Don’t underestimate the power of a job fair

This column originally appeared in the April 4, 2012 issue of The Setonian. For additional articles, check out their website.

As a graduating senior, now’s about the time when you start looking for a real job. Actually, you might be a little bit late on the job search at this point. Although you don’t graduate until May, many potential jobs will begin the interview process as early as a month before the actual hiring process begins. With that being the case, now’s an excellent time to start applying, so in actuality, we seniors should’ve started the job search at least a month ago. But, it’s okay. It’s not too late for you!

If you’re lucky like me, you already have a steady internship, but in some cases, students are too busy to hold down a job and continue to excel in school. That being the case, many don’t have time to “shop” around for a job, browsing through postings on various career sites, such as Monster or PA Career Link.

That’s where the WestPACS Job and Internship Fair comes into play. Held annually at the Monroeville Convention Center, this event caters to students of all ages and skill levels as well as alumni who are still hunting for a job within their major.

On WestPACS website, they offer a brief list of suggestions for making the most out of the fair, and I’m here to tell you that they’re absolutely right, but at the same time, they don’t cover the full spectrum.

Tip #1: Research the employers

Although WestPACS tells job candidates to research the over 100 employers who attend the job fair, what they don’t seem to tell you is that this job fair is geared more towards sales and marketing, with several jobs also available in engineering and computer programming.

For the rest of us non-science or math-oriented people out there, aka, journalism or  communications types, there aren’t a whole lot of options, unless you don’t mind pursuing a job in sales. After attending the job fair for three hours, I left with only about five true leads for future jobs, one of which was a video teller, which lent more to my customer service experience than communications experiences.

The only other job that actually gears itself for journalism / communications majors was caption writing. Not exactly the most glamorous or professional of careers, but it would pay the bills if necessary.

Even actuarial science majors, like alumni Mark Henry, who attended the fair, were hard pressed to find a perfect fit. There was one booth that advertised “math majors apply here.”

Upon inquiry, Henry learned that they wanted math majors not because there was math involved in the job description, but because they needed logical and “smart” individuals to troubleshoot new programs developed by their team of computer science employees.

Basically, the HR representative explained, the company was looking for math majors because if they can understand higher level calculus classes, then they should have no problem uncovering flaws in the programming of new software.

Trust me, you’ll save a lot of time if you really know the employers present at the event. If you’re not interested in sales or marketing, you can avoid about 75 percent of the booths altogether.

That, coupled with the 5 to 10 percent of computer programming booths leaves candidates with less than 25 percent of booths to work with. Even so, that doesn’t mean you should avoid these companies altogether.

Tip # 2: Don’t be afraid to visit booths that aren’t specifically hiring for your field.

I entered the job fair with the naive perception that everybody needs writers. While it’s true that nearly every company has some form of communications and public relations departments, if the HR personnel present aren’t selling those jobs, there’s not much they can do for you. In some cases, they are able to instruct you on where to submit your resume or who to contact.

“Go to as many booths as you can even if you don’t think you are interested in what job openings they are advertising because they might have openings that aren’t listed,” said Henry. “Even if they don’t, the more potential employers you speak with the more comfortable you will become in those brief mini interviews.”

As Henry pointed out, visiting booths helps build confidence for the overall elevator pitch interview process you’ll conduct several times during the event. With this in mind, if you have your eye on a specific booth or two, do not visit them first—spend some time warming up with a few sales and marketing booths (they’re all over) before making your way to the jobs that are potential career starters.

Tip # 3: Be open to possibility

In a perfect world, you’d walk up to a booth and find your dream job waiting for you to apply. Instead, you’ll be faced with a bunch that might not interest you at all, but take some time to listen to the pitch provided by the job recruiters. The vice-president of Neishloss & Fleming, Inc. pitched a marketing coordinator position to me that would be a mixture of sales and communications. Although it is by no means my dream job, it did sound promising. If I hadn’t been open to discussing with companies outside my field, I never would’ve found out about this potential career.

Tip #4: Bring a small stack of resumes with you, but plan to submit electronically as well.

WestPACS suggests bringing more resumes than necessary to the job fair. Although this is a wise thought, keep in mind that many companies are going green these days and even more allow users to candidates to post their resumes to large databases instead. This allows them to sort through them at a faster rate electronically. I brought 30 resumes and probably passed out around 10 resumes. A few went to sales positions, which I could do without, but for the most part, even the individuals I handed my resume to wanted me to submit it online as well.

Tip #5: Wear comfortable shoes, but look professional.

WestPACS website encourages candidates to wear comfortable shoes, but I cannot stress the importance of this enough. What they fail to mention is that the only real area for seating is at the start entrance of the job fair, which many candidates occupy while they’re browsing through the schedule and map provided by WestPACS. I wore a professional pair of pumps to the fair and by the second hour, my toes were paying dearly for my decision to sacrifice comfort for style. Ladies, do yourself a favor and invest in a pair of flats for events like this.

Although I didn’t walk out of the job fair with a promised job, I did walk out with additional experience and knowledge about the possibilities that surround my field. The same can be said for Henry and all of the other job candidates at the fair. So, in the future, go out on a limb and attend the fair. Even if they don’t have the exact job that you’d like to have, it could be a way into a company where you could grow and develop additional skills.

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