Monday, February 3, 2014

The Career Fair: Finding My Future Career

Madalena Pierangelino, Marketing Intern

Let’s rewind to the start of my senior year of college at the University of Kentucky. To a time when “the future” was a synonym for uncertainty, a black hole of ideas, and a panic attack. I had no concrete plans for my life, no absolute route I wanted to take, and every time someone asked me what I was going to do after I graduated, I would answer with the same anxiety-inducing words: “I don’t know.”

As the semester drew on, the pressure to find a job grew greater and greater, and my hopes of finding a job for after graduation grew increasingly weaker. I thought I was doing everything I was supposed to do. I got a LinkedIn account, applied to countless companies online, asked my professors for advice, and went through countless drafts of my resume and cover letter. I knew rejection was common with job searching, but after absolutely no luck I began to think of backup options like traveling the world or teaching English in Spain. However, before giving up on a job completely, I stopped by the Graham Office of Career Management in the Gatton School of Business, who partners with the UK Stuckert Career Center, and they suggested that I first visit the Career Fair.

I had been to the Career Fair once before as a sophomore and had a positive experience. I shook a lot of hands, talked to various employers and practiced my professionalism, but I never found a job. Needless to say, I did not believe the second time around would be any different. In my mind, the Career Fair was still a crowded room with a complex maze of employers. How was I supposed to stand out from the hundreds of other students this time? What I needed was a plan.

So, I did my research, visiting the Career Fair website and grabbing a copy of the Kentucky Kernel to find the list of companies attending. I read the general overviews and took note of the ones that matched my major and interests. I thought, okay, this company is international, looking for a marketing major, and I like what they do, and so I narrowed it down to just a few. Then I delved deeper using Google search to find their backgrounds and mission statements, meanwhile jotting down comments and possible questions I could ask. When the day finally arrived, I printed out at least 20 copies of my updated resume, dressed in my best suit and heels, put on my game face and was out the door.

Walking in, I was hit with a sudden pang of nervousness. The sheer number of professionally dressed people was enough to overwhelm me. But given the situation, I had to remember that confidence is key, and that this time I had a plan. I picked up a map and marked the locations of my favorite companies, took a deep breath and strutted into the atrium, nametag on and resumes in hand.

I approached each company’s booth as an over exaggerated, extra positive, super-smiley version of myself. I confidently yet casually stepped up to approach the employer that was free to talk, and I gave a solid handshake (firm grip, two pumps, and eye contact). I introduced myself by simply stating what I was - a Marketing and Spanish major interested in an opportunity with the company. Then came the small talk, which normally included general informational questions about me, and I replied with questions about them. Then, occasionally, the conversations developed into a more personal connection. Every table presented a different personality and conversation, but I always expressed my interest in the company, always left a copy of my resume and always made sure to ask how to continue the application process. A few businesses had separate applications online and others decided exclusively from the pool of applicants at the fair. Sometimes, it did not work out, like when I found out a company was only hiring immediately, only hiring for internships, or simply not in need of a marketing major. In those instances I still left a resume, but I knew in the back of my mind that there was a slim chance I would hear back.

By the end of the day, despite the sore-from-smiling cheeks, dry throat and over-sanitized hands, all I could do was wait. No matter the outcome, I was extremely happy that I had attended the Career Fair. I had opened up to new people and ideas, and ultimately learned which companies captivated me most and which people I meshed with best. I had gained valuable professional experience and interview practice that would be beneficial for the future.   

It was not until a couple of days later that I received a call for a follow-up interview. Out of the ten companies I had talked to, just one called back. But I still counted it as a huge success, because one is better than none. Plus, that particular company was one I had really liked. I knew I had a great conversation with the guy, and that the business’ mission was in line with my goals. I was definitely going to accept the invitation to interview again.

So, after updating my resume for the tenth time and going to practice interviews at the Career Center, I proceeded to interview with the company on campus. A couple of days later, I was contacted a second time - this time for the final interview. Long story short, I went to the final interview in Nashville, and I got the job! I could not believe that the hour I spent at the Career Fair would lead me on a brilliant career path that would determine the rest of my life.

Now, let’s fast forward to today. Today, I am writing this article with a totally different mindset. In the beginning of senior year I had no idea what the future would bring. Now the definition of “the future” has changed from “panic attack” to “moving to a new city with a full-time job” just from attending the Career Fair.

Whether you are a freshman or a senior, it is never too early or too late to take advantage of your resources at school. The Career Center is an incredible outlet that offers mock interviews, resume critiques, professional workshops, and also a Career Fair that could quite possibly change your life.

So, if you are looking for a summer internship, full-time job or are just curious to see what is out there, start preparing now. The next Career Fair, also called the Spring 2014 Employer Showcase, will be held February 11th and 12th in the Student Center Grand Ballroom. You can find a list of employers here. Best of luck!

For lots of interview tips, visit our Pinterest page: Land that Job

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