I spent my first two years at Cornell wondering why there were so many kids in suits walking around campus on certain days in fall. Who were they? Where were they going? What did they know that I did not? At some point I not only realized where they were going, but also that one day, I would be expected to join them. Finally, that day had come: I was going to my first Career Fair.
12:30 pm: A False Start
One of the consequences of Cornell’s everlasting renovations was that Career Fair could no longer be held in the cavernous Barton Hall, and had to be switched to an alternative, smaller venue. Thus long lines emanated from the side of Statler–even longer than the line to get a Terrace salad. My original plan was to skip one of my classes and go to Career Fair at 12:30pm, but the line stretched so far up Tower Road that actually going to class was a better use of my time.
2:15pm: It Begins
After my class, I was free to devote the rest of my day to standing in line and comparing résumés with my fellow employment seekers. If I had any sort of confidence in my abilities that morning, it quickly disappeared when I realized I was between a Master’s student with two years of work experience and a computer science major who had already built an app. I would have given up right there–except I was already wearing my business casual.
3:00pm: The Recruiters Come
At some point the employers must have realized that this wasn’t going to work if most of the students they wanted to see were stuck outside. The bigger companies started sending recruiters out to meet people in line. On one hand, this made me feel like I wasn’t completely wasting my time. On the other, I had to suffer the pained look that every recruiter gave me when I told them my major (Information Science) and interest (User Research) and they told me that they were mainly here to recruit software engineers. Meanwhile, that CS major behind me managed to pull an interview while waiting in line. The feeling of envy from everyone near him was palpable.
4:15pm: Entering the building
I finally made it inside! The night before I had painstakingly made a list of all the companies I wanted to see, but in my naiveté I had made the list on my computer instead of my phone. Since I couldn’t exactly whip out my MacBook to check my list, I decided to just wing it. I was handed a map and fat booklet and told that the companies were divided into two different floors. Considering that there was another line to go to the first floor of companies, I opted to go up to the second floor and try my luck there. It was a good choice, because the first thing I saw was a company giving away doughnuts.
4:20 pm: Please hire me
Walking into Career Fair was vaguely reminiscent of those movie scenes that take place on the stock floor. It was crowded, loud, and everyone is jostling to make sure that they command the most attention at any given time. Walking through the tables, I finally spotted one of the companies I remembered from my list. I went over to chat, and there was actually someone there who knows about the role I wanted and was able to answer my questions! Just when I thought that Career Fair wasn’t a waste of time after all, the recruiter asked to see my portfolio. Portfolio? But I had just spent so long on my résumé! I mumbled something incoherent and then quickly made my exit before she could ask any more questions that revealed my inferiority.
4:45: Peace Out
Due to an unfortunate time conflict, I ended spending a grand total of 25 minutes at the career fair.
However, I walked away from the experience a changed woman. It didn’t matter that most of the companies I talked to were utterly uninterested in hiring me. The companies that come to career fair are mainly of the same ilk: large, prestigious, and interested in hiring a lot of undergrads for the same position in a given year. But these are not the only places to work. In fact, only about 15% of Cornellians find jobs through On-Campus Recruiting each year. So while I’m glad I attended career fair (and will still probably go next year), it was far from my (and your) only chance to impress employers.