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Taking Advantage Of A College Career Fair

I am currently attending Johns Hopkins as a freshman studying Electrical Engineering. I chose this school, among other reasons, because I felt that it had the most opportunities to offer me in regards to employment and research—and I certainly wasn’t wrong. Just a few weeks ago, I attended a career fair specifically designed for STEM employers to find STEM students looking to work as an intern or an employee in a company tailored to their skillset; as a powerhouse research and engineering school, this practice is quite standard for Hopkins.

This is a picture of a building in the Johns Hopkins University Wyman Quad, which is the area where all the engineering buildings are centered. I chose Johns Hopkins because I felt it had the most opportunities to offer me in regards to employment and research.
Photo Courtesy of The Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering

As a freshman, most students don’t even attend the career fair because it’s very unlikely that they’ll get hired. In fact, during my time there, I believe I saw more Ph.D and grad students than actual undergrads. However, I decided to go anyway just to see how it worked and what I would perfect for my next career fair. I am quite glad that I did, because going to a career fair for the first time was extremely nerve-wracking. At my school’s career fair, employers set up tables in the gymnasium, and, once the event started, students could come in, shake a few hands, give their resumes, and ask a few questions. Although this doesn’t seem all too bad, the experience itself was quite terrifying.

This is an image of two people shaking hands, just like they would at a college career fair.
Photo Courtesy of Oleg Magni

The Problem With Getting Hired

The first thing I noticed was that each employer had these huge stacks of resumes piled on their desks, and I thought to myself how they could possibly read them all. I soon came to the realization that they probably don’t. Almost all of the companies gave me brochures with information on how to apply for internships or jobs online. One of them scanned my resume to kickstart my profile for their hiring website, and then asked for my email so that they could follow up with me.

This is an example of what a college career fair looks like. It is in a gymnasium, packed with employers who want to showcase their companies, and students who want to apply for work.
Photo Courtesy of The University of Delaware

That same company was the only one that actually sent me an email after the fair, letting me know that they were glad to meet me and that I had made a good impression on them with my resume. They also sent me a link to join an “exclusive” engineering community with other students in order to network and hold discussions. I am unsure whether or not this community was truly exclusive, because some of my friends who went to the same company’s booth received an identical email.

The True Purpose of a Career Fair

The point here is that, at least in my case (as well as many other schools, I’m sure), simply going to a career fair and talking to employers will not actually get you a job. In fact, I would even argue that career fairs are intended more for employers than for students—it gives them a chance to scout talent amongst college students and encourage them to apply, and it also provides them a platform to advertise their company for free.

This is a picture of two students talking to employers and being handed information about their company.
Photo Courtesy of The University of Michigan

What Students Need to Do

If you really do intend on getting a job from a career fair, you need to take an extra step and go apply on the company’s website. The reality is, these companies go to college campuses every day—they’re not looking to “recruit” students as much as they are trying to promote themselves and get their own name out there. Companies want to see you take **initiative **and apply for jobs instead of passively waiting to hear back from them—they really want to see that you are interested in the work that they do.

My advice for approaching career fairs is to introduce yourself to which companies best fit your personality and skill set, then doing some more research about them and, ultimately, deciding if you want to apply. In my opinion, if you already know exactly which companies you want to apply to, there is no point in going to a career fair. Career fairs are a place to explore opportunities, not get hired—and that is an extremely important distinction to make.

This is a picture of a student approaching a company's booth in order to talk to them about what they do.
Photo Courtesy of Penn State