Students dressed in suits, clutching folders of resumes, with backpacks slung over their shoulders and name tags on their chests are a common sight around campus. The reason: They are attending the multitude of career fairs on campus.

Each semester, Virginia Tech hosts 10 to 15 career fairs, offering job and internship opportunities in engineering, hospitality, communications, science, business, and more.  But how effective are these fairs in helping students find jobs and internships?

National numbers show that recent college graduates could use some extra help landing jobs. One out of every 20 young college graduates is unemployed, which is a higher rate than in 2000, according to the Economic Policy Institute Class of 2019 report. Also, one in 10 young college graduates are underemployed, which is more than in 2007 (9 percent) and 2000 (6.5 percent), states the report.

Job fairs allow students to explore career opportunities early on in their college experience. Plus, students have the benefit of hundreds of companies coming to the Blacksburg campus to meet them, said Donna Ratcliffe, director of Career and Professional Development at Virginia Tech. 

“In today’s higher education environment, with the cost going up and debt for students and their families being higher than ever before, I think it’s more important than ever for students to think strategically about their career - and for the university to be thinking about the student’s career,” she said. 

Some of the career fairs are organized by individual colleges and academic departments, while others are hosted by Career and Professional Development. 

One of the largest at Virginia Tech is Business Horizons, hosted by the Pamplin College of Business. September was one of its largest fairs. In one day, there were 147 companies represented and approximately 3,000 students attended. The next day, more than 600 students interviewed for positions at about 50 companies.

There are various ways that students can prepare for a career fair. Jonathan Byers, assistant director of Career and Professional Development at Virginia Tech, said students should research the companies in which they are interested and the positions that are open. 

Tyler Julian, a senior who is majoring in building construction, did just that. He attended the Construction Internship and Career Fall Fair in September.

“I did some background research on the companies, looked at the locations, jobs, projects, and things that I would want to work on,” he said. 

Julian isn’t new to the job fair process. After attending last year’s fair, he landed a project internship for Rand Construction Corp. Currently, he is talking with companies about internships for the upcoming summer. 

Emma Touchette, a senior who is studying accounting information systems, has a full-time job as a consultant with Deloitte Tax waiting for her once she graduates in May. 

She interned with the company this past summer doing a variety of  tasks, including working on state and federal tax returns. Recently on campus, Touchette worked at Deloitte’s booth at the Business Horizons fair with her future co-workers.

“It was a really unique experience seeing Business Horizons from the other side,” she said. “It was really interesting to speak with students who are going through all the things that I went through two years ago. Also, it was super cool to be able to talk about the firm I love so much and give advice and guidance to younger accounting majors. I am super fortunate to have this full circle experience as a senior.”

Ratcliffe said students should have multiple copies of their resumes, with some targeting different positions and career fields. This allows students to have multiple options when they walk into a fair. 

When meeting with companies, students can stand out from others by having a firm handshake, making eye contact with representatives, and feeling comfortable talking about themselves and their work or class experiences, said Byers. They can practice their handshake and talking points at the Pitch Pit, a booth that is situated outside of most career fairs and is offered by Career and Professional Development.

“View this opportunity as a way to have a conversation with a recruiter,” Byers said. “Don’t look at it as trying to have a big, grand spiel to impress someone. Just learn what you can, have a conversation, and see where that takes you.” 

“They [the employers] are expecting students with experience,” said Ratcliffe. “Experience comes in all sizes and shapes. They are looking for people who have had leadership roles, and have demonstrated key skills that they are looking for beyond the technical tools for this job.” 

After a career fair, Ratcliffe said students should reach out via email to the professionals with whom they met, thank them for meeting with them, ask follow-up questions, and check on the next steps in the interview process. 

Career fairs aren’t the only way to find jobs and internships. Handshake and LinkedIn profiles allow students to post their resume, past experiences, and education on an online platform for potential employers to see. Handshake features more than 43,000 job listings for Virginia Tech students, including internships, co-ops, and opportunities to apply with companies that conduct on-campus interviews at Smith Career Center at Virginia Tech.

“People shouldn’t rely 100 percent on job fairs,” said Ratcliffe. “But any student can walk into a fair and see what might be there for them.”

- Written by Haley Cummings