Career Fairs (What They Can and Can’t Do For You)

At some point in almost everybody’s life, they will fork over a couple dollars in return for a canvas bag, some pamphlets, and possibly a free, cheap pen, as well as the opportunity to mill about with a large number of people in a stadium bursting with exhibitors and the possibilities of a great new future.

The career fair. Sometimes attendance is mandatory (hello, high school students with questionnaires that have to be filled out for marks) and sometimes voluntary (hello, parents who are checking out every postsecondary booth to see what the best fit would be for little Jamie or Joanie when they go to school in a couple of years). Whatever the case may be, career fairs are unique events that can either be very helpful or completely overwhelming.

There are a couple of ways to approach a career fair – it’s your call.

Just Looking, Thanks.
This is a good attitude to have if you’re still in highschool and just beginning to think about what’s out there as far as your future goes. Do you want to work for Greyhound? Do you want to go to design school? Do you want a career with a retail company? Not sure?

Head to the career fair with an open mind, ready for a huge variety of possibilities for the future. Have the attitude of a window shopper – it’s too soon to be handing out resumes or filling out applications, and you’re not even sure what you want to hand out a resume or fill in an application for. But you can do some pretty good brainstorming just by looking around. Maybe you’ll see some things to add to your “Future possibilities” list. Take time to ask some general questions at booths that really interest you. Don’t get into too many details – although if you come across a program that really piques your interest, check on the entrance requirements so you can make sure you match up your highschool classes with them.

I Have a Few Ideas – What’s Next?
Maybe you have a few ideas. You know you want to become an elementary school teacher, say, or work in journalism. But you aren’t sure how to get from A to B, or where to go to get there. Come to the career fair with some specific questions in mind. You don’t have to read them off a clipboard unless you really want to, but make sure you know what you want to ask so that you don’t get overwhelmed and forget to ask what you wanted to know. Find the booths with schools that offer your program of interest. Ask about entrance requirements, acceptance rates, application deadlines, job prospects afterwards, and so on. Ask some general questions about the atmosphere of the school – the recruiters love to go on about this kind of thing. Get a feel for the places you’re most interested in and collect their viewbooks or calendars. Fill out an “I want more information” card and get the website address.

Now that you’ve done some good background research, you can go home and sift through it all. Over the next little while, you can start to narrow down to a few schools and programs that you are the most interested in, and you’ll be ready to roll once the application process begins.

If it’s a job you’re looking for, same deal. You might not be ready to hand in a resume and ask for an interview quite yet, but talk to the recruiters about the different aspects of the jobs you are most interested in, and then take that information home and dwell on it for awhile, until something even more specific takes shape in your mind.

I Know What I Want, I Just Need to Get It
If you know exactly what you want – say a particular school you want to attend or a particular job you want to have or a particular career you want to train for – then make finding out everything you can about that your mission at the career fair. Head in early in the day or closer to the end of the day to avoid the big crowds and have a chance to really talk to the recruiters. Have some very specific questions – you know you want to apply, what do you need to do that? If it’s a job, bring a resume and dress nicely. Ask all the questions you can think of, and find out what the most important next step is for you in order to get what you’re looking for. Stay focused and make sure you get the specific information you need – feel free to interrupt a recruiter’s spiel to ask what you really want to know. Check out the exhibitor information and maps before you go and plan out a direct route. Get it over with before you wander around and get distracted by everything else. You’ll get the most out of the career fair if you are focused and have a plan.

Don’t Get Overwhelmed and Overstimulated
Career fairs are full of people who are just there because they want to get out of the house and see what’s going on, check out the different booths for fun, and load up on free stuff. It’s easy to get caught up in the crowds and circle around and around the building without anything real useful happening. Ignore all the booths that don’t interest you, at least on your first trip around.

Don’t Get Frustrated
Career fairs can be a bit frustrating. You might ask at a dozen postsecondary booths only to find out that none of them have the program you’re interested in, or that you don’t have the entrance requirements yet. Or you might hope to find a job and just get a bunch of “Thanks for the resume, we’ll be in touch!” comments. Whatever the case may be, career fairs aren’t magic. They’re just a way of putting some information in one place. There are lots of other opportunities available in the world beyond the career fair, so don’t be too disappointed if you don’t generate any leads or find anything you really want. It’s just one stop in a million.

Here are a few upcoming career fairs in Alberta where you will see some friendly RDC recruiters:
The Career Show, Calgary: Calgary Stampede Roundup Center on October 31 and November 1. 2008 Canada Career Week Fair in Edmonton: Northlands Agricom on November 14 and 15

And of course, you can always get in touch with an RDC advisor by phone – 403.342.3400 or email – regarding the BA program. Or call Jen at 403.342.3313 or Alison at 403.357.3674 for details on the University of Calgary Collaborative B.A. degree – a chance to complete all four years of a U of C degree right on the RDC campus.


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One response to “Career Fairs (What They Can and Can’t Do For You)

  1. Pingback: Things that are Free: Edmonton Canada Career Week Fair « Bachelor of Arts at Red Deer College

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