Campus career fairs are open to all students. Many organizations need employees with strong communications, problem-solving, project management, and organizational skills — and they hire students from any major who can demonstrate those abilities. Career fairs of particular interest to humanities majors include the LAS & ACES Career Fair in the fall, the Illini Career and Internship Fair in the spring, and the Gies Business Career Fairs that take place each semester.
Career fairs represent a subset of employers: those who find that travelling to campus is a cost-effective way to find the talent they need. For many small or mid-size companies, start-ups, or nonprofit organizations, the costs of attending a campus career fair far outweigh the benefits. If you don’t find your career goals reflected in attendees at a campus career fair, it just means that you should find other ways to connect with the employers who interest you. Even so, it can be worthwhile to go to a campus career fair. It will expose you to career paths that you may not have thought of, and it’s a great low-stakes way to practice talking to employers.
Preparation is key to a good career fair experience.
Before the Career Fair:
- Check out the employers on Handshake and identify 3 – 7 organizations that you KNOW you want to talk to. For each one, figure out
- What the company/organization does
- What positions (if any) they’re specifically trying to fill
- Something you’d like to know that you can’t find on their website or Handshake posting. (e.g., “What kinds of leadership experience do successful applicants usually have?” “How do you retain valued members of your sales team?” “Is this internship available at your new location in XX?”)
- Look beyond the companies that specify “all majors” or name your major. If the job ad lists other majors yet you meet other requirements for the job, it is safe to say that yours is a “related major.”
- If the company has a button to apply online, and the job is of interest, go ahead and apply (and mention that you’ve done so when you talk to the recruiter).
- Get a plastic nametag in advance at the Career Center on 715 S. Wright St.. It looks more professional than a tag handwritten at the event. The reception desk at Career Services will point you to the machine and guide you through its use
- Print out multiple copies of your resume, targeted to the organizations you are aiming for. (If you’re looking at more than one broad category of job, it’s okay to have two different versions of your resume). The number of organizations you want to talk to times 2 plus 10 more is a safe number.
- Have a clean, pressed, career fair outfit ready to go. You don’t need a suit, or heels, but you should look office-ready.
- Get a folder to hold your resumes — preferably one with a pocket for the fliers and business cards you may collect.
- Identify three talking points: things that you think employers should know about you that are not your major. E.g., “I have customer service experience in a wide range of organizations.” “I’ve been working since I was fourteen.” “I write at least 75 pages of polished prose every semester for my major.” “Between my job, my RSO, and my classes, I’m good at juggling multiple deadlines.” “I have organized three events for my sorority to raise over $1000 for children’s cancer research.” Practice saying them.
During the Career Fair
- Work the fair alone. It can be helpful to come with a friend, but split up and make a plan to meet up back at the student preparation area every 20 minutes, or after you’ve both talked to three employers, or whatever works.
- Some career fairs have printed maps available to show you where employers are, others use the Career Fair Plus app. Find out where at the fair the employers you’re interested in are located and plan your route before you go in.
- Start with the employer you are least interested in (or one that’s not on your list), and work up to the one you are most interested in. If you see an employer with no one waiting to talk to them, that may be a good one to practice on — they’ll be glad to have someone there to talk to, even if your qualifications or interests don’t match their openings.
- You may hear other students giving “elevator pitches” — but don’t feel that you have to take that approach. Aim for a conversation, which will probably demonstrate your communication skills better than a pitch would. Introduce yourself to the recruiter with a question, based on your preparation. Then use their answer to that question as a reason to mention one or more of your talking points.
- Offer your resume, and ask for a business card so you can follow up. If they have a flier or brochure, take that. Avoid the swag.
- Aim for two minutes of conversation if there are people waiting. Less is okay if the employer seems uninterested or the line is unusually long. More is okay if there is no one waiting.
- After each conversations, walk off to the side and jot down a few notes: the name of the person you were talking to, any interesting information that came up, anything specific that you talked about, any additional steps you might need to take — you’ll need this when writing your thank-you emails afterward, and you WILL forget details.
- If you get a negative response, that’s okay — just go on to the next employer on your list. Some employers are looking to fill very specific needs. Being able to hear “no” without letting it throw you off your game is a valuable life skill that a career fair may give you opportunities to practice.
- If you get the urge to talk to an employer that you didn’t research in advance, go ahead and do it (that’s why your brought extra resumes)
- Career fairs can be hot, noisy, stressful, and exhausting. It’s okay to take a break and regroup if you need to (this is why it’s good to come with a friend and have a plan for meeting up).
After the Career Fair
- If recruiters for jobs you want told you to do things, do them: apply online, contact a related division directly, send an email, look up a job posting.
- Write a thank-you email to anyone you talked to that you would like to sustain a connection with:
- Reiterate your enthusiasm for the job, mention any additional qualifications or relevant details that came to mind after you talked,
- Tell them you applied online (if they told you to do that),
- Mention some memorable detail about your conversation, and
- Attach your resume (even if you handed it to them there).
- If there were jobs you were particularly interested in, it’s okay to follow up again if you haven’t heard back in a week or two.
- Keep networking, answering job ads, and following leads while you wait to hear back. Career fairs are just ONE part of seeking a job or internship, and it’s good to take multiple approaches.
- Come talk to us in the Humanities Professional Resource Center if you have questions or want to debrief about your career fair experience!