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Students at career fair
September 5, 2018

Top tips for getting the most out of the engineering career fair

Written By: Sam Million-Weaver

Even though the school year is just beginning, it’s never too early to start laying the groundwork toward landing a dream job after graduation.

Engineering students can do just that at the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering Career Fairs—September 13, 17, and 19 from 1-7 p.m. at the Gordon Dining and Event Center on campus. Additionally, the Civil/Geological Engineering Job Fair will take place September 24, 2018, from 3-7 p.m. in the Engineering Centers Building Lobby, and graduate students may attend the PhD/MS Job Fair on September 6, 2018, from 11 a.m to 4 p.m. in the Engineering Centers Building Lobby.

During those whirlwind days, students have an amazing opportunity to network with potential employers, drop off resumes—and, most importantly, learn about the wide variety of careers that they can pursue with their degrees. “Our students have strong technical skills and well-rounded educations,” says Assistant Dean for Student Development John Archambault. “Employers keep coming back to the career fair because our students go on to become leaders in their organizations.”

Employers, he says, are looking for students with practical experience—through internships or co-ops—as well as interpersonal traits that demonstrate empathy, the ability to manage a project, and communication abilities. And one great way to cultivate those all-important “soft skills” is through participating in one of the many student organizations in the College of Engineering.

On the technical side, an engineering degree from UW-Madison already gives students a leg up in achieving their goals after commencement; roughly 93 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients either accept job offers or go on to graduate school within six months of receiving their diplomas.

That doesn’t mean that Badgers can stride into Gordon Commons like they own the place and expect to be handed the keys to a corner office in the C-Suite. Even though the job market is favorable for engineers, students need to bring their A-games along with copies of their resumes when they are meeting their potential employers.

Here are five, time-tested tips for nailing the career fair.

1) Go. Even if you’re not looking for a job right now.

Many students make the mistake of not attending a career fair until their senior year when they are actively trying to land jobs. But younger students can get a lot out of the event.

“It’s not a job fair, it’s a career fair,” says Archambault. “The purpose of the event is for students to learn about careers.”

Younger students might learn about career possibilities they’d never heard of before the event—and the career fair can be a great networking opportunity for finding an internship or a co-op later on.

Even more importantly, freshmen and sophomores can use information they learn at the fair to help them select classes that will give them the skills they need to land their dream jobs when they do graduate.

2) Don’t get dazzled by big names.

Top employers from all over the world come to the career fair, including household name brands like Google, Microsoft, General Electric and Ford. While those marquee brands are great places to work, too many students overlook opportunities at lesser-known organizations.

“If a company doesn’t have a long line, you should be over there talking to them—and you’ll probably have less competition,” says Archambault.

3) Take your time.

Each of the three days of the career fair offers students six full hours to connect with potential employers. Before the event, the Engineering Career Services office distributes lists of every employer that is actively seeking candidates from all 12 engineering undergraduate majors as well as graduate students.

“We always advise students to look at the list of who’s recruiting your major and talk to everybody,” says Archambault. “Our fair ‘day’ is six hours long for a reason.”

Students who take their time and talk to some lesser-known employers will make more of an impression on potential employers than those who rush through the event, drop off resumes at the busiest booths and then leave.

And longer conversations also give students the chance to demonstrate the interpersonal skills—empathy, communication, well-roundedness—that distinguish them from the crowd of technically competent engineers competing for a position.

4) Do some research before talking to employers.

Nothing is less impressive (or more insulting) than walking up to a booth at the career fair and asking the recruiter, “So, what does your company do?”

Representatives are eager to explain why their company is a great place to work and what opportunities are available for UW-Madison engineers, but it’s difficult to get to that point in the conversation when a job-seeker doesn’t know even the most basic details about the organization.

A quick online search can often reveal enough information to spark a meaningful discussion—and it’s worth your time to pull out your smartphone and do a bit of googling before walking up to a booth.

5) Prepare your one-minute spiel.

Knowing what you’re planning to say before you approach the booth can go a long way in making a good first impression. It’s important to give company representatives a quick idea of who you are, and ask a question to keep the conversation going.

The career fair spiel doesn’t need to be as long and drawn out as a so-called elevator pitch. Instead, find out some preliminary information about a company (remember tip No. 4?), introduce yourself and ask how someone with your major and experience might fit into the organization.

It’s also a good idea to practice some quick stories about experiences in student organizations or during internships where your leadership, empathy and other skills really shone through.

If you follow these tips, you will walk away from the career fair having learned a lot and having established some new professional connections. And that’s one of the main purposes of the event.

“The more people you know the more likely you are to have multiple job offers when you graduate,” says Archambault.

Engineering Career Services will be hosting a series of workshops in advance of the career fair to help students prepare. For more information, visit