Friday, September 26, 2014

A Trial Run: Why I Attended the Career Fair as a Freshman, and Why You Should Too

For those of you who have been living under a rock, the Tufts Career Fair is this Wednesday, October 1st!

Are you as excited as Spongebob?

In Nicole’s introductory post for the social media interns, she mentioned that I attended the Career Fair last year as a freshman. The experience was daunting, I’ll admit—walking around Gantcher surrounded by upperclassmen and employers all dressed in full business attire was not how I’d anticipated spending one of my first days on campus. In the end, though, the experience was so valuable that I recommend all underclassmen attend the Career Fair, at the very least for the opportunity to get the wrinkles out of your fancy clothes (which most of you probably haven’t worn since Fall Gala). I had many questions about what to do, what to say, what to wear—anything and everything (I’d been a college student for a month; adulthood is a rough transition). Most of these questions were answered simply by my going to the fair and experiencing it firsthand. Here are some of the questions I had, and my answers to them so that you’re slightly less clueless than I was.

Should I do any prep work?

The first time I even heard about the Career Fair last year was on the day it was happening, when one of my floormates walked by my room in a suit and asked me if I was going. I hadn’t been planning on it, but on a whim I offered to go with him and headed down to the fair. Although I wasn’t exactly looking for a job, I soon learned that this is not the proper way to approach a career fair. It’s important to do research on the companies that will be there, and maybe even make a prioritized list of employers that you plan on speaking with. It’s also important to prepare what you’ll say to employers. You may want to draft a small 30-second blurb about yourself and your interest in the organization, and practice it a few times beforehand.

The Career Center has myriad resources to aid your preparation, including a list of all the companies that will be at the fair—take a look at it here. If you couldn’t make it to the Prepare for the Fair event this past week, have no fear! There is a video series on the Career Center website featuring actual employers discussing this topic and many others. These videos are only 3 minutes long and full of great information. 

What do I wear?

The ultimate question, and one that causes a surprising amount of stress for a lot of attendees. I had no idea what to wear last year, so I threw on a nice(ish) shirt and some slacks and hoped for the best. When I got to the fair, however, the majority of people were in suits or sports coats, with very few casually dressed people. For underclassmen who aren’t as concerned with finding a job, it isn’t extremely important that you wear business attire, but definitely don’t show up in jeans. It’s better to overdress than underdress, and overdressing might even leave a more lasting impression on employers. Use your judgment, and accept the blazer.

If I’m not looking for a job, what should I do? Why am I even bothering?

At the first table I approached, the employer made it clear that he was only looking for juniors and seniors and seemed unsure of why such a scared-looking freshman was talking to him. It was a discouraging first step, and you, too, may find that some employers aren’t looking for underclassmen. This does not mean there’s no experience to be gained. You can think of this career fair as a trial run—work on your presentation, practice handing out resumes and shaking hands, and most importantly, get comfortable talking to employers. This will make it far less intimidating and stressful when you're looking for a job in earnest. I really enjoyed the fact that I could gain this experience and face no real pressure to make significant headway in a job search.

Don’t completely write off the day as practice, though. Some companies might be looking for interns, and inquiring about availability can never hurt. Once you’ve spoken to a few employers and feel confident enough, find the organizations that you’re really interested in, and ask about any opportunities for younger students. You never know what will come from a simple conversation! 

Can I take all the free stuff?
The college student mantra.

Four words: Don’t. Be. That. Guy. Yes, it’s super cool that there are free pens and key chains everywhere, and yes, you’re a college student on a budget now, but employers don’t appreciate you walking up to their table, feigning interest in them and their company, and then grabbing their swag and peacing out. It’s just not professional—it’s something you’d expect of a middle schooler, not a college student. Make an effort to connect with the employer, talk with him/her for a few minutes, and take one of their giveaways as you leave. I learned this lesson the hard way after a very awkward stare down with a guy who had really top-notch pens. To this day, I feel bad about that pen.

When the big day comes, put on your game face and get ready to be the bright, inquisitive, budding professional you are. Your sweatpants and Netflix will be waiting for you back in your room.

Until next time,
Sean Boyden
Class of 2017