Guest Post: Surviving the FOCUS Job Fair

By Ana V. Fleming, Communications Intern, Department of English

IMG_3446(1)Career fairs. Consistently throughout my three, going on four, years here at the University of Illinois, that phrase has terrified me–along with all the things that go with it: pressure, elevator pitches, resumes, business casual. However, after attending a number of career fairs on campus —and similar events, like corporate after-hours and part-time job fairs—I’ve grown less averse to the idea.

For instance, I recently attended the FOCUS part-time job and internship fair at the Illini Union as a senior in English. (I also attended the Department of Computer Science’s Corporate After Hours a couple of weeks ago, seeking out UI/UX design positions—I was even more of a fish out of water there!) At FOCUS, many of the students around me were from the College of Fine and Applied Arts, and many of the opportunities offered at the event were centered on graphic design (though, not all of them—there were opportunities for marketing, communications, videography, social media, and even content-development positions, among others that I probably missed). Personally, I was there seeking both writing positions and design positions; thus, I grew worried that the abundance of FAA students around me would overwhelm my chances of wrangling some of those design opportunities.

However, the fair wasn’t overly crowded, and the stakes were pretty low, so I decided to talk to as many of the represented companies and colleges (for instance, the College of ACES was there) as possible. As it turns out, most of the representatives were happy to speak with me, and each one that I spoke to took my resume for reference, regardless of whether or not they had any current openings that matched my skill set. At each booth, I asked about the kinds of jobs and internships the different companies had available, the expectations in terms of hours and pay, and their goals for the semester (or upcoming semesters). In return, they asked me about my familiarity with the company, my knowledge of certain software, and whether or not I was interested in the projects they were recruiting for.

While the fair represented around twenty companies, and I only had the time to talk to about eight of them, I could already perceive a wealth of opportunities. Everyone had been perfectly happy to talk to me, and no one made any assumptions about my competence in regards to writing or design—rather, they gave me the chance to discuss my experience and describe my capabilities. The event was pretty casual, and I walked out of the Illini Union Ballroom with the knowledge that, at the very least, I was exposed to some new opportunities, I had links to some applications in hand, and, through mere exposure and repetition, I was slightly less intimidated by career fairs and interview-style interactions than I had been walking in there (even IMG_3448(1)as a senior).

Enormous fairs like the Engineering Career Fair and Business Career Fair can be a lot to tackle at the beginning of the semester, but they are by no means the only opportunities to connect with companies. If you’re ever wondering whether or not you should attend a career fair, I’d suggest going for it, especially when smaller, more focused events like the aptly-named FOCUS are within your reach.

 

Making the Most of the Alumni Connection on LinkedIn

Sometimes, the Department of English Alumni Mentoring Network is not enough. Say you’re interested in a specific industry that isn’t represented there, or you’d like insider information on a particular company or you’re looking to relocate and want to start building a network in your new city. Here’s a useful article on how LinkedIn can help you connect with play-stone-1237497_1920Illinois English alumni beyond our mentoring network.

Not sure how to write to a stranger who just happened to graduate from the same program as you? Consult our guide on how to write a “cold email.

Recommendation Letters?!?

thumbs-up-1197306_1280If you’re applying to graduate school, you will definitely need letters of recommendation from your professors. But what about if you’re thinking about a future job search, not grad school?

Opinions vary!

According to The Intern Queen, if you’re coming up on the end of a summer job or internship, you should absolutely ask for a recommendation letter to show future employers. She tells you why and explains how in this short video:

This columnist from Forbes sort-of agrees: “In the past, obtaining recommendation letters was a requirement of the job search process. Today, not as much. Now, this step is considered optional, but savvy job seekers understand that it can help give them an edge when it comes to obtaining a position.”

But not everyone is so sure. This writer argues

letters of recommendation are not valued much by employers outside of academe. Why? Because skeptical employers think you wrote the letter for the reference to sign; because it’s written in advance, the writer’s had time to soften your weaknesses or omit them, and write those glowing phrases of praise; because it doesn’t permit the employer to ask his or her own questions.

Many people get jobs without recommendations in their job-search toolkit. However, it is vital to have references whom prospective employers can contact.  Click here for some useful advice on choosing and soliciting good references.

