How to Conquer the Gies Business Career Fair as an English/CW Major (Updated for Fall 2018)

The Gies Business Career Fair is open to all majors, and many employers come hoping to meet majors from all over the university.

Bring your I-Card — it’s the only requirement for entry.

If you’re inclined to go, go! If you’re not whether “business” is for you, go. Talking to employers is a great way to find out more about what “business” careers are out there and how you might fit in. If you’re planning to to to the LAS & ACES Career Fair in October, going to the Gies fair is a great way to get familiar with the career fair format, so you go to the next one with even more confidence.

Prepare. Having a plan is the difference between a traumatizing career fair experience and a useful one. A little bit of preparation will show you that you are not only employable, but have choices about your employment. 

  1. Preparation = Handshake. Spend a half hour on Handshake to identify some employers you want to approach. The “event” page for the Business Career Fair tells you
    • which employers will be there, and on which day (each employer only attends for one day)
    • what particular employers do
    • what positions employers are seeking to fill
    • whether employers have internships or jobs
    • where to find more information on the company website
  2. Not all employers will want to talk to English/CW majors! That’s okay. Focus on the ones that do. Don’t try to search for your major — instead look for employers who
    • seek a wide breadth of backgrounds (e.g., Morningstar, Anheuser-Busch, Addison),
    • have positions requiring excellent communication and relationship-building skills (recruiting, sales, consulting, client services, marketing, human resources),
    • specify majors related to business or communication, or
    • don’t ask for specific quantitative or technical knowledge.
  3. Come up with a list of 2 – 7 employers. More than that on either day may leave you overwhelmed.
  4. Create a version of your resume that emphasizes the skills those employers seek. You can find a good template here.
  5. As you prepare, you will see that some employers encourage applicants to apply online. If you’re confident that you want to pursue the job, go ahead and do so — then when the recruiter asks if you’ve applied you can say “yes!” and impress them with your enthusiasm and alacrity.
  6. Practice introducing yourself! The conventional “elevator pitches” that your engineering or finance major friends have been honing will not convey the particular strengths that you have to offer employers, so don’t try to come up with 30 seconds of achievement to rattle off. Instead, think about how to start a conversation with a recruiter and how to drop your strengths into that conversation. It’s great to start with an intelligent question about the opening that interests you (e.g., “what kinds of experience are you looking for in candidates for this recruiting internship?” and then have a good follow up that conveys your interest in and fit for the position (e.g., “that sounds really perfect for me — I’m the membership chair for Illini Against Voldemort and I’ve used my communication skills to expand our active members by fifty percent. I’m good at building relationships, and I’d like to use that talent professionally.”)
  7. Your major isn’t a shameful secret that you need to hide — but it’s not the detail that you should lead with. Employers care more about what you can do than what you study. “I write more than seventy-five pages of polished prose every semester, and I’d like to use my ability to juggle multiple deadlines to help you meet your clients’ needs” speaks to employers in a way that “I’m a Creative Writing major!” does not.
  8. Dress appropriately (black suit optional). A dark suit will help you blend in, but it’s not necessary. A professional combo of skirt/dress/slacks + top/shirt and/or blazer, with appropriate accessories (subdued jewelry or necktie) and footwear (no gym shoes or flip-flops) is fine. There’s a secure place to check bags and comfy shoes.
  9. Bring lots of copies of your resume. Two for every employer that you plan to speak to plus five extras is a good estimate. You can buy expensive “resume paper” to print it on, but regular printer paper is fine.
  10. You’ll need something to put your resumes in, and a place to take notes and stash business cards is also helpful. A “padfolio” is the most common solution to this problem — you can find them in the bookstore, but they may be less expensive online or at an office supply store. A regular folder is fine, too.
  11. Pro-tip from the student who spoke at our English Advising Breakfast Club event on surviving career fairs: hold your folder casually down at your side rather than clutching it to your chest — you’ll look more confident and approachable. If you make sure to put it in your left hand, you’ll have your right free for handshakes.
  12. There’s a free app that will help you plan your route at the fair: Career Fair Plus. There may be paper maps available when you sign in, but downloading the app ahead of time may be more convenient. Start with one or two employers that you’re less enthusiastic about so that you can get comfortable and warm up before you approach an employer that you really want to work for.
  13. Don’t let the preponderance of business and other preprofessional majors throw you off your game. The fact that you don’t look/sound/act like everyone else is what will attract the employers that you want to work for — so go ahead and be yourself.
  14. The goal is to walk away from each encounter having handed over a copy of your resume and received a business card or some other form of contact information to follow up.
  15. Take a moment between conversations to write down what happened and what you learned (the business card is a helpful place to put that info). You WILL forget, and you will need this information when you…
  16. Write a thank-you email to every recruiter that you had a conversation with AND want to stay in touch with. Often the business fair is the beginning of a longer conversation, even if the interaction you had felt lukewarm or dismissive. Use the thank you to
    • reiterate your interest in the position
    • express your enthusiasm for the company
    • mention anything specific that came up in the conversation to remind the recruiter who you are.
    • attach an electronic copy of the resume you gave them.
  17. Good luck! You’ve got this. 

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