The English/CW Major’s Guide to Career Fairs

Internships and job opportunities are available through career fairs on campus, which are open to all students.  The advice here applies particularly to the Business Career Fair and the Illini Career and Internship Fair.

Career fairs can be intimidating, hot, and noisy–but they can also be a way to learn more about the job market, practice your job-seeking skills, and make connections.

Contrary to what you may have been told, not all career fair recruiters are looking exclusively for students with quantitative and technical skills or a business background.  Many organizations need employees with strong communications, problem-solving, project management, and organizational skills.

It helps to know in advance which employers are most likely to be interested in your transferable skills.  Fortunately, abundant information about recruiting companies is available in advance on I-Link (click on the “Events” tab at the left of the homepage, and then “Career Fairs”). Once you’ve clicked on the fair you plan to attend, you can click on “employers” and used the advanced search tab to identify those who are seeking “All Majors” or “LAS.” You can also probe further into specific job descriptions to find their particular needs.

Don’t be scared off by position descriptions that match your skills but specify majors other than English. Employers are more interested in your skills than your major, and unless the position is a squarely quantitative/technical one, English is almost always a “related major.”

Some advice:

  • Get a plastic nametag in advance at the Career Center on 715 S. Wright St.. It looks more professional than a tag handwritten at the event. The reception desk at Career Services will point you to the machine and guide you through its use..
  • Dress professionally: dark suit, simple shirt/blouse, dress shoes, ties (for men), low-key accessories (for women).  If you don’t yet have an interview suit and you’re mostly going for the experience and the practice, opt for dark “business casual” clothing that will help you blend in.  Avoid anything (dangling jewelry, B.O., strong perfume, bared skin, t-shirts with logos, white-socks-with-black-shoes, etc.) that will make your appearance more memorable than your resume.
  • Bring copies of your resume, targeted to the kinds of jobs you’re applying for, as well as something to write with and on.  If you have a productive conversation with someone, you’ll want to be able to remember who you talked to, at what company, and about what.
  • Have a plan!  Use the I-Link resources to plot out which employers you want to talk to, and write down a specific question to ask each one.  Sample dumb question: “So, do you have internships?” –that’s information you can get straight from their website  Sample good question: “What kinds of experience do you expect your social media intern to bring to the program?”–particularly good if you can follow up with something like, “Oh–I’d be a great fit for that position–I’ve been running the facebook and twitter feeds for two different RSOs.  I’d love to tell you more about it–here’s how you can reach me.”
  • Work the career fair alone. If you come with a buddy, split up. By all means, plan to meet up partway through to take a breather and compare notes (the Jimmy John’s table is a good spot for this–they usually have free sandwich samples), but recruiters will want to talk to you one-on-one.
  • Near the entrance to the Business Career Fair, there’s usually a booth where you can get a professional headshot taken. As long as you’re dressed up, it’s not a bad idea to take advantage of the opportunity. Even if you’re not looking for jobs in a field where headshots are a standard resume feature, it’s good to have a professional picture of yourself for social media.
  • Use it as a learning experience. As you wait in line, you can surreptitiously listen to other people’s conversations and get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.  It’s a chance to practice your interviewing skills in a limited way–it’s much better to blow it in a 30-second conversation at a career fair than a real interview!–and if you screw up, you can practice shaking it off and pulling yourself together for the next conversation.

And of course, touch base with Kirstin Wilcox and Julie Higgs at the Humanities Professional Resource Center if you’d like to go over your resume or practice your “elevator pitch” in advance.