Career Tips

Should Alumni Go To College Career Fairs?

By Dave Isbell

Once again, the MSU Career Service Network is hosting its annual Diversity Career Fair. It is traditionally the second largest career fair of the year and it is open to students, alumni, and anyone in the public who wants to go. All you need do is show up at the Kellogg Center on Thursday 01/20/11 between 5:30pm and 8:30pm.

If you have been out of school for a few years, or decades, you are probably saying to yourself “college career fairs are fine for students, but I’m not going to waste my time at one of those things.” You would be right to think that employers are there to attract the best and the brightest at a time when they happen to be the most affordable, hungry, and portable. Certainly, that is their primary reason for recruiting from a college. However, there is also another way you can approach this event.  For one thing, this is where recruiters are paid to stand in front of a table, hand out swag, and talk to people in the hopes of finding the talent that they need for their organization. Think about it. In what other forum are you going to find this many professionals (in real life, not on the web) functioning in this capacity?

The last three Octobers, I walked several miles worth of laps around the Breslin Center to talk with nearly every employer who attended the two days of “Career Gallery,” MSU’s largest annual career fair. I asked the every employer I talked to the question, “in addition to entry-level positions, are you actively looking to recruit for positions that require more than three to five years of experience?” The first two years I did it, about half of the employers who I spoke with admitted that they were only collecting resumes, not hiring, and they had little to say to alumni.

However, this past October, every employer I spoke with was actively recruiting for current openings. Additionally, nearly every one I spoke with told me that they were recruiting for positions that required experienced alumni, in addition to the standard entry-level jobs and internships that are their “bread and butter” from these events. Moreover, even when employers did not have something immediately open for experienced people, every single one I talked to told me that they would like to talk to our alumni about openings that might come open later. Obviously, there are employers who are coming to MSU to recruit more- experienced applicants even if they are not advertising it.

Here is another hint about why MSU alumni might want to spend some time at an MSU career fair. The Career Services Network does an amazing job of inviting and acknowledging companies who have hired Spartans in the past, and many of these companies send their alumni back to us to recruit a few more Spartans! So, not only do you have a room full of professionals who are looking for talent, but you also have a room full of Spartans, or at bare minimum, friends of Spartans. If there is anything I know about Spartans, it is that they always willing to help one another!

For alumni, the college career fair is not the magic bullet to finding a job. Don’t worry that by showing up you might be robbing job opportunities from students and recent graduates because you won’t be. College career fairs will always be about students, and there is a clear division between the kinds of opportunities students will find from the ones that alumni will find when they show up. However, it is a great opportunity to spend a few minutes with a real person (as opposed to their company’s website) where you can lead with your personality and character traits instead of your skills. Anytime you can do that, there is the potential for a win-win situation. After all, the final decision about who to hire always comes down to who will fit in with the existing culture of the organization. Skills are a dime a dozen, but hiring the right person can be a priceless asset to any company. Use this career fair to your advantage by showing up as a human being to talk with another human being about something you both want to accomplish. The worst thing that can happen to you is that the recruiter puts your resume in the “no” pile.

Check back here later this week for a few tips on how you can successfully navigate job fairs, and some stories from a few people who have directly found opportunities by doing these things.


Dave Isbell has been a Career Coach since 1999, and holds professional certifications in the field (GCDF, ETS, and JCTC.) In his current role as the MSU Alumni Career Service Coordinator, he is fortunate to get to help Spartans find their “compassion” and then to connect with other people whom they can then collaborate with to do meaningful things. He is also working on a Master’s in Social Work, with an emphasis on Family Studies at MSU. When he is not working, studying, or attempting domestic bliss, he can be found reading, watching, or listening to something deeply profound or guiltily shallow. He occasionally plays rock music on a bass guitar, guitar, or drums, but those occasions are very few because he feels more pressured to work on term papers than to pluck, strum, or bang on something.



  1. spartanshelpingspartans 18 January, 2011 at 16:44

    Thanks for your comments Terry! Those really are some great suggestions, and I have thought about them before, and really wish there were an affordable and productive way to do a career fair for all of our alumni! However, there are multiple reasons why we have not gone in that direction, some of these are related to logistics (alumni are all over the world, students are not), using limited resources wisely while also keeping our services free to alumni (collaborating with the Career Services Network is one way we can do that.) However, the main reason why MSU career fairs are even open to the public is that it is a courtesy to the other “customers” who are being served by career fairs, the employers. They already come to these events to meet students who have promise, and they spend a few pennies to do it. They simply are not interested in recruiting alumni in the same way that they do students. For one thing, a degree is never more powerful than when it is just being received. Students benefit directly from being affiliated with the University in a way that they cannot capitalize on later (for the reasons that I mentioned in the post.)

    Experienced alumni are expected to navigate their careers in a much different way than students are, (a mix of experiences and professional connections that are not open to most students.) In addition to the built-in dynamics that favor students at career fairs, the services offered through the Career Service Network are available to every student at MSU. Throughout the year, there are tons of workshops related to job search tactics, especially related to career fair preparation. The network works very hard to engage students from day one of their time at MSU, so students really are capable of being much more prepared for these events than one may assume. Truly, there really is no competition for the same resources between alumni and students! If anything, it is detrimental for alumni to attend these events with the same expectations that students should have. That is why I posed the question, “is there any value for alumni to attend?” The reality is that alumni cannot expect to go to any college career fair and benefit the same way as students would. They must use it as a platform to spend a few minutes connecting with human beings, and that does include students. (Imagine how much it would mean to a student, if while standing in line you spent a minute chatting with her and then agreed to share her resume with a friend at a business that she might be interested in working for.)

    As for other career events that we do host for alumni, we have hosted more events in Detroit than we have in East Lansing, and we are constantly in other major markets across the country. In fact, as I write this, John Hill is away on some adventure, probably talking about how to use our MSUAA Linkedin group that has over 20,000 Spartans in it, and he will be leaving for another one shortly after he gets back. Granted, these are not “career fairs,” but they are a way to connect with other Spartans, to find common ground, and to collaborate together on something that matters. Today, there is still stiff competition for jobs, and it often depends more on who you know than what you know, but it always depends on what you do more than what you say. So, if a creative Spartan wants to find some way to be helpful to the people who are at a career fair, then I say they should show up! However, I would also say that if a person is only going there to shove their resume into someone’s hand as part of a desperate plea to get hired, that they are missing out on a terrific opportunity.

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

    Go Green!


  2. Terry Brock 18 January, 2011 at 09:52

    While I think it’s wonderful to invite alumni to continue using career fairs, I wonder if this might be unfair for the current students. These undergrads may be attending their first career fair, be nervous, and not necessarily know the ropes…having alumni who already have job-hunting experience, polished resumes, business cards, etc. might intimidating for them. Also, it will detract time for undergrads to talk with prospective employers. Perhaps it might be more advantageous to host a separate career fair for alumni? It could travel to some areas where you have a large alumni base, perhaps Detroit, and help employers looking to fill those 3-5 year positions. If there is such a need by alums, then this might be a more strategic way to go about it, rather than having alums crash an undergraduate event.

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