Career Fairs: How to Prepare, How to Engage

Career Fairs: How to Prepare, How to Engage

Looking for work demands different strategies and forms of engagement.   Some individuals are comfortable networking and looking for opportunities at events including career fairs.   Others are not as sociable and would rather more discreetly apply for jobs online.  Still others are looking for more direct referrals for jobs and seek informational interviews and one on one meetings with people who can make connections.   Ideally, looking for work should include all of these approaches.  In some cases, you might need to do more of one than the other.  For instance, if you are looking for work in a field that is narrowly focused with only a limited number of employers, one on one connections might make most sense.  If on the other hand, the types of jobs you are looking for are seemingly plentiful, and then online might be a viable approach (although you should also include other strategies).

Career fairs are typical venues for identifying potential employers.  These opportunities can be good places to get a “lay of the land” so to speak.  By attending, rather than applying for jobs at the fair (which you can do at times), you should be more focused on the types of employers who are there.  Are they small firms or international groups?  Not for profits, or for profits?  Local or federal government?   Getting a handle of who exactly is hiring should result in your better honing a pitch and revising your resume.

If you are fairly sure about what you are looking for at a career fair, then attending with the intent to engage an employer at a fair is important.  In that case, dressing for an interview, bringing resumes, and having business cards would be in order.  Though your conversation with a representative of an employer might be short and in the midst of other conversations and crowd noise, making a good first impression is important and critical.  Representatives tend to be either (1) human resources staff who might have only a general sense of what the firm is hiring for, but can provide specific guidance on the process or (2) program specific staff, who know more about specific needs, but might have less insight into the hiring steps.  In either case, your initial conversation can leave an important lasting impression and help advance you to the formal application process.

David J. Smith, Adjunct Faculty, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University

Career Fairs can be intimidating.   There is much a buzz, they can be crowded, and as a result might cause some anxiety and stress.  Try to find a quiet place to take notes, review your resume, grab coffee, and then reengage.   A good outcome is meeting someone, possibly someone also looking for work who you can share notes with, or a more senior professional who might offer you some advice.   Get their contact information and try to connect with them later through LinkedIn,  for coffee or a Skype call.

In any case, you should not shy away from a career fair.   Some are general and deal with a range of employers such as a specific kind (e.g., not for profit work) or governmental sector.  Others might be more specific as to a field such as international development, or peacebuilding, or for a specific group, like State Department program alums (like Fulbright!).  As you can see, I linked to a few I’ve attended lately.   They are a good opportunity to get your feet wet and see what opportunities you should be considering.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

February 20, 2020 0

Career Corner: Sharing Your Experiences as a Fulbrighter Will Open Doors

Career Corner: Sharing Your Experiences as a Fulbrighter Will Open Doors

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to join other Fulbrighters at an academic conference for community colleges to share about our experiences.  We participated in two panel discussions and presentations.  The panelists included visiting Fulbrighters from Kyrgyzstan, Togo, and Morocco; U.S. Fulbright ETAs (English Teaching Assistants) in Benin, Cote D’Ivoire, and Peru; and U.S. Fulbright Scholars researching and teaching in Nicaragua and Estonia (me!).  Our audience consisted of community college educators and professionals.  Community colleges are the least represented higher education sector in the Fulbright program, so it was important to share with this group.   Afterwards, several faculty members indicated interest in considering a Fulbright as part of their future professional plans.

Sharing about your experiences as a Fulbrighter is a powerful way of connecting with professionals and the general public.   With professionals, it opens up opportunities for career possibilities.    Your experience overseas will be viewed as an important asset to a company or organization in an increasingly globalized world.  With the general public, sharing about your Fulbright grant offers you a chance to show how international experiences are important for learning and growth, as well as global economic development and intercultural relations.   U.S. taxpayers should be aware of how the Fulbright program contributes to national objectives.

David J Smith — career coach, author, and Fulbrighter

Finding opportunities to talk about your Fulbright experience can be formal, such as a conference or professional meeting, but can also be informal such as at a social gathering.  Sometimes the best places to share are with youth in educational settings.  Schools are frequently looking for guest speakers to talk about interesting work that might inspire young people.  This is an ideal setting for you to share about your time overseas.  Stories about living in another country can be powerful ways to show our connection with others around the world.  Talking about food, work, family life, and other customs can intrigue youth to think about what they can do to make the world a better place through international engagement.   Think about where you went to school.  Contact the principal or a teacher there and offer to share: you will not be turned down, I can guarantee that.   International education week in November is often a time when presenters are needed.  And when meeting with youth, don’t merely talk to them, but get them involved in an activity that allows them to really understand the culture that you experienced.  Teach students a song, or engage in some artwork.     If you are looking for a formal way of engagement, check out the Fulbright Association’s Fulbright-in-the-Classroom Program, which facilitates opportunities for Fulbrighters to talk in K-12 schools.

