Career and Internship Fairs

So, I’m going to talk a little bit about career and internship fairs, but I want you to remember that I’m a newbie to them, despite this being my last year of college. I’ve (mistakenly) waited until senior year to start attending them.

Like most things in college, getting an early start never hurts. For career fairs in particular, the more you practice how to present your best self to employers and ask the right questions, the better you get. The different colleges on campus and the Career Center put on multiple career fairs, most notably the Engineering and Business Career Fairs, which are massive affairs that span over two days at the ARC and draw Fortune 500 companies, as well as smaller businesses looking to recruit University of Illinois students. They’re called career fairs, but almost all the employers in attendance want people for full-time jobs and internships.

As an English/Economics double major, I’ve gone to both the Business Career Fair and the Illini Career and Internship Fair (which features nonprofit organizations, departments of the federal government, Illinois school districts looking to hire teachers, and larger corporations). Career fairs happen both in the fall and spring, but my understanding is that different companies will come at different times of the year, so it’s best to go to career fairs during both semesters.

And how did I prepare for the career fairs I’ve gone to this year?

1. I freshened up my resume, and then I had someone else review it. The English department has a career/internship advisor, so I went to her for a little resume review and a pep talk. Your department advisors, department career center, or the campus’ general Career Center are all great resources to visit pre-career fair.

2. I went out and bought a suit. Career fairs are the the place to dress conservatively and generically. You want to stand out because of your accomplishments, not because you’re clearly underdressed. I bought a pair of nice black slacks, a blazer, black high heels, and a white button-up—all on-sale or relatively inexpensive from Target, Kohl’s, and the Gap. I figured the outfit was an investment for future interviews/career fairs. However, the Career Center also has their Career Closet, if you don’t own a suit and going out to buy one isn’t feasible. You can get gently-used business attire for free!

3. I researched the companies that were going to attend and picked out a few I planned to visit. i-Link, Illinois’ career services website full of job postings and professional events, will let you browse employers and favorite the ones you’re most interested in. All Illinois students have access to the site before (and after!) graduation. It’s really overwhelming to just show up and wander around a career fair without knowing what to expect. You want to show you have knowledge about a company when you chat with a recruiter so you can impress them and prolong the conversation.

When I tried on my suit, I had my roommate take a picture to send to my mom.

When I tried on my suit, I had my roommate take a picture to send to my mom.

Ultimately, I wasn’t the best or smoothest career fair-attendee, but I survived. I even managed to get a full-time job interview from a company I talked to at the Business Career Fair, which I’ll be going to over fall break in a few short weeks! I’d say all the fuss and nervous sweat was worthwhile—a statement that really sums up how I feel about all scary, adult-type things I’ve had to do in college.


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