If I Did It, So Can You (A Pep Talk)

For the first three years of my college experience I could not have cared less about career fairs, résumé workshops, or other networking events that I saw advertised around my campus. ‘They don’t want me there,’ I told myself. First it was, ‘they want the older students. The juniors. The seniors’. And I was probably right about that. Most of the businesses there are not looking for freshmen.

But as I entered my junior year it became, ‘well, that’s for the business students,’ or ‘ who’d want to hire a creative writing student at one of these things?’ And towards the middle of junior year when I remembered that graduation wasn’t really all that far out, it became a matter of fear more than one of logic. I wouldn’t even know what to do. How do you act at a career fair? How do you make a résumé for one? How do you sit through a job interview? How do you not make a complete fool of yourself?

Put simply, I found reason after reason and excuse after excuse to avoid these events until I couldn’t anymore. It took a class requirement to get me there. It took that same class to get me to look at my résumé and realize that I actually have no idea how to write one.

You see, liberal arts majors often have to actively seek out courses like that one. Business majors are commonly taught how to write a résumé, how to interview, or what a career fair will entail. In fact, many business colleges require their students to have at least one internship. We, as liberal arts majors, don’t have these pressures. On the other hand, we don’t get the benefits. So when we do finally, out of desperation, make it into these situations, we feel out of place. But these career fairs and workshops and events are here for us just as much as they’re here for the business students. It’s about time we reclaim these spaces and make ourselves comfortable in them again. The first step is to make what goes on in career fairs common knowledge.

To be quite honest, my first experience with career fairs (and the one I’ll be using as an example) was not a great one. My résumé was still pretty sloppy (especially since I had to leave it pretty vague instead of tailoring it to one job like you normally should), I was unable to go to the fair I had really wanted to go to (it has companies I was really interested in) due to class times so I was disappointed, and I ended up going to the last hour or so of a very large fair listed “for all majors”.

I did my research ahead of time. I looked into what companies would be there. If there were any names I didn’t recognize, I visited their website to learn more about them. I checked to see what they were looking for, what majors they preferred. Out of the 60-70 companies who would be there, I found around 10-15 who were looking for “all majors” or had English or creative writing among their long lists of possible majors. I haven’t been to enough career fairs yet to tell if this is a normal amount. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t check other liberal arts majors. They may have faired better or worse. But all the same, I prepared my list of companies looking for me, plus a few I was interested in, just in case. I did my best with my résumé to make myself impressive and overcome any stigmas that may come with ‘creative writer’.

I did have some business clothes luckily enough, so I didn’t have to worry about sticking out (though, to be frank, I saw plenty of people who weren’t on strictly ‘business casual’ dress. Just try to dress appropriately. You can google examples). I did, however, worry about finding a way to hide, or at least pull attention from, my bright purple hair. Eventually I just put it in a bun, but it was still very obviously purple. You have to do what you can with those sorts of things. However, sometimes standing out can help. That very noticeable hair attracted the attention of a recruiter for a teaching organization and started us talking. So sometimes those ‘do not’s on the career fair checklists aren’t so absolute.

Unfortunately, excepting the recruiter who liked my hair, it seemed to me (and many other students I spoke to) that the recruiters had forgotten that they were there to actually recruit. I heard quite a few people say, “Well…I don’t know what a creative writer would do for us, really…” from all kinds of businesses. Now, liberal arts majors are, I’m told, usually very widely accepted at events like these. Malleable skill sets, good with communication… Why wouldn’t we be? But these recruiters would barely give us the time of day. And those that did usually just told us to check their website (which most of us had done already).

I want to say right now that I’m not trying to scare you away from career fairs. The one I just described was a worst case scenario, and I came out of it just fine except for some annoyance. I’m letting you know that you can do better by learning from my mistakes. For example, try to go in early in the day when the recruiters are awake and happy. Don’t stress about any ‘flaws’ in your appearance. And remember that, unless the recruiters all collectively forget again, they want to help you as much as you want to help them. They want to give you a job.

The most important thing to remember about career fairs and other networking events is that they will get so much easier with experience. The first one is stressful because you think it will just be hundreds of condescending employers watching you (or at least, I did). It’s not. It’s conversations and learning. You’re interviewing the companies just as much as, if not more than, they are interviewing you.

So take a deep breath. Yes, you belong there. Yes, you fit in there. Yes, you can do it. Rock that blazer and the résumé with the touch of color in the border. You’ll do great out there.

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