My First Career Fair: A Recruiter’s Hot Take on the Benefits of College Career Fairs

If I could go back and give my college self some advice, I probably would have recommended that I (1) took an Excel class (the spreadsheet struggle is real) and (2) actually went to the college career fair. At the time, the annual career fair mostly felt like I would just be collecting brochures and getting sent to the company’s website. Plus, as an English major, I didn’t think there would be a lot of companies who I would want to work for, or who would want me to work for them. If I could go back, I would tell myself I blew several great opportunities to connect with 90+ employers, to learn about specific roles and get insider tips on what companies look for in candidates, and to get a chance to sell my skills and background in a way none of my resumes could.

I recently got the chance to attend my first career fair, on the other side of the table. In May, I went with my Boly:Welch colleague, Kathleen Everett, to the University of Oregon’s 2017 Spring Career Fair and Diversity Night. Before attending the fair, I felt like we would just be passing out swag, but it ended up being an amazing chance to meet great candidates and give out some of the advice I wish I had known when I was in college. The energy was great – students were asking a lot of pointed questions and their experiences wowed even someone like me, who sees plenty of resumes. Particularly in the digital age, a lot of the human element of the job search has dropped out of the process. Nothing makes a candidate more compelling than meeting them and hearing about their passions and skills. No cover letter can convey that same information.

So, if I were going to sell my college age self on the benefits of giving up a warm spring afternoon to put on business casual clothes and meet some strangers, I’d say:

1. Your ability to market yourself in person is incalculably more effective than trying to pad out a resume – particularly for majors that aren’t as in demand as finance and accounting, the chance to explain your background and connect it to an employer’s needs is a huge opportunity.
2. Kind of like speed dating, you get to meet tons of employers consecutively, with no screening requirements, applicant tracking systems, or “entry-level-must-have-2-to-3-years-of-experience” paradoxes to keep you from ending up on a short list of potential hires. Conversely, you can also get a sense of the employers you aren’t going to be interested in.
3. Free candy. And all the pens/bags/notebooks/koozies/lanyards you’ll ever need.
4. The ability to test out the market and learn what employers are looking for in their entry-level candidates. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses in comparison to the other applicants for the jobs you’re applying.

And employers – get a booth set up at the next fair! You won’t regret it!