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Career fairs: the freshman year perspective

Two years ago as a freshman, I had a hard time grasping the idea of a career fair and the importance of internships. Sure, some of the upperclassmen I spoke to gave some advice and shared their stories, but I didn’t even know if I was going to enjoy studying hospitality yet. That first semester as a freshman helped to solidify my interest in potential career paths after college.

If I had to choose one piece of advice I was given as a freshman that I would want to relay to other students, it would be that attending career fairs is incredibly important. There is no excuse for passing on a career fair, and every one that you attend will help you gain experience and connections. Whether it is the HTM Career Fair, Industrial Roundtable, the School of Management Employers Forum, or one of the many others, career fairs are the best opportunity for students to talk one-on-one with companies.

For me as an incoming freshman, the biggest doubt I had about going to a career fair was it being a waste of time. I was a freshman under the impression that companies had no interest in me at all. I ended up going to the fall HTM Career Fair (after hearing many others tell me to do so) and was overwhelmed and excited at the same time. I had a sparse resume and probably looked insanely nervous, but I was there. I had a few employers I wanted to talk to about opportunities, but decided to talk to a random company first to build up my confidence. This was incredibly helpful for me. The first company booth that you line up for, shake hands with, and throw down your elevator speech for will be the most nerve-racking. I guarantee, however, that you will walk away energized and wanting more.

After stuttering through some basic questions with a smaller company, I decided to hop in line for a larger company that I knew had opportunities for freshmen. They had multiple recruiters, and I remember one specific conversation I overheard in line between a senior student and recruiter. The senior had introduced herself and handed over her resume, and the recruiter immediately took note of something on it. The recruiter had been to multiple career fairs in the past (most recruiters visit the Purdue campus regularly to recruit), but she had never seen or spoken to this particular senior before. The student then said that as a freshman and sophomore, she saw no reason to be searching for a professional opportunity at the career fair. The recruiter took note of this and their conversation soon ended. I thought about what I had heard and realized that even though I was a freshman with no experience, was filled with nerves, and stuttered at every word I said, at least I was there. I was there to build relationships with recruiters and companies, all while gaining experience on how to market myself at a career fair.

Now as a junior, I get unbelievably excited for career fairs on campus. They are a time to shine and catch-up with recruiters who know me solely from previous visits to campus. For this reason, my biggest advice for anyone looking to utilize career fair opportunities on campus is to start early. Showing your face now will help you get familiar and comfortable with the idea of presenting yourself professionally. There are so many chances for you to start building your professional career on campus, so try to bundle up those nerves and put yourself out there!

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