We’re constantly worried about our careers — Handshake, networking, info sessions, apply, wait, rinse, repeat. Honestly, I’m tired of it, especially after a couple of torturously long info sessions this past week, but the career machine never stops. And so, in the latest installment of career related madness, I decided to attend Cornell’s Fall Career Fair Day along with a few friends.
This year’s career fair was held at Barton Hall, which proved to be a good and bad decision. Good, because the sprawling mess of career fair booths left just enough room for students to squeeze into lines to greet the recruiters. But bad, because each time I saw the track stripes that circled around the hall, I was reminded that in some way or the other, each and everyone here was competing against the person behind them in line.
I can sum up the problem of being a sophomore at the career fair with two hands. One one hand, at least you weren’t a freshman. On the other hand, that didn’t matter to some companies. Depending on your expectations going into the fair, you could either leave underwhelmed or a little richer. It all depended on your approach.
One way to approach the fair was with sheer ambition. One of my friends, who was interested primarily in consulting, began to sift through the lines of companies such as Oliver Wyman and EY. It was bold, but also inefficient. The line of students around these booths constricted movement, which meant you had to wait at least 20 minutes before you got your turn. And when you got to the front of the line, things weren’t much better. As he described it, as soon as you mentioned you were a sophomore, their attention shifted and their gaze glazed, leaving you futzing with your suit as the recruiter droned on and on.
Big name companies have the luxury of picking from the top of the pile, which generally means juniors or seniors only. The assumption is they have the most experience and skills, which means they will be easier to train. Whether that assumption is correct, I don’t know, but that is the joy of being rich and famous. It doesn’t matter what you think or do. The best fish always flop in your boat, and all you have to do is whack them.
Another way was to pick through the companies was to visit the booths that had the fewest visitors. Oftentimes, this meant the companies that you hadn’t heard of before, or weren’t in fields that were very popular amongst Cornell students. Using this strategy, I ended up at some interesting companies: Venture for America, the fellowship program that sends students around the country to work in startups; Media, the online advertising company; and B&G Goods. Each one I went to, I was given a time to breathe and relax. No one worried about what year I was, and no one shooed me aside when I said I was a sophomore. But companies were companies, and I was still a little wretched at times from nervousness.
So perhaps the best way to approach it was to play the game as cooly as the companies did. At the end of the day, both recruiter and student are looking to extract value from the other. Being a sophomore gives you the freedom to explore, and the freedom to not care as much as others. This year is practice for next year.
At least my other friend got that. She whirled around from booth to booth, practicing her pitch, and snatching up free stuff along the way, without much care in the world. It was all about the swag this year.
“Look at what I got!” she exclaimed excitedly, pointing to her the two full bags swinging on her arm after we were done. She’d somehow managed to procure $50 worth of items from the employers at the Career Fair under two hours. Not bad for a first time trip.
Given the three approaches, maybe it was hers that struck closest to the mark. As sophomores, we’re not given much of a chance to make the most impactful mark at a career fair. But keeping an open mind, practicing your networking skills and poking around to see what companies interest you is just as important. In any sense, this year’s career fair won’t be as vital for sophomore as next year’s. It’s too early to worry — not yet, anyways.
William Wang is a sophomore in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Willpower appears alternate Mondays this semester.