My first college job fair was during my first semester of college. I signed up as soon as I saw the email. I’d heard a million times that networking was the most important thing to master in the work world, that universities like UC Berkeley could get me access to recruiters I’d never meet otherwise, and that one of the most important things I could learn at college was how to land a job.
I put on my nicest (only) suit, tossed a stack of freshly edited resumes into a folder, and marched into the fair, thinking I’d walk back out that evening with an empty folder and an internship.
Instead, I found myself completely overwhelmed by the thick crowds and by the storm of recruitment stands, students, flyers, and small talk. I left the fair exhausted and frustrated: I was completely drained of social energy, frustrated by the fact that expending my energy hadn’t resulted in an internship, and unable to match any names or faces to the dozens of business cards I’d collected. I had spent far too much time with recruiters for positions I didn’t care about, been overshadowed by more gregarious students, and fumbled through awkward, forgettable conversations with the few recruiters whose companies I was really interested in working with.
Over the next four years, I realized my mistakes and eventually developed strategies for reconciling my naturally quiet self with the chaos of job fairs. Here’s what I learned:
1) Dress the Part
For introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between: you may be a college student, but you shouldn’t dress like one! Generally speaking, people wearing Jansport backpacks are harder to take seriously than people not wearing Jansport backpacks. Invest in a couple of nice, professional outfits and a simple bag.
2) Do Your Research
Look up the list of recruiters in advance, and do some research into the participating organizations that catch your eye. Only visit the recruitment stands you’re interested in engaging with. It’s exhausting and inefficient to wait until your conversation with the recruiter to decide whether or not you’re interested in working with an organization, especially if you have limited social energy to expend. If you know what work you’re interested in, don’t waste time and energy on positions you don’t want to take.
3) Arrive Prepared
If you don’t know what work you’re interested in, you’ll need to cast your net more widely. Read websites and fair descriptions to acquaint yourself with the attending organizations, and then prepare a set of questions to ask. For instance: What internships/job positions do you have available? What might a day’s work in your company look like? How much exposure could I get to the workings of the rest of the organization?
4) Play to Your Strengths
Don’t feel obligated to stop at every recruitment stand. Actually, you’ll likely get better results if you engage more deeply with fewer recruiters. Introverts may not have as much social energy as extroverts do, but when introverts choose to expend social energy, they tend to be better at shifting interactions beyond small talk and towards in-depth, productive conversation. Understand your limits, stick to them, and play to your strengths.
On that note, take breaks and conserve energy. In order to stay focused and be at your best during conversations that matter, opt out of conversations that aren’t productive towards your goal. When you need to, grab a snack, find a quiet corner, or step out for a coffee. If your college offers the option, attend smaller recruitment events where the atmosphere is less stressful and you’re likely to feel less pressure while speaking with recruiters.
College job fairs may be overwhelming, but by following the aforementioned tips, you’ll be able to make the most of these important opportunities.
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Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.