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Career fairs are a great way to explore options. Are you prepared?

So, you are thinking of changing careers or just starting your career. Perhaps you lost your job or you are returning to the workforce. Perhaps you are continuing your education. Whatever the case, it’s a little overwhelming to figure out where to start. You should talk with friends, family and professionals about what they do. Networking is key, not only to discovery but throughout your journey. Research information on a variety of companies, school and careers on the internet.  Meet with school advisors, attend alumni events, hit a few placement firms or temporary help providers. Learn what careers stand a better chance in this economy.

You should also attend a career or grad school fair where you can tackle all of this under one roof with dozens (sometimes hundreds) of companies and schools. On Monday, we highlighted upcoming college and university career fairs throughout the state. These events generally take place every spring and fall, and provide an ideal forum for juniors and seniors to explore next steps in their career journey.

For adults who have graduated from college (recently or long ago), there are career fairs just for you too! As I attend many of these events, I am always amazed how many people don’t take advantage of these fairs. Where else can you meet face-to-face with recruiters and hiring managers showcasing hundreds of opportunities in one place?

Of course, my objective is to spread awareness of the nursing profession. Everyone knows healthcare provides tons of opportunities. For those holding a bachelor’s degree, we discuss the Marian University for St.Vincent Health accelerated nursing program. They are often surprised to learn our program offers the opportunity earn a second bachelor’s degree in nursing in as few as 16 months.

This is one of the reasons we are proud to sponsor an event on August 21 at the convention center. In my opinion, for those with a college degree, it is one of the best events of the year.  It’s called Recruit Indianapolis:  All – Alumni Career Fair. Colleges and universities from across the region promote it to their alumni as a chance to meet face-to-face with more than one hundred employers. With a degree and ten bucks you are welcome to attend. ($5 if you register by 8/17).

Recruit Indy

More than 100 employers attended last year with hundreds of positions. Why do companies love to participate in this event? Consider more than 1,000 potential job-seekers attended last year – all with a college degree!  For me, it’s an opportunity to tell 1,000 people about a career in nursing.

My advice for those attending career and grad school fairs?

  1. Do your homework.  Don’t just show up with a resume and start walking around. Register for the event. Upload your resume, when possible. Most event hosts distribute all resumes to employers following the event. Dress in business attire. Look on the website of participating employers or schools and highlight a “Top 10” list. Set a goal of spending 10 minutes with all ten. I call it the 10/10 approach. In less than two hours, you’ll walk away with a whole new perspective on your options.
  2. Be yourself.  When you approach a booth at a career fair and someone asks what you do, don’t be afraid to share what you would rather do.  “I have had a five-year career with a communications firm, and I’m looking for a change.” or “I completed my education in biology and am trying to decide whether to continue my education or start an entry-level position somewhere to gain experience.”
  3. Be prepared with questions.  It’s okay if your questions are self-centered as long as you ask them courteously. After all, you are shopping these companies and schools as much as they are shopping candidates. “What can you tell me about your company’s culture?” or “What type of career options could I expect by enrolling in this program or joining your company?”
  4. Be prepared for the answers.  Do a little soul searching before you get there. What answers would be ideal regarding culture, careers, opportunities for your situation?  If you aren’t getting the answers important to you, thank them for their time and move on. If you are getting them, share a unique tidbit about yourself that will be lasting. “I love the idea that you help people in need. I volunteer at my church by distributing blankets to homeless shelters.”
  5. Follow through.  If you find yourself excited about a particular conversation, ask if you can follow up with them and get their business card. Send an email within 24 hours. Keep it short and sweet and attach a resume. “Thanks for sharing some insight to your culture and particularly your mission to give back to the community. You may recall I volunteer with my church, distributing blankets to homeless shelters.” See why those tidbits are important?
  6. Whatever you do, never say, “I just need a job.”  You may as well carry a sign that says, “I don’t have a clue what I want to do and if you hire me, I’ll prove that.”  You don’t have to answer, “I want to be a Level III Technical Specialist in Marine Biology Research.” You do need to know your passion, your talents and your desires.
  7. Just do it.   If you are thinking about attending a fair, then just do it. There’s not a lot to lose. Even better, go with a friend or family member. Most people don’t have the time, energy, courage or resources to change careers and find a job. Is it they don’t have the time or they don’t make the time?  I challenge you to ask yourself,  “What made it a good day for me at work this week?” If you find yourself wondering when the last time you had a good day at work, , I’d say you need to get to a career fair.


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