Bottom line: if you feel comfortable asking for a job recommendation letter, go ahead and do so.  It can’t hurt, and somewhere down the line it might help. But staying in touch with potential references and maintaining your network might be a better use of your time.

The Long Game, Summer Edition

reflection-985901_1920English/CW majors get jobs: we know that. The challenge is, WHAT job? Unlike accounting or engineering or mortuary science majors, you probably aren’t going to work in an office that has “English” or “Creative Writing” on the door. Yet contrary to popular belief, majoring in a field like English gives you more–rather than fewer–options.

Turning that wealth of possibility into a job that you want requires some important steps on your part. If you haven’t yet started planning for your post-college career, summer is a great time to start.

Here are some things you can do this summer that will help you after you graduate.

Get experience. A job of any kind will put you ahead. If you were able to land an internship in a professional field that interests you, great–but if you didn’t, any job you take on during the summer can advance you towards your goals.

  • Pay attention. The better you understand your own strengths and weaknesses, the better you’ll be able to identify opportunities, and any job gives you opportunities to see how you shine. Do you prefer to greet customers or work behind the scenes? Are you better at dealing with a crisis as it unfolds, or at preparing in advance so that a crisis doesn’t happen? What kinds of problems do you most enjoy solving at work? Any job gives you opportunities to understand better what you can bring to any organization.
  • Look for stories. Most full-time interviews will involve questions that begin, “tell me about a time when you…” Interviewers want to hear specifics about how you’ve dealt with conflict, difficult people, uncomfortable work situations, unforeseen problems. Stay alert for moments that will provide the stories you’ll be telling in future interviews. Even better? Create a story you can tell by improving a process, offering a new service, or solving a problem.

Explore. Paid employment isn’t the only way to find out more about a line of work that interests you.

  • Volunteer. Find a not-for-profit organization that you care about and look into ways that you can contribute to their goals. Just like a paid job or involvement in a campus RSO, a volunteer position can be a way to learn more about your strengths (and weaknesses) and acquire the stories that you’ll use to demonstrate your worth to future employers.
  • Job-shadow. The Career Center here on campus offers a job-shadowing program over the winter and summer breaks, but you can create your own job-shadowing opportunities if there’s a particular career you want to explore.
  • Make something. Check out our recent blog post on this topic.
  • Write for an audience. If you anticipate applying for jobs that require excellent writing skills, know that many employers will be asking for writing samples. It’s helpful to have material to draw on other than your writing for class. Though you should be strategic about writing for free, getting involved with an online or print publication or creating your own blog can demonstrate your ability to write for a nonacademic audience.

Connect. We all know people, and we all know people who know people. Think of it as building relationships, particularly if that term “networking”–with its overtones of opportunism and fakery–scares you. Not all relationships will be relevant to your career search, and that’s okay. The relationships you build may be relevant to someone else’s job search, or they may contribute to making the world a better place, or they may mean you have a few more friends that you would have had otherwise. It’s all good.

Prepare. The school year is going to bring you many opportunities to move towards your eventual career. Summer gives you time to get ready.

  • Think internships. Internships available through the English department will be advertised shortly before classes start, and other campus opportunities will be available then, too. Give some thought to what kinds of work experiences would help you advance your goals and start preparing your application materials.
  • Work on your resume. Create a masterfile for your resume (with absolutely everything you’ve ever done) and then experiment with a few different one-page versions of it, tailored to different jobs you might consider. Note that a resume is a marketing document, NOT a really big business card. It should change to reflect the purposes you’re putting it to.
  • Think career fair. Even if you’re not convinced that you want to intern or work for the kind of large-scale employer that can afford to send recruiters to campus, attending the fall Business Career Fair can give you low-stakes practice in talking to employers and introduce you to a broader range of potential jobs. It’s also excellent preparation for the Illini Career Fair in the spring.
  • Shop. Having a selection of office-appropriate clothes and shoes on hand will allow you to take advantage of on-campus networking or interviewing opportunities that arise. If your wardrobe is mostly t-shirts, shorts, jeans, flip-flops, and sneakers, summer is a good time to browse sales and clearance racks and inexpensively upgrade your look.