Lowering the Pressure at Career Fairs

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Posted by The Editors on September 2, 2011
Lowering the Pressure at Career Fairs
I’ll confess, I felt a nostalgic pang as students at my alma mater started classes this week. It wasn’t brought on by memories of dorms, cafeterias, the quad, or any other idyllic college elements. Instead, I thought of that first activity fair, where all the clubs and organizations cast out their nets for new members. I remember it as a high-energy hive, with jugglers, martial arts demonstrations, and the noise of military drills, spirit cheers, and music. (The organizations I was in were mainly sources of that last item, blasting from both speakers and instruments.)

Remarkably, this setting is really the first one where freshmen have a say in the direction their college experience will go—it’s less random than roommate assignments, and far less strict than first-year course assignments. It offers a chance for upperclassmen to reinvent themselves, too. Even after my first year, when I attended to rep for various organizations, I still made the rounds and considered signing on for something new. “Why not?” I thought. “It’s low pressure.”

Contrast this with a setting I’ve been exploring in the last few weeks: the career fair, where everything in the world seems to be riding on who you approach and who you talk to. Everything from your way of speaking to your wardrobe to your handshake is under scrutiny. As one recruiter told me recently, “They’re not looking to rule you in; they’re looking to rule you out.” It sounds harsh, but it’s true—there are too many candidates and not enough openings. Something has to give.

Recruiters, career coaches, and the editors at WetFeet all stress preparation as a way to stand out and get the job you want, and while you should approach a career fair with an A-list of companies you’ve researched thoroughly, be open to companies that aren’t on your radar. “They might not be a brand name, but chances are they’ve got some pretty good opportunities until proven otherwise,” said the same recruiter who gave me that earlier dose of reality. So keep a couple copies of your resume on hand for lesser-known companies. Their lines are shorter, their recruiters will have time for conversations, and—most importantly—the pressure is lower.

Want more career fair advice? Check out the WetFeet Insider Guide!

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