Freshman year was decent
My first job fair was freshman year. There were all sorts of businesses, and it was my first time at an event like this. I ended up getting a job at Jazzman’s Café & Bakery, a food joint on campus (sadly, it no longer exists). I was limited in my options because A: I was only looking for a work-study and B: some companies are looking for full-time employees for after graduation. The latter is not a pressing matter at the time.
Sophomore year went much better
A year passed by and I attended another career fair near the end of my first semester sophomore year. This time, I spoke to many more companies as I was looking for an internship that I would be completing for course credit. I was very happy with my results as I managed to get 7 out of 8 people to express interest in setting up an interview. The 8th was ESPN. I wasn’t qualified anyway, all I wanted to do was be able to say that I talked to someone from ESPN (check).
This time I ended up working at Willington Design & Print, a screen printing company based out of Williston, VT. Regardless of where I chose to work, the point I want to emphasize is that I had a choice. That’s the great thing about job fairs. It’s an opportunity for students to walk right in front of an employer who is listening to what they have to say and, more importantly, actually looking for the kinds of students that show up.
A lot of the time, people apply to dozens of jobs only to hear back from a one person. Assuming he or she is qualified, then employers aren’t interested because they don’t need to extra help right now. Once the businesses exit the job fair, your window for getting noticed has closed. What are you going to do, send in your resume and cover letter explaining how you couldn’t make it to the job fair? No. The companies that are there are busy engaging with interested students in real-time, and who will be (should be) following up with them by email anyhow.
Senior year had its pros and cons
My most recent experience at a career fair was earlier this week, where I surprisingly was less engaged with the visiting companies. Two years have passed since sophomore year. You’d think because I’m a senior expected to graduate in the spring that I would be speaking to as many companies as possible.
That’s more of how my attitude was two years ago, when I was not as certain on what I wanted to do after I graduate. Now that I have more experience, I have a better idea of the sort of work environment, and cause, that I’d like to contribute to – an ad agency. I looked at all the companies that would be present at this career fair, and there were only a few that interested me. Even out of those, none of them showed up looking for spring-time hires. They wanted part-time paid or unpaid interns during the school year (flashback to sophomore year). Companies that were hiring for full-time positions were doing so in anticipation for winter graduates.
Regardless, it’s always possible to create value
With all that said, I was still able to “get shit done” during the fair. Just because nobody was hiring right now, doesn’t mean I can’t take this opportunity to get my name out there, talk to individuals that I may want to reach out to in the future, and simply inquire about business cultures to learn more about what’s out there.
An owner of a design company that specializes in branding said he would pass my name along to someone he knew – a higher up at a digital marketing agency called New Breed Marketing. I’ve had my eye on New Breed for years as they’ve sent employees/alumni from their company to my school to talk to students about their work. I could never had anticipated a participant at one of these job fairs suggesting my name for work, especially because they already have so much paperwork and contacts to sort out afterwards to begin with.
I also had a great conversion with a couple women from Dealer.com who gave me great information on how I could follow up with their company in the future, with or without a job fair. After all it’s worth, I spent no more than an hour at the event.
- Go to the event
- Find companies you’re interested in
- Introduce yourself and ask questions about the company
- Explain your experience, interests, and goals
- Give them your resume, and take their business card.
The last and most important part is: follow up. Like I mentioned earlier, the companies at these job fairs have so many resumes to look through afterward. I’ve always sent a follow up email to everyone I talked to within a day or two. I’ve learned not to worry if I still don’t hear back right away.
Career fairs offer me a much more fulfilling experience than connecting with someone on Linkedin or exchanging emails with someone. The process of showing up, dressing professional, and asking pertinent questions in real-time requires much more effort, yet can be just as enjoyable I find an area I’m interested in.