The Early Bird Goes to Career Fair

If you are not a morning person, drink more coffee.  A cup of coffee can even be a unifying method – something to casually joke about or mention, and create a bond or humanizing effect between the sleep deprived college student and the bored recruiter. Everyone has heard the idiom, “The early bird catches the worm,” yet this career fair was the first instance I had seen it so dramatically proven true.  The students who showed up earlier received far more attention, politeness, respect, and interest than the crowds of students who appeared later in the afternoon. Perhaps the afternoon’s “career fair fiasco” was simply a matter of poor planning, or simply overworked and tired recruiters.  I am by nature an “early to bed, early to rise,” person, and usually have better results when I schedule appointments and meetings in the morning. Apparently I am an atypical college student, and the effort in showing up early usually impresses people, not excluding hiring managers.

The morning session of the career fair was busy, full of students waving their resumés for the attention of corporate business representatives and smaller companies, both far away and close to home. It is an easily overwhelming first impression.  I clutched my folder- full of my resumés summarizing my qualifications – and entered the throng. My first instinct was to join a line, the easy mindless path to hand out the piece of paper and move on to the next booth. Instead, I walked purposefully through the crowd, pretending like I knew where I was going, and made note of booths that particularly interested me. Rather than join a crowd around one table, I went to the empty ones. Thus, I ended at the Waffle House table. They were very friendly and talkative, and gave out coupons for free waffles. The Waffle House people and I joined in a discussion with the Webster University man, and I slowly navigated through the tables.

Since reading books such as, “You Majored in What?”, and “Great Jobs for Liberal Arts Grads,” I challenged myself to go to companies at which I could not imagine an English major getting a position. ArcBest, a Freight, Logistics, and Technologies corporation, was one such intimidating spot. I began by asking them questions about their company, and they in turn finally asked (the somewhat dreaded question for liberal arts majors), “What is your major?” I lost a little bit of their interest once I revealed my English major secret, although they were still gracious.

Instead of ending the conversation there, I continued by explaining what my passions were – why I chose to major in English.  I spoke about loving to teach and train others, to give them a language skill that empowers them to do greater things, and went on about the numerous other topics that I, an English major, am passionate about. The two men became more interested, and immediately began talking to each other about how they do have training staff positions – faculty hired to train newcomers, and how an English major could possibly do that if they are good communicators, etc. It was stunning to see how the conversation turned once I brought up the qualities of studying a liberal arts degree, and I was thankful that we had covered the topic so thoroughly in class.

While I ended up being more interested in the teacher recruiter booths, it was an eye-opening experience to see how many other non-traditional routes are possible for an English major. As long as I steered the focus towards the qualities of my degree plan, and did not focus on the name itself, the career fair representatives were generally more interested and willing to think about the possibility.  There were a few exceptions where a specific degree was required for a specific job, but there were not many of those at this particular career fair session.  Being positive, and practicing a positive mindset, is a huge part of leaving a career fair mostly unscathed. Even for the couple of businesses that were completely disinterested in me once I shared my major, once I asked about what positions they had for people with certain skill sets (written and oral communications, teamwork, time management, organizational skills, etc), they all admitted that they did currently have people for those very reasons.

My three main take-aways are these:

1) Always show up early.

2) Practice your methods with the least-interesting tables first (sorry, Waffle House).

3) Focus on the positive.

At the next career fair, I will feel much more prepared to face the recruiters with my cup of coffee and some practice under my belt.

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