Are job fairs worth my time?
October 21, 2014 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Should I attend my graduate school's job fair?

I am an MPH student with about five years of work experience. I'll graduate in May, and am primarily looking for jobs at non-profits (similar to where I worked before) and a few government positions. On Friday, my school is holding a job fair. There are a handful of employers there I am interested in.

Is the job fair worth attending given the following?:
-I am not graduating until May, and I don't think non-profits/government hire this far ahead of time (as opposed to private sector)
-I have somewhat of a network in my field already
-The event will be crowded; employers (especially the ones I'm interested in) receive hundreds of resumes and I don't know how I would stand out in a literal line of people
posted by quadrilaterals to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't see a reason not to go, if it's being held by your grad school, there are employers you're interested in, and it otherwise costs nothing. I mean, what's the worst that could happen, it's slightly inconvenient and doesn't directly lead to an immediate job? So what?

In a year, if you're struggling to find work in your field, are you going to think back to this moment and regret not going to that job fair?
posted by Sara C. at 7:46 AM on October 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

You have identified several reasons the fair might not be useful to you. But on the flip side, there are many reasons it could be useful.

-there may be a non-profit or government agency actually on the ball and ready to start collecting resumes this early - you won't know unless you go.
-someone at one of the employers may be in, or know someone in, your existing network. Having a brief chat with them and having them connect your name with someone else they know will make you stand out.
-employers may get dozens or even hundreds of resumes at these fairs, but if they see your name now and again in the spring, and again after graduation, familiarity with your name and resume could work in your favor.

There are no actual downsides to going - it's not like an employer is going to actively avoid hiring you because you attended. So go, make the most of it, and hope for the best.
posted by trivia genius at 7:49 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

What is the opportunity cost of your time?

Calculate the expected chance of getting a job that you want to take at a job fair. Let's say that is 5%. Calculated the expected value of that job. I value employment quite highly (mostly because employers are generally less willing to hire unemployed people), so this is actually even higher than the salary of the job. Say you want a job at $75,000/year. I might value that job at $100,000. As a first order estimate, the job fair has an expected value of $5,000. Next, calculate how much longer you might need to get a job if you don't go to to the job fair. I would suggest that might be a month, so the expected cost of not going to the fair is $8,333.

Unless your time is worth a lot more than $5,000 (which I highly doubt), you should go to the job fair. Finding a job is a probabilistic affair, and it's not a good idea to hurt your chances.
posted by saeculorum at 7:49 AM on October 21, 2014

It sounds like going is of modest benefit to you with not a single downside. Just go. (I was in a similar place with my college's job fairs and found the modest benefit to be worthwhile.) And go again for the spring job fair.

(btw, my experience with applying for government positions is that you'll nearly be too late at this point. They fill very slowly.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:53 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

3 points in favor of going:

1) If employers are coming to your school, they probably know that the majority of participants won't be graduating until May. If they hire a lot of fresh graduates, they might have a system in place for lining up interviews in the fall but not starting until the spring.

2) Some employers take note of who checked their table and count that as a plus. You can also use it to identify the hiring manager for your favorite companies, so you can address them by name.

3) You might pick up some gossip from listening to any talks or going to the tables of your target employers. For example, they might be looking for something specific (like an econ class, or the ability to code in python or whatever) that you could brush up on before you apply. Or, they might explain positions that you didn't realize you qualified for or would want.
posted by fermezporte at 7:57 AM on October 21, 2014

Even if your attendance helps to confirm in your head that absolutely none of the prospective employers at the fair would be a good match for you then this will still have been a useful event, on the grounds of it being a time-saving filter.

What is more likely is that it will give you good experience of talking to prospective employers and it may open your eyes to possibilities that you had not otherwise considered.
posted by rongorongo at 7:57 AM on October 21, 2014

Since the job fair is being held at a school, the employers attending are presumably targetting students. So, they know you're not going to be graduating until May, if not later. If they think it's worth their time to attend given that timeline, then it's probably worth yours.

For what it's worth, I attended what was probably a similar job fair when I was in grad school last year. It didn't amount to anything, but it was 30 minutes of my time spent on my way home, so I still considered it "worth it" to go even if I didn't feel like it accomplished anything in terms of getting me a job. Any job search will be full of lots of activities that don't directly lead to a job, but that doesn't mean you should only do activities that will lead to a job with 100% certainty...if you take that tactic, you will apply to zero jobs and you will be unemployed.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:01 AM on October 21, 2014

I am not graduating until May, and I don't think non-profits/government hire this far ahead of time (as opposed to private sector)

It depends on the government and the non-profit, but if you're even thinking about going federal, you need to start now, especially if you're going to need any kind of background check / clearance. Government jobs can take forever to get hired into, even local ones. For example, my students that are graduating in December and starting local basic law enforcement training in January started their application processes in July.
posted by joycehealy at 8:08 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go! What do you possibly have to lose?

You never know who you are going to meet and what kind of connection you might have. We have sometimes kept potential employees in the backs of our minds for months on end and offered them a job when the timing was right.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:16 AM on October 21, 2014

I am not graduating until May, and I don't think non-profits/government hire this far ahead of time (as opposed to private sector)

Like joycehealy said, if you're talking about federal government then you want to start applying now if you want a job by next summer. A guy I know was offered a position last December by the FDA. That is, someone contacted him and said "We would like you to perform this job, starting as soon as humanly possible." Despite accepting almost immediately, he still didn't start until the last week of July just because of how long the process of approvals, screening, and contract negotiations took. And like I said, that was without the traditional competitive application and interview process.
posted by schroedinger at 8:18 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ugh, fiiiiiiine. I obviously feel like this about job fairs, but you've convinced me. Thanks, everyone.
posted by quadrilaterals at 8:18 AM on October 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm glad that you're going.

Just to give you a personal anecdote, I went to the general job fair at my school. I had already gone to numerous department-specific job fairs and had interviews, but failed to secure an internship (which is important in my industry). But just by being pleasant and talking to companies that were interesting, I got TWO internship offers from that day, one of them without interviewing. I had a great time in the internship, learned a lot, and got to put it on my resume. I'm convinced that without that interview, I would not have gotten the fairly competitive job I have now.

So, you lose nothing by going. But you could potentially gain a lot. You also never *really* know beforehand what actions will lead you to your job.
posted by ethidda at 9:22 AM on October 21, 2014

It will be good for a number of reasons!

You will talk about yourself: do you have your elevator pitch down? Use the fair to get it perfected.

If you hand out resumes you may find that multiple people ask you the same question, which may point to something you could change on the resume.

You never know what contact(s) you are going to make and for what reason; you might be really surprised by how small the world is.

It's good for people watching: learn from the mistakes (and successes) of others.
posted by MansRiot at 2:55 PM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used job fairs as interview practice. How to deliver my spiel, what kind of questions I'd forgot to prep for, how to channel nerves into useful energy, etc.
posted by rakaidan at 8:18 PM on October 21, 2014

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