As former students walking into a career fair, we all remember the stuffy suits, fancy binder-clad portfolios and waiting in long lines to talk to complete strangers to convince them to hire us for an internship or job. For must students, it can be very nerve-racking. It can feel like a first date, except you are meeting 15 different people with all the power in the relationship, deciding your entire summer or career.

Since joining Lambert, I have had the opportunity to sit on the other side of the table, representing the firm at multiple career fairs. I’ve also served on a panel at Michigan State telling others how to prepare for a career fair. At first, I thought “this will be great, now I have the upper hand; I have the power… these poor little students have to impress me.”

I obviously wasn’t quite that cynical but I was very excited about being on the other side of the table. What do I find out? It’s just as challenging! There are 20 other companies at the Wayne State Journalism Fair and I have to figure out how to get students interested in me!

As with any first date, appearance is the priority as we begin setting up our booth. Lambert is cool and professional looking and we want to reflect that in our display. From our Lambert branded marketing materials, to samplings of clients’ products and giveaway items, we want to showcase things that help a student see us and think “hey, they look cool, I want to learn more.” Depending on the school we’re at, we use familiar products local to Michigan or a specific city. Often times, we go for unique and fun things like apple pie flavored chips from our client, Boulder Canyon. While the displays attract a student, it’s also a great conversation starter to talk about the work we do.

Students have their elevator pitch and we have ours. I also have my personal speech of what I do and my role at Lambert (essentially playing Tetris and reaching items on the top shelf in the kitchen for my Detroit female coworkers – I’ll let you guess which one is true). Like any networking (because that’s what this really is) situation, it is essential to carefully listen to the student’s interests and skills, and relate that to what they can do at Lambert. One thing I like to help students understand is how similar working at a public relations agency is to being in college.

Of course, there are the obvious differences in college life and the “real world” and we can’t skip class at 2 p.m. and go for a beer on Tuesday, (unless you’re Joe Sonheim.) But, the similarities draw from the fact that balancing four classes, a student job and student organization responsibilities, has the same challenges as balancing the needs of multiple clients. Juggling different timelines and teams is a skill that we learn in college and is used every day in #agencylife. While there is routine in showing up for classes (just like we have to do for work), among both, your schedule is rarely the same any given week. In college every day is filled with different events, group projects, etc., and that has the same correlation of going in every day with an ever-changing project at Lambert. This is why I like to ask about their extracurricular involvement and how they handle the stressors of college. It’s not only a great way to learn about the student’s personality, but a way to judge how they might fit within a public relations agency.

Like students in college are told, follow up is important. We’re in a relationship business, so shocker, the same thing applies when you are an employer looking for top students. It is important to reach out and stay in touch with the students you see as a good fit. Managing this relationship to gauge a student’s interest in Lambert is not much different from how we operate daily – from managing client to media or analyst relationships.

Starting and building relationships with students while they are in school have led to great interns and current employees The continued follow-ups, coffee grabs and routine check-ins are at the core of what we do with students and clients to build our business both externally and internally.

Bob Miller is an associate in Lambert’s Detroit office.