn and make connections. These connections will be the gateway to a successful post-graduate career.