October 2, 2003

Career Fair: Back to Work

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While the recent career fair left many job-hungry Cornell seniors disgruntled with the sparse opportunities offered, Cornell career counselors argue that the fair’s lack of employment activity was simply a symptom of a weak labor market economy and did not reflect a poor career fair.

Several students attending the fair, expecting to submit resumes and set up interviews, were astonished at the number of firms that were not accepting resumes or scheduling interviews.

“Many [of the firms] simply said to apply on-line,” said Robert Cohen ’04. “What’s the point of them being there then? It’s frustrating and disheartening when these large corporations come, and you know how competitive the marketplace is — especially in the financial sector, where they can be so selective.”

However, according to Demetra Dentes ’70, senior associate director of employer and alumni relations in the Office of Cornell Career Services, students are generally advised to submit resumes prior to the career fair in anticipation of the on-campus recruitment efforts that take place later in the fall. Any additional resumes accepted by employers at the fair are simply supplements to the already-existing stock received. Therefore, employers who know that they will have no more interview openings will not take resumes at the fair.

“Students don’t realize that companies have different hiring practices. Their needs vary from year to year, and they know the number of students they will need [when they arrive at the fair],” she said. “With a really good year in the economy, they may have collected resumes at the career fair, [but usually] they don’t come to collect more.”

Many students also complained that noticeably fewer firms attended the fair this year than in years past.

“I noticed that there weren’t nearly as many companies as there have been in the past,” said on anonymous senior.

However, according to Jennifer DeRosa, assistant director for employer and alumni relations in the Office of Cornell Career Services, there was not much difference between last year’s corporate representation and this year’s.

“There were only three less companies this year,” she said. “There were just fewer tables at the fair.”

Dentes added that the current state of the economy makes it difficult for companies to financially justify sending representatives to numerous career fairs. “A lot of companies are counting their pennies,” she said. “Travel and lodging add up and can be very expensive.”

Other students noted that the fair lacked industrial diversity.

“I noticed that the career fair lacked variety,” said another anonymous senior. “Though the top firms showed up, I would have preferred to have gotten a better taste of what’s out there. They could have included communications or PR firms, and possibly major product sales companies like Ford and Coca-Cola.”

Cohen agreed. “I felt that there weren’t enough companies there that appealed to a larger portion of the campus,” he said. “The majority of people there were looking for engineers.”

Dentes stressed that this particular career fair may not be the appropriate venue for every student to find employment opportunities that cater to their interests or education.

“We try to stress that on-campus recruiting is not the way most students get their jobs,” she said.

However, Dentes also emphasized other Cornell-sponsored career fairs and consortiums that occur throughout the year, that cater to other career interests such as the environment, communications and nonprofit agencies.

Dentes and DeRosa also noted that Cornell’s career fair is strong compared to similar events at other schools.

“We get more employers than most schools,” said DeRosa.

Dentes also underscored the positive reputation that Cornell students have with participating firms. “We consistently hear about the high quality and qualifications of Cornell students compared to other schools,” she said.

Whether or not graduating students are highly qualified, and whether or not the career fair satisfied student expectations, college graduates are currently facing a severely competitive job market. Dentes and DeRosa estimate that the number of interviews offered through on-campus recruiting efforts dropped about 30 percent between 2002 and 2003.

Samantha Ade ’03, who graduated in May and is currently searching for work, is frustrated with the lack of labor demand in the current job market.

“Obviously, there aren’t many jobs to be had, let alone for entry-level graduates,” she said. “Personally, I find that my degree in English doesn’t mean much. I majored in English so that I wouldn’t be pigeonholed into one area. As it turns out, however, a liberal arts background doesn’t go very far in a bad market because I require so much training.”

As a result of the poor job market, record numbers of students are choosing alternatives to the workforce following their graduation. According to Dentes and DeRosa, more students are choosing to enter graduate programs or participate in initiatives, including the Teach for America program, instead of competing for jobs in such a dismal professional market.

Archived article by Ellen Miller