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A Salute to Backpacks and Business Suits (The 3 No’s of Career Fairs)

Business suits and backpacks – I’ve never been a fan of this wardrobe combination, but I like the time-honored tradition it announces on campuses across the country. Regardless of whether you call it a Career Fair, Roundtable, or Expo, it means the recruiters are coming and it’s time to put yourself out there & get a job.

Being involved in a mentor program where Juniors and Seniors take Freshmen under their wing has reminded me how a career fair can feel to both rookies and seasoned veterans. Clearly, it brings about a cornucopia of emotions: fright, confusion, and humility but also excitement and hope. By tapping into their own experiences, the mentors brainstormed ways to help their mentees navigate this event. What truly surprised me is that the suggestions, strategies, personal experiences, perspectives, and expectations were falling into the same 3 general categories that I had recognized just weeks before when crowd-sourcing wisdom about what freshmen should NOT do during their college careers (we may be onto something here). So let me present The 3 Do NOTs of Career Fairs.

First: DO NOT forget why you are there.

The point of the career fair is to get a job (or internship), professionally network, or at least set yourself up for a job in the future. Do NOT confuse getting a job with getting a date. Be professional - leave the stilettos, cologne, and laidback hygiene at home. Do NOT flaunt your ignorance of what a company does – do your research ahead of time. Do NOT let the recruiter be the first to see your resume - have a number of others look it over and suggest improvements. Do NOT spring an unpolished elevator speech on an unsuspecting recruiter – practice well in advance with friends, family, professors, advisors, strangers on the street – basically anyone who allows you some low-stakes rehearsal.

Second: DO NOT be afraid.

Sweaty palms, a cracking voice, or forgetting your own name are all things to be avoided. Being nervous may be normal in these situations but it certainly isn’t welcome. My mentors had lots of tips to deal with minimizing fear. Do NOT think that the fair is the only access you have to recruiters – there are often more casual venues like company information sessions or networking events where you can be part of a small group (there really is strength in numbers). Do NOT gross the recruiter out - if you are a sweater (a person who sweats, not a cardigan), plan for it. Wear colors & styles that don’t accentuate sweat, have access to a small handkerchief (surely these things still exist), consider casually “straightening your jacket” in such a way that it wicks some of the moisture from hands. Do NOT try to keep all your nerves bottled up – every year we have at least one student explode from nervousness (not really, but this might be the year) – so burn some of it off. Chat with the people around you, take a stroll, or hum to yourself. Always burn stress before stress burns you.

Lastly: DO NOT forget who you are.

No company wants to hire a robot, at least not yet. Do NOT ever forget that you are more than a collection of club memberships, programming languages, or completed courses. Do NOT talk yourself out of having a little flare – that bright pink jacket might be just the ticket, the personal tidbit you share may be engaging, that bold pitch could make you unforgettable, but always be yourself. Do NOT be phony or dishonest on your resume – no telling if you could get away with it or not but one thing is for sure: being the worst version of yourself never ends well. It just doesn’t. Do NOT be too hard on yourself if things don’t go the way you plan – life is long; you are either winning or you are learning. Sometimes learning is the biggest win you can hope for.

Good luck, Job Seekers. You got this!

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