Many of the seniors on campus can attest to the fear that strikes deep in our hearts when thinking about the job we need before graduation. This is a fear that regularly keeps me up at night. It is only natural I went to the career fair Feb. 20, filled with colorful booths and students donning business casual as they look for jobs and internships. I’m crossing my fingers that everyone who attended gets the job they are looking for; I had some great interactions with employers there, and I’m hoping those interactions can blossom into an opportunity. But during the fair, something became clear. For all the good that the career fair does, it does not help the students who struggle with social interactions.
The appeal of the career fair is the promise of making connections with job recruiters. Unlike sitting behind a computer and sending applications into the void of job listings, at a career fair, you’re supposed to be able to speak face-to-face and network with employers. However, many of the conversations between students and recruiters at the fair were short — limited to a few minutes at best so that employers could speak to a hundred or more interested students in only two hours. The DreamWorks Animation booth, for instance, had a long line of eager students for the better part of the event. I felt a lot of pressure to make those seconds count; it felt like my entire success at the career fair rested on making a strong enough impression.
At Resumania, the career advisor said the best way to prepare for the career fair was to research the organizations ahead of time and apply to any interesting jobs before I attended. I did my research, trying to find public knowledge on these organizations and the positions they offered. While useful in its own way, this research can stifle conversations with employers. What should you ask when a company is so thorough on their website that you know what kind of granola they keep in the break room? I will admit, I asked a question I knew the answer to in a desperate attempt to keep a conversation going long enough that the recruiter might remember me. A friend of mine was sent away by an employer after they learned she’d already applied; they said they’d look it over and ended the conversation to talk to another student.
Overcoming these conversation hurdles can certainly be done. However, for the students who are shy or deal with social anxiety, these hurdles could be enough to negate the benefits the career fair is supposed to provide. Asking questions or continuing small talk is hard when your heart starts beating fast and your mind bombards you with self-criticisms. Students in these positions can’t think as clearly and are less likely to show their full worth. They will have an especially hard time carrying a conversation with an unenthusiastic recruiter. All this only applies to the students that made it to the career fair. There are likely many students who did not come out of fear of this socializing pressure. Even if the career fair does give you the opportunity to practice socializing, the pressure of honing social skills face to face with a job recruiter under such a time crunch is counter-productive.
The Hameetman Career Center (HCC) is trying to help students with anxiety or shyness. I know from the numerous visits I’ve had there that the staff is knowledgeable and ready to give students strategies for destressing or building self-confidence they can use to overcome the challenges of shyness as it relates to the job hunt. But the HCC can’t fix the root of the problem, which is the inherently social aspect of job-hunting that puts many students at a disadvantage. A student who is anxious about making small talk will not make as good an impression as someone who continues the conversation with confidence. The career fair is not the best strategy for everyone. This recognition provides an opportunity to brainstorm ways that shy students can shine in their own strengths. Perhaps a fine-tuned collection of work would make a student stand out. A well-written email to a recruiter could serve the same function as an in-person conversation. Strategies like these will help the disadvantaged students at the career fair while they can work on dealing with anxiety.
Tackling a problem like shyness is not something you can fix overnight. Until then, you can work with the HCC to find strategies that work in your favor — like attending interview workshops. Next time around, you might be in a better position to overcome shyness and make a great impression on employers.
Perrin Shyne is a senior cognitive science and East Asian studies double major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.