The George Washington University will be hosting a two-day, hybrid Career Exploration EXPO Feb. 9 and 10 that is open to all undergraduate and graduate students to explore career opportunities. In partnership with the Center for Career Services, this event will provide attendees with the chance to find potential jobs or internships and or network with employers.
There will be a virtual format from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 9 via the Handshake app. The in-person fair, the first since the beginning of the pandemic, will be from noon to 4 p.m. on Feb. 10 in both ballrooms on the third floor of the University Student Center. More than 70 companies and agencies ranging from Urban Teachers to the U.S. Department of State will be on hand.
The Center for Career Services’ Courtney Frost, associate director of employer relations, and Katherine Norton, head of the career coaching team, answered questions for GW Today about how students can best prepare for the two-day career fair.
Q: What is some advice for the in-person portion of the career fair?
Katherine Norton: The first thing that I really want students to remember is to give themselves a little bit of grace because it can be really easy to be nervous for something like this. Especially since this is the first in-person fair since the beginning of the pandemic. But with that in mind, preparation is key, and that will create confidence.
Q: How about virtually?
KN: A lot of employers are looking for students who kind of take control of that conversation. In Handshake, the platform that we use, the conversations are scheduled for only 10 minutes, so a lot of students will feel nervous or don't necessarily want to come on too strong. But it's important, as employers like confident students to come up to them and can give them their elevator pitch and say what they're looking for and then intentionally use their 10 minutes.
Q: What should go on a resume, and what would be best to leave out?
KN: We always recommend tailoring your resume to the job that you want. Now, if you're going to a career fair, you're going to be talking to maybe multiple industries, multiple employers, so it's a little bit harder to tailor at that point. We would recommend showcasing some key professional competencies. We have our professional competencies initiative here with our Career Center, where we always promote students focusing on things like communication, problem solving and skills that really do appeal to multiple employers.
Q: How does a student make a cover letter catchy? How do you balance making it sound professional while trying to make it stand out?
KN: We always recommend having a good hook in the introduction that showcases your personality a little bit. Cover letters and resumes can get very stuffy, so it’s about figuring out what makes you unique, what sets you apart and really owning that and putting that into a cover letter. Of course, showcasing the professional competencies and the skills that that employer is looking for, but this does give students a chance to tell a little bit of their story and why they're interested in that job and interested in that industry.
Q: What is acceptable attire for this setting?
Courtney Frost: I would say that recommended dress would be business casual. I think that if you're actively looking for an opportunity, and you have the attire, business professional is not going to hurt you. It's going to help you showcase visually that you're taking the opportunity seriously. But we also want to be accessible to students, so students can come as they are. We aren’t going to turn you away if you are just stopping by after class. We also want you to wear something you feel confident in.
Q: Even if they don’t walk away with a job offer, students can still set a foundation for themselves. What is the value of networking in a job search?
KN: Networking is priceless. It's so valuable to the job search effort. So many jobs are found through networking. A lot of them might not even get posted but they're maybe circulated internally or to people that know somebody that has an important role. It’s always important to build that network before you need it, so having a solid foundation in place is really important. And this can be a really great set of building blocks. Also, the Career Expo is going to be a really friendly atmosphere, and those people are going to want to be engaging with students. This gives students a chance to really hone some of those professional networking skills. We encourage students to come with ways to take notes and take down names or business cards, and then follow up on those leads and connect with these individuals on LinkedIn or follow these companies. There are so many ways to stay in touch and then follow up on things either informally or in interview situations.
Q: What should students ask employers?
CF: First of all, you never want to waste your time or the employers’ time by asking things like what their company does. You can find that out on your own through preparation. Good questions are always relative to that individual person, so think about your career values. You are also interviewing the company. Always think about important questions such as asking about their working environment, culture and crafting questions around that.
Q: What advice can you offer students who might be nervous headed into the EXPO?
KN: A lot of nerves can go away if you know that you're walking in prepared and with a good resume. If you're walking in and you've practiced your elevator pitch, that can calm a lot of nerves. Keep in mind it’s also going to be a friendly room. These are employers who want to engage with students. They're excited to be here. They know that most of these students haven't had a chance to network at an in-person career fair before. So ultimately, it's going to be great practice, even if they aren't in a serious job search. There are really some benefits for all levels there.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
CF: It's important for students to know the expectation is not to walk out with a job offer because that doesn't really happen at career fairs, but they might get a follow up conversation or an interview out of it. Or even just more information about the companies. Those are all wins. So, there’s no bad experience to be gained here. One pro tip that I used to tell students in my coaching days was don't go to your top company first. So, if your dream organization is at the career fair and you're feeling nervous, go to some other organization first to work through some jitters and get yourself warmed up before you go and talk to the company you’re really hoping for.
KN: Be proud of your experience, be your own hype person and walk in there ready to talk about all of the amazing things that you have experienced or done.