I went through four years of college ignoring emails alerting me about “career fairs” before realizing that liberal arts majors are allowed to attend them. I expected nothing but suits walking around, passing out résumés like peep show flyers. My expectations weren’t too far off, but weren’t correct either. I got the appearance right. There were tables and posters, flyers, business attire abounded. There were plenty of it-was-nice-meeting-yous and firm handshakes. My first time attending a career fair was nerve-wracking until I talked to an employer there, then I realized how simple the fair is: people who want jobs go to talk to people who want new employees.
I quickly realized that while the career fair was for all majors, it applied mostly for business and engineering students. Of course, some of the employers were looking for liberal arts students, and I knew that if I needed to, I could sell my skill set to someone regardless of the degree they were looking for. However, it’s true that most booths there were set up to draw in a different crowd. My name tag had my degree written on it to help employers ignore me more efficiently. I didn’t have anybody call me to their tables, but I did talk to a couple representatives there. Since I was nervous, I walked around for a while before getting up the courage to talk to someone. Just like in my head, I consider career after career and always end up coming back to teaching. I spent my time at the career fair talking to the education employers, who were all thrilled to talk to me.
I should mention that my career fair experience was a bit different from most, because I’m not currently looking for full-time employment. I won’t graduate for two more semesters, and until then, I can’t commit to a job (and most likely won’t be qualified for it). I considered the possibility of finding a job while I was there, but to keep calm, I went with one goal in mind: I need to learn as much as I can from these conversations.
This applies to two things. First, I wanted to learn about different career opportunities in a real way. What I mean by this is getting away from abstract descriptions of career paths and general job descriptions and hear someone talk about specific jobs that that they are offering in real time. I needed to ask about qualifications, the work itself, different options within a field or company. I’ve read books about careers and looked at jobs online, but it doesn’t seem as real to me until I’ve talked to the person who plays a vital role in hiring for one possible job.
The second learning goal I had in mind was learning how to talk to the employers in this hectic environment. As a shy, anxious person, the idea of telling a stranger that I’m the person they should hire is enough to keep me in the bathroom for a half hour before getting in my car to go to the career fair. Since I wasn’t looking for a job that day, it made the whole experience much more manageable. It did take some time to get up enough courage to talk to someone, but once I made that leap, the rest of my time there was easy and even enjoyable.
At these kinds of events, we usually want to seem as smart and capable as possible, but I quickly learned that this doesn’t mean side-stepping ignorance. I made sure to ask questions about everything I didn’t understand and I didn’t think for a second that they employers were judging me for it. If anything, they seemed excited that I showed such genuine interest in their company. I spent time talking to the Arkansas Department of Education and Urban Teachers. Both of these organizations offer teaching and administrative positions for kindergarten through high school classes.
I learned that Urban Teachers offers a special licensure program that allows their employees to work while they earn their degree, which gives them quite a bit of experience throughout the process. The Department of Education was different, since they didn’t care how you got certified, just that you do get certified to teach in Arkansas. This booth was the most informative. I got to ask their representative all kinds of questions about substituting, certification, and non-traditional education, like work in prisons and adult education programs.
While I didn’t walk away with an interview, or even hopes for an interview, I was so glad that I went to this career fair because it helped me to frame my plan for the next couple of years. It’s such a valuable resource to talk to employers and get real advice from them about what to do and who to talk to about the fields that interest you. My worries about my future career aren’t all magically solved now, but this was a simple step for me to take that gives me so much foresight for the next steps I need to take. It’s easy to talk yourself out of going to these events, but you’ll be surprised with how quickly a plan will develop once you shake that first hand there.