On Wednesday, Feb. 20, St. Olaf sophomores, juniors and seniors traveled to the Minneapolis Convention Center for the Minnesota Private Colleges Job and Internship Fair. According to the fair’s website, approximately 1,800 students attended from the 17 Minnesota private colleges that co-host the event each year.
The event has proved to be increasingly popular with a growth in both the number of students and employers participating, according to Branden Grimmett, director of the Piper Center for Vocation and Career.
Janine Knutson, associate director for career education and coaching at the Piper Center, noted that 198 employers were registered with the number continually rising each day.
These employers were not all for-profit and business-based; according to Knutson, about 20 percent of the industries were non-profit and government-related. With such a variety of employers, the fair allowed students to target multiple organizations and businesses of interest in one go.
Dana Dass ’13, a biology major, made connections with the four science-based staffing agencies she visited, but said, “I wished there were more science companies represented.”
Due to the large scale of the fair and the varying popularity of employers, some students spent a lot of time standing and waiting in line for their turn to talk to company representatives. Knutson estimated that the range of representatives students conversed with varied from 4 to 20. While it depended on the organization, most representatives had limited time to speak with students.
This variability showed through Oles’ experiences at the fair. Katie Caffrey ’13 visited 14 employer booths and said, “We were told that there would be long lines and that we may only get to around eight booths; however, most people had made it to every booth they were interested in by noon.”
Other students found the crunch for time to be a source of pressure.
“It was difficult to make connections because you only had, at most, five minutes to talk to the employers. You just have to hope you made a good impression in the first 30 seconds,” Hawera Butta ’15 said.
Before the fair, the Piper Center offered a number of both mandatory and optional preparatory sessions for students to attend. Knutson highlighted an alumni panel that took place the Monday prior to the fair in which students were able to get advice on how to stand out to recruiters.
Some students received individual counsel to help them best impress representatives from interest-specific companies.
Matt Alveshere ’13 had three on-site interviews and concluded that the fair was successful largely due to the efforts made by Piper Center staff.
“It would not have been successful if we had not been so well-prepared,” he said. “I had a chance to meet up with many high school friends who go to our peer institutions, and none of them had nearly as firm of a grasp on how to navigate through the fair as we did.”
Eden Ehm ’13, who also snagged a few interviews, started her preparation at the end of the fall semester when the fair was announced.
“I researched positions that interested me at each company and made a note of which things on my resume to highlight when speaking with each individual company,” she said.
Caffrey felt that Oles were very well-prepared for the fair, but said she was frustrated by the repeated request by employers to apply online before she would be seriously considered.
“I think the Piper Center needs to put more emphasis on the importance of applying online before coming to the fair,” she said.
Butta said he went to the fair mainly to gain exposure to job fairs, but did not prepare beforehand.
“I wished I had prepared because employers expected you to know about them and ask questions,” he said. “You can’t just go to them and ask what they are about.”
Knutson said that the immediate goal of the fair was not that students walk away with a job offer. Instead, the fair was the first step for employers and students alike to learn about and connect with each other.
“The fair is a great day, but not the only day to interact with organizations,” Knutson said.
Students plan to continue fostering the professional connections made beyond the fair.
“Regardless of how the job fair conversations went, what is important is following up, reiterating interest and formally applying,” Ehm said.