Career Fairs are Garbage
by Joy Sun
For the first two years of my undergraduate career, I thought I was going to be a doctor. “Being a doctor” is a pretty straightforward path: you do the things your adviser tells you to do, and as long as you keep passing, you keep moving forward, until eventually you become a doctor.
By my junior year, however, I realized that maybe medical school wasn’t the thing I actually wanted to do. But if I’m not a doctor, what am I supposed to do instead? How do people get jobs right after graduation? This was an entirely new process for me, one without a prescribed path. It seemed like most of my peers—those who never considered medical school—were already experts in the system, while I knew nothing about the strange world of info sessions, career fairs, and cover letters. I dove in as best I could: I put on makeup and heels, printed some resumes, and went to my first career fair last semester. It didn’t seem that fruitful, but I chalked it up to inexperience. Last week I went to my second, and I’m realizing now that maybe I wasn’t just missing something. Career fairs just kinda suck.
I hate people who act fake. It’s no fun talking to people who smile and pretend you are best buds even though they don’t care about you or your interests. Unfortunately, career fairs have a tendency to promote this behavior. Everyone is desperate to appear likable and charismatic. Company recruiters act excited about whatever you say and tell you their company is a perfect fit for you, and students act like the company is their lifelong dream. I find it hypocritical for both myself and the recruiter to try and convince each other that we’re the perfect fit, even though we’ve had the exact same conversation with twenty other people that day.
Often, it’s obvious that many recruiters don’t care about what I have to say. When I attended my most recent career fair, I told the recruiter for one company that my old boss’s friend works at the local office. He didn’t even comment on this, but instead blankly smiled and shoved piles of flyers and brochures to me that explain why I should intern with them. For the record, these flyers aren’t even insightful—half the time they just pull statistics from the company website, and if you wanted more information than that, well, it tells you to visit their website.
Power Imbalance and Competition
Career fairs can be tricky to navigate. Not only are they loud and busy, but they also have an obvious power imbalance between students and companies. Students vastly outnumber companies; additionally, the top companies with name recognition and popularity are even fewer and farther in-between. This means that all the companies—especially those that are popular—seemingly have all the power. Students feel like puppies begging to get picked at a rescue shelter. We’re all awkwardly loitering around in our ill-fitting clothes, hoping to somehow stand out to these all-powerful recruiters. How are you supposed to give a positive impression when there’s dozens of others dressed exactly like you, all saying very similar things? From a cynical perspective, it’s hard to discern whether or not your conversation with a recruiter actually made an impact. After all, if they have to talk to potentially hundreds of people within one day, how are they supposed to remember all the people that you enjoyed speaking with? It results in a rather tense and oddly competitive atmosphere, where even though no one is directly competing with each other, it’s still obvious that students are trying to subtly push others away so that they could have the most time and attention with a recruiter. I remember patiently waiting behind someone to talk to a recruiter—I like one-on-one interactions—and then as soon as it was “my turn” a girl swooped in and aggressively started asking questions.
The entire process of attending a career fair takes way too long and requires way too much energy. Everyone is expected to stand in place for several minutes at a time, trying to talk and listen to others over external noise. It’s easy to become overwhelmed at a career fair, too. Every time I had to look at the giant list of companies made me feel unprepared—which I was—and as if I hadn’t done my research on the company I wanted to speak with—which, often, was true. The process felt like an assembly line, where you’re just shuffling yourself from one table to the next, down a long line of tables filled with companies that all do the same thing and offer the same type of internship. To have decent conversations with ten or more companies easily take a couple hours of your time. And the sheer quantity means that no matter how many you talk to, you feel like you’re missing out. It’s exhausting. Especially in heels. My roommate and I literally had to change shoes in the bathroom because we were attending the career fair in between other classes, meetings, and obligations. The majority of career fairs occur during the winter months, and to be quite honest, no one in heels should be walking in the rain or snow.
Basically, attending a career fair in my opinion is literally the worst way for students and companies to network and get internships. Although I will admit that it is possible to meet and create genuine connections with recruiters at career fairs, I still believe that more meaningful connections can be made through attending coffee chats, directly emailing recruiters, or talking to current employees at their information sessions.
What’s worse is that I can’t not go to career fairs, no matter how worthless I think they can be. Everyone goes to career fairs. You feel like you have to—I have friends who already have internships that still feel guilty if they decide to not attend the career fair, since everyone else does. It’s a bare minimum that society has set for us all. If you don’t go to a career fair, what if you miss out on a good opportunity? What if the reason why you didn’t get that internship was because you didn’t go to the career fair? Career fairs suck, and I wish that there was some way to make them inherently more meaningful than what they currently are.