Hey, Students: Don't Blow Off Your College Career Fair Just Yet

Hey, Students: Don’t Blow Off Your College Career Fair Just Yet

career fairs
(Image: iStock/Steve Debenport)

Is attending college career fairs an effective part of a larger job search strategy? It depends.

Of eight millennials I informally surveyed here at Black Enterprise, two never attended them; four found them unhelpful. Of the two that found them useful—one got a work-study job, the other developed relationships with reps from the graduate school she later attended.

None were hired into a full-time position post-graduation as a result of attending a campus career fair.

“Working with counselors, professors, and mentors was more helpful,” my colleague Selena Hill told me.

Southern University Campus Career Fairs

But don’t write off your school’s career fair just yet. There’s tons of advice online about how to maximize your chances of snagging a job interview (preparation is key); and also how to use the fairs to, for example, meet company representatives, practice your elevator pitch, and research your targeted industries.

If you’re an undergraduate at Southern University and A&M College, attending its career fairs is a must.

“We have two career fairs every year, one in the spring and one in the fall,” says Tamara Montgomery, director of Career Services at Southern University, an historically black college in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Ninety to 100 companies come to the fall fair, and 60 to 75 in the spring,” Montgomery continued. “About 85% of the companies that consistently attend the career fairs have hired Southern students and graduates over the past five years.”

Maybe that’s because Montgomery and her team make sure that students are prepared before they attend the fair, which is preceded by a week of activities held during Career Week. Small businesses attend as well as behemoths like Exxon, Microsoft, and Procter & Gamble.

During Career Week there are interview skill workshops and mock interviews. “We hold coffee chats where students talk to career counselors and recruiters, and we review résumés and talk about career goals.”

Montgomery says externship opportunities, as well as internships and co-op programs, are available to students.

“We also tour companies in the Baton Rouge area. At BASF, students shadow the employees so they know what they’ll need to do to be successful.”

Professional Development and Leadership

Southern goes even further. Montgomery told me that the university has developed a professional development and leadership institute, a two-day annual mini-conference modeled after the esteemed and competitive Thurgood Marshall Leadership Institute.

“The idea is to bring the conference to the students since not all students can go to the Thurgood Marshall event,” Montgomery says.

The conference includes, along with guest speakers and panel discussions, professional instruction on dining etiquette.

“The students have a fine dining experience in a professional and personal setting,” Montgomery told me.

There is even a “career clothes closet” for students who may not have professional attire. The clothes are not a loan.

Montgomery says, “This represents the true spirit of HBCUs—helping one another.”

For more information about Southern, visit its website.