Checking my school email this time of year may be a slew of announcements from professors, newsletters for your major, and advertisements for school events. I am always tempted to delete the latter two – they might not have information worth my time to read. As a freshman and sophomore, I found loads of emails regarding upcoming career fairs and job interview practices. I was not sure why these were relevant, but I gave them a chance and I recommend you do too. Here’s how I benefited from attending career fairs when a post-graduation job was years away:
- Practice for future networking opportunities: I was not a natural networker. The first two-three people I talked to were surely aware I had no idea how to talk to them. But I’m glad I had this experience. When I was thrown into the uncomfortable depths of not knowing what to say next, I knew exactly what I could learn for next time. Making productive conversation is going to be important in future years when I am actively scouting job opportunities, so finding my problem areas beforehand allows me to be prepared for the real deal.
- Exposure to career paths: As a policy analysis major, all I knew is I was interested in quantitatively analyzing policies, specifically in the health sector. I wasn’t sure where this was present in real world jobs, and I certainly didn’t know how to get to those jobs. Enter a career fair. Signing up to meet with individual recruiters and alumni allowed me to ask them how they got to their position, and I could relate my own beginnings to theirs. If I was interested in the work they do, I took special interest in the path and spent time after the fair mapping out how I can hit similar milestones.
- Learning about internships: Even though I wasn’t ready for a full-time job, I was ready to find summer internships. Most career paths recommend a relevant internship experience in undergraduate years, and the earlier I could start with these internships, the better my opportunities could be in the future. Keep in mind, O’Neill has a requirement to complete an internship before graduation. I found talking to recruiters and alumni about available internships was valuable for two reasons: first I could hear about positions typically hard to discover, and second I could discuss how to be a strong applicant.
- Figure out what you might not want to do: I met with two alumni who discussed their assignments and quickly realized their line of work was not for me. Provisionally ruling out a career may be just as integral to your career development as anything else, because it helps you narrow your path to focus on what you find important. For example, I found an accounting and auditing position was not for me, even though I was interested in working with data and numbers.
- Making meaningful connections: You’ll hear this a million times. But meeting new people to add to your network is highly valuable. You can go back and ask a connection about an opportunity they pursued and even ask for a reference to a position you would like to apply to. I got my first undergraduate summer internship by a connection from a fall semester event, and it was comforting to know I had support to work well at the new organization. Connecting with new people allows your knowledge base to double.
If you come across the persistent advertising of career fairs in your inbox, I ask you to give them a second look, especially as a freshman or sophomore. I think you may find the experience well worth it in the end. Stop by the Career Studio from Monday-Friday 10am to 4pm this school year to learn more about the upcoming fairs and how you can prepare any other career materials.