How to Conquer the Business Career Fair as an English/CW Major

  1. Know that not only is the fair open to all majors, but many employers come hoping to meet majors from all over the university. If you’re inclined to go,  you should go. If you’re not sure whether you’re inclined or not (you’re unsure about whether “business” is for you), you should go–talking to employers is a great way to find out.
  2. Prepare.
  3. Prepare.
  4. Prepare.
  5. Prepare. Having a plan is the difference between a traumatizing Business Career Fair experience and a useful one. Going in unprepared pretty much guarantees that you’ll conclude that you’re unemployable. A little bit of preparation will show you that you are not only employable, but have choices about your employment.

  6. Preparation = Handshake. Take time to identify the employers you want to approach. The “event” page for the Business Career Fair tells you
    • which employers will be there, and on which day (it’s a two-day event)
    • 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
  7. 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 that emphasize that they seek a wide breadth of backgrounds (e.g., Morningstar, Aerotek), that have positions requiring excellent communication and relationship-building skills (recruiting, sales, consulting, client services, marketing, human resources), that seek majors related to business or communication, and that don’t ask for specific quantitative or technical or background.
  8. Come up with a list of employers — anywhere from one to seven is reason enough to come to the career fair. More than that on either day may leave you overwhelmed.
  9. Draft a version of your resume that emphasizes the skills those employers seek.
  10. 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.
  11. 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 within the first 30 seconds. 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 position?”) 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.”)
  12. 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.
  13. Dress appropriately. A black 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 will be a place to leave coats and snowboots if the weather is bad.
  14. 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” in the bookstore to print it out on, but it’s unlikely to be a deal-breaker if you just use regular printer paper.
  15. 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.
  16. You’ll need your I-Card to get into the fair. While you’re signing in, make sure to get a copy of the fair map to plan your route. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. The goal is to walk away from each encounter having handed over a copy of your resume and received a business card. Take a moment between conversations to write down what happened and what you learned. You WILL forget, and you will need this information when you…
  19. 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.
  20. Good luck! You’ve got this.

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