Career Tips

Career Fairs: “It’s Just A Conversation”

By Jessica Colombo

Last October, I attended Career Gallery in dual roles. First, it was my first day on the job as a Student Employee/Communications Assistant for the MSU Alumni Career Services department. Second, I was there as Senior from Michigan State, hoping to take action that might help me land a full time job upon graduation this coming May.  This duality gave me a different “spin” to share than most job seekers who attended the fair. However, it is really not that uncommon from who we should all be when seeking a job-a person who needs a paycheck, but also an asset to the employers that we speak with.

In the spirit of what we’ve decided to call, “Career Fair Week,” (because this is our third blog about the subject) I thought I would share my story of having attended a Career Fair. For me, last fall’s Career Gallery held a mind-blowing realization that has carried me through my job search. I’m hoping that by sharing it, a few students or alumni who might be reading this will be able to glean something that will help them as they go off into the world.

My day started out by attending the recruiter luncheon before the fair started. It is one of those unique things that not everyone gets to do, and that I am so thankful to have been a part of. When I entered the room, I noticed a table full of recruiters from a company that I had hoped would reciprocate an interest in me.  As I weighed the options of going to speak with them, I started to panic, as I usually do before a high-pressure situation.  My expert boss, Dave Isbell, noticed me starting to tense up and gave me some advice. He said that it was “just a conversation.” He told me to not talk about my desire for a job, but instead to talk about MSU, talk about their company, talk about their experience recruiting so far.  In short, talk about anything that helps to find a common ground to connect on, which acts as a launching pad for relationship building.

With that advice in mind, I took a deep breath, straightened my skirt and headed in their direction.  I walked up and politely asked if they would mind if I joined them.  They motioned for me to sit and I opened with talking about Michigan State University, as the three recruiters closest to me were alumni.  I indicated that I am a senior majoring in Marketing, which prompted one to inquire about a professor, whom I coincidentally have a great relationship with.  So, a common ground was found in our shared experiences with a professor.  I started sharing some of my experiences and we all shared some laughs.  That conversation allowed me to get to know them and see how they interacted with each other, which is usually a good indication of their company culture.  It also gave me a sense of added confidence, preparing for the real “madness” that is the Career Gallery.

All day long, I held Dave’s advice close to “just have a conversation” and every conversation I had after that lunch was a good one!  I was confident, cool and collected as I continued to advocate and spread the word of the awesomeness of Alumni Career Services.  If the conversation was going great, and they wanted to know more about me, I eventually dropped my resume.  After an exhausting six-hour enthusiasm-infused conversation extravaganza (not to mention aching feet from walking around Breslin in heels), I headed home to muster up the energy to write short and sweet follow-up notes to all of the recruiters I met.  This is a small task that doesn’t take very long, but it makes a world of difference.  From this experience I learned that, as simple as it is, that I enjoy myself much more and am comfortable when I am just ME and put the recruiter on an equal level- just as I would if neither of us were in suits.

In summary, the role of “Student Employee/Communications Assistant” allowed me to approach them with their needs first. As a result, I was more relaxed about my own needs, and some of them reciprocated by taking an interest in me personally. I spoke with over 100 people that day. Never once did I ask for a job, but I landed three interviews, and met at least a dozen new contacts that I’ve maintained communication with. I’m not really sure what might happen as a result of those conversations, but I do know that I walked away knowing that I have something to offer to the right company, at the right time and every conversation gets me one more step closer to doing what I know I’m meant to do! I realize that not every attendee can show up to a Career Fair as an “insider,” who is working there. However, every attendee can function as if they are on the inside by looking to put the needs of the people who are there above their own. If you attend the Diversity Career Fair tonight, I hope you will keep Dave’s advice close to you, “just have a conversation.” You lose nothing by talking to someone about something that both of you have in common, the desire to help their company succeed!


Jessica Colombo is finishing up her last semester of an undergraduate degree in Marketing at MSU. She is still the “Student Employee/Communications Assistant” where she gets to do fun stuff like write for this blog and have conversations in other social media places about MSUAA Career Services. She is still negotiating her future beyond May, but is super-excited to tell that story on this blog when she can share the details!


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