How to fare at a career fair

Ryan Maloney, right, a senior in Engineering, speaks with a Frito Lay representative at the Engineering Employment Expo on Feb. 7. Ryan and hundreds of other engineering students met with hiring companies in the Illini Union. Erica Magda

Dean Santarinala

Ryan Maloney, right, a senior in Engineering, speaks with a Frito Lay representative at the Engineering Employment Expo on Feb. 7. Ryan and hundreds of other engineering students met with hiring companies in the Illini Union. Erica Magda

By Cayla Crisp

Walking into a room full of top companies giving out jobs and internships might seem like a dream, but at universities across the country, that dream is a reality for students who attend a career fair.

“When you walk in here, you’re kind of overwhelmed by the rows and rows of organizations,” said Amanda Rhear, junior in Engineering, at a recent fair. “Go and talk to someone right away and get your nerves out of the way.”

Whether just starting out as a freshman or approaching graduation, career fairs help students navigate the variety of available internships and entry-level careers by providing a place for employers and potential employees to meet. Dr. Lois Meerdink, associate dean of Business Career Services, called the process a two-way exchange.

“The companies are promoting themselves to students, and likewise, students need to be introducing and promoting themselves to companies,” she said.

The Business Career Fair will begin Monday, but Meerdink said other majors should consider attending as well. She said everyone should wear business professional attire.

“The fair is open to all students on campus,” Meerdink said. “There are a number of fields where the major is not as important as other general skills.”

Jason Kelly, a recruiter from General Electric, said they look for different majors for both internships and full-time positions.

“We hire many different disciplines, mostly interns,” he said. “We’re looking for students with a lot of initiative and strong self-confidence.

While students of varying majors should consider attending, Meerdink warned that one of the most common mistakes is that students do not research any of the companies. She advised all students planning to attend any career fair to prepare thoroughly.

“Plan ahead, research and be able to answer two basic questions: Why do they want to be employed either as an intern or a full time candidate … and why should the company hire them and not other majors or other students on campus?”

When attending a career fair, the setup is usually the same for almost every fair. In one or more large rooms, each employer has a display at one of the many tables arranged into rows. Students are free to walk around the room and talk to any of the representatives. If the student is successful, they will be asked later to have an interview for a position with the company.

“It’s maybe two minutes of time they have,” Meerdink said. “They should spend some time researching those organizations.”

Rhear said she researched before the Engineering fair to get an idea of which tables she would like to visit.

“Definitely research the companies before you come here and know which companies your major is looking for,” Rhear said. “I brought a list of the companies I wanted to go see.”

In addition to lack of research, Meerdink said the most common mistakes students make include typos on a resume, running out of resumes, being unfocused and inattentive and not showing any passion.

“Students show up asking, ‘What can you offer me?'” she said. “That candidate is not going to receive an interview. They need to be very articulate, concise and present information that tells the employer why they would make a strong candidate for an interview.”

To secure an interview, Meerdink recommended showing enthusiasm and personality when speaking with potential employers. She said the positive response displays how sincere that candidate is and how they will operate as an individual for that company.

“Show passion and interest for the company and position,” she said. “The employers are very astute in picking up that interest, passion and preparation.”

Students can use any of the 28 career services available on campus, but most will find the career service provided for their college or major most useful. A list of the career services is available at www.careerservices.uiuc.edu, as well as upcoming career fair dates. If unable to attend the fall fair, the career fairs listed, including the Engineering Career Fair, are offered again in the spring.