Students clad in finely pressed black suits and professional dresses walked briskly around the Michigan Union at the first day of the Career Center’s annual Fall Career Expo Tuesday.
About 1,600 students, wearing their most impressive attire, fill nearly every room of the Union. Walking through the lobby, groups can be heard chatting about their previous internship experience and their job goals for next summer.
Among them, Business junior Kristin Green sat on a bench outside the reading room.
“I am building up my confidence to talk to companies for tomorrow so I just walked around,” she said, herself wearing a white dress and heels.
The Business School hosts daily recruiting events on campus. But Green doesn’t see herself working at one of the companies that most eagerly recruit students on campus. She says she would feel lost at a large corporation.
Most rooms were packed with students who were both nervous and eager for their turn to try impressing a recruiter, with some long lines spilling into the hallways. Many students not waiting in line were either leaned against a wall scribbling down notes or slipping their feet out of flip flops and into black heels.
“Were you planning on talking to recruiters today?” I asked Green.
“I was thinking about it,” she laughed in response. “But, I don’t know… I’m just working on my confidence. I got all dressed up — it took me a while — but I don’t know. I just wanted to scope things out … Tomorrow there are a lot more (companies) on my list.”
Though the semester has just begun, students are already under the gun to land a “perfect” summer internship or, if graduating, an elusive, full-time job offer.
That’s where the Expo comes in.
The event, which has been in the works for the past two years, features 185 organizations — about 29 more than last year — with 90 companies recruiting on Tuesday and 95 different companies today. Many of the participating organizations return to campus after the two-day event or stay for an interview day on Thursday.
For students hoping to secure a job or internship, the Fall Expo is one of the Career Center’s biggest events to get students to connect with recruiters. Last year about 25,000 students attended the Expo, and according to Career Center director Karin Borland, attendance has increased each year by about 500 students.
While various organizations host other specialized career fairs throughout the year, the Career Center says it gears its Expo to all University students regardless of year or major. Sally Schueneman, the Career Center’s career events manager, notes about 85 percent of this year’s visiting organizations are open to all majors.
But that message may be lost on some, as student organizations and University offices outside of LSA — specifically the Engineering and Business schools — have developed specialized resources for career and internship guidance.
Ever since Engineering junior Ted Xiao spent this past summer interning at Optimal CAE Inc., an automotive supplier, he has been actively trying to meet recruiters and network a new opportunity for next summer.
Since classes began the first week of September, he and his classmates have had constant recruiting and information sessions, many of which entice students with food in addition to the networking opportunity. Though Xiao said he has so far only attended around five information sessions, he said many students attend at least two a day.
“If you play your cards right you don't have to pay for food for like three weeks,” Xiao said, referencing the number of midday and evening events offered.
While the Career Center Expo hosts companies offering some positions for students pursuing engineering jobs, many engineering students instead focus their energy the Engineering Career Fair, which was held on North Campus last Monday and Tuesday.
The engineering fair, hosted annually since 1986 by the Society of Women Engineers and Tau Beta Pi, the National Engineering Honor Society, boasts that it is the University’s largest career fair. With 340 companies and over 4,200 students in attendance, the student-run event took over almost every engineering building. (Though it should also be noted that some of the participating companies at the engineering career fair make a second appearance at the Fall Expo.)
Engineering professors are aware of the all-day, two-day fair and understand that many students may not be in class. Almost everyone wears a suit, many with a pin indicating the wearer’s major on the lapel.
“Homework this week is kind of out the window,” Xiao said. “It’s only a few days so it’s not going to kill you … for the most part.”
Engineering junior Eddie Godbold attended both events — the engineering fair and the Fall Expo. Though he said there were more opportunities for engineering students at last week’s fair, the Expo allowed him make a second impression at some of his favorite organizations.
“The only reason I really came is because I’m considering maybe an opportunity outside of just purely engineering and there’s a couple companies here that were at both,” Goldbold said. “I just wanted to follow up and show that I’m very interested in their companies.”
With so many companies and so many students waiting in line for their turn to impress a recruiter, students know they must come armed with their resume, an “elevator pitch” and a strategy. Research and preparation on the companies they plan to approach are key.
Four days before the Career Center hosted the Fall Expo, it offered the “Great Expo-Prep-Tacular,” an all-day opportunity for students to prepare for the career fair with drop-in career advising and mini clinics. Additional events were offered in the weeks prior.
The Career Center hosted a similar program last year. This year, in addition to featuring staple events focusing on what to expect at the career fair and how to speak and follow up with employers, the program included a session focused on freshman opportunities at the fair.
Tyler Wang, a Career Center recruitment coordinator, led a clinic advising students the best ways to speak with recruiters.
“Students really want a prescription for how to be successful,” she said. “They want to know, ‘What do I say? How much time do I have to say it and how many people should I talk to?’ ”
“Really the advice we give is that there’s not just one cookie cutter way to be successful at the career fair,” she said. “What we want is for students to be able to make a genuine connection with an employer and be able to take that connection to the next level by getting an internship or a job.”
LSA senior Ali Miesel said she found the pre-Expo preparation extremely helpful. She hoped to take advantage of the opportunities provided to get an interview.
“I definitely have a lot of preparation to do (before the Expo) but coming here gave me ideas on how to do that,” Miesel said on Friday.
In addition to the prep day, the Career Center hosted another event Monday evening for students to ask additional questions and meet alumni returning as recruiters in a more informal “speed-networking” styled setting.
“Our goal is to help students be successful,” Wang said. “If students are looking for an internship or a job or if they're just trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, we want to provide them with all the tools and resources necessary to help accomplish that goal. That’s really our job: to help students.”
Borland said she thinks the Expo has a reputation for featuring many corporate opportunities. However, she emphasized that there are a wide range of jobs, including opportunities in investment banking, consulting, marketing, HR and at large corporations, as well as opportunities to work at non-profit organizations and government agencies.
“There are what I call the hidden gems,” Borland said.
Though Public Policy junior Heidi Payter spent her time at the Expo talking to two organizations, she said she didn’t feel like there were many participating companies that met her interests.
“They do a lot of stuff at Ford and I feel like they help me more than this did, but it was still useful.” Payter said. “I used it for practice so when I have to do one for a scary business that I really want to work at, then I’m ready.”
For students who may not find their interests represented at the Expo, Borland said not every career industry lends itself to the career fair set up.
“It really reflects how different career fields do their recruiting,” Borland said.
Since the Expo is considered a first step in the internship process, the Career Center does not have data determining how many students are eventually able to procure an internship through connections made at the career fair.
However, Schueneman said the center does try to keep tabs on where graduating seniors first end up after college. She said about 93 percent of students end up at either their first choice of job or graduate school post-graduation.