Making connections can be done in many ways.   Giving back to students, professionals or the public by sharing your experiences advances not only the Fulbright program, but also introduces you to individuals who in turn can open doors.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

January 22, 2020 0

Career Corner: To Plan for 2020, you need to look back on 2019. Here is how to do it.

Career Corner: To Plan for 2020, you need to look back on 2019. Here is how to do it.

As I write this I’m thinking about things I need to wrap up before the end of the year.   Have I kept a good record of my expenses and income? (Tax season is soon!).  Do I need to do some office cleaning – not just dusting, but discarding old files, papers, books, etc.?  (Both the physical ones and virtual ones!)  Are there colleagues that I’ve promised to connect with in the past year but failed to do so? Now might be a good time to plan a coffee with them in January.  Most importantly, did I live up to commitments or objectives that I made in 2019?

Evaluating the past year can be a precarious endeavor.   Many shy away from it, thinking that it will be a disheartening experience.  We all have at times fragile egos and going through a list of things we didn’t do but wanted to do can be emotionally fraught.

If we committed to sending out a specific number of resumes, or completing a certain number of applications and didn’t do so, what does that say about our commitment to change?  Maybe we have good reasons we didn’t get it done.  But good reasons are sometimes poor excuses.

Our goal should be setting a positive course for 2020.  If reviewing past efforts cause you to despair, then doing it is probably not a good thing.  However, we can only make a course correction when we recognize what we are correcting from.  And looking at the past is necessary to do that.

So here are some tips for thinking about the past year, and planning for 2020.

  1. Make sure that you are in a good place before you reflect on the past year. Don’t do it when you are tired, hungry, or dealing with other stress.   Put on some empowering music or find a meditative spot.   Give yourself enough time.  Make sure you are uninterrupted.
  2. Have paper and pen in hand. (I would not use a computer – might lead to surfing).  Make two simple columns — plus (“+”) and minus (“-“).  And objectively make lists of the things that went well and things that didn’t in the past year.  Sometimes you find that things will appear on both the plus and minus sides.  That’s okay.  Some experiences result in mixed outcomes.  For instance, attending a conference might have allowed you to make connections (“+”) but was much more expensive than you had planned (“-“).
  3. After you’ve done this, set it aside. Now do something else (preferably relaxing, enjoyable, or involving exercise).
  4. Come back to the list later: maybe a few days later. Look at the list again.   What changes would you make?  There are possibly some new items to add or revisions of some things required.
  5. Ask yourself: Are the things on the minus side still applicable? A priority a year ago may be irrelevant now. If something is still important, think about the impediments or obstacles that prevented you from accomplishing it?  The impediment or incorrect assumption you were operating under would need to be adjusted or corrected before you engage in that activity again in    For instance, maybe you had committed to scheduling three informational interviews per month, but either didn’t know enough people to meet with or didn’t have enough time.   If you recommit to informational interviews, you will need to identify more people in advance and find more time.  Otherwise, you will again not meet your goal.

    David J Smith — career coach, author, and Fulbrighter

  6. With items on the plus side, are they still relevant for 2020? If you committed to taking a course on webpage design and you did it, then it would not be on your 2020 list. What new things (remembering impediments, see #5 above) might you commit to?
  7. Now you are prepared to make your list of 2020. Think about both specific things you might need to do and more generalized perspectives or learning you might engage in.  Setting a numeric goal for applications is different than a general commitment to learning more about a specific field of work.  Both are valuable but have different ways of evaluation: one based on metrics, and the other based on an improved knowledge or comfort level (which might be hard to measure).
  8. Make sure your list of objectives and goals for 2020 is available to you all the time. Place the list on your refrigerator or integrate it into your online planner.  You must be reminded of what you committed to in multiple ways.
  9. Get to it but be prepared to make adjustments and changes as you work through it on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Changes are good.  They recognize your astuteness in seeing changes in your situation.   Adding new things to the list acknowledge that new opportunities or awareness should be incorporated into your thinking.
  10. Finally, quickly forgive yourself when you don’t meet a goal or objective. No one is giving you a grade for what you do.  And sometimes life necessitates making changes.

Last November 2018 I wrote about the need for reflection, and in December 2018 looked at planning for 2019.  Take a look at those pieces again.

Have a great new year, and best of luck with your career goals.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

December 10, 2019 0

Career Corner: I’m Back From My Fulbright: Now What?

Career Corner: I’m Back From My Fulbright: Now What?

I’m writing this from the annual Fulbright Association (FA) conference in Washington, DC held October 24-27, 2019. FA meets annually, usually alternating between Washington and an overseas location. Next year’s conference is in Taipei, Taiwan.

I find attendees at the conference tend to fall into two groups: older, mostly retired college educators and professionals, who enjoy getting together and supporting their passion for the program. The second group tends to be newly minted Fulbright alumni, often recently returning from their experiences in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program or internationals in the U.S. participating in Fulbright Foreign Student Program. A conference like this is a wonderful opportunity to bridge generational divides. The older attendees, many having held multiple awards, offer important knowledge and insight about professional pathways. They are ideal mentors to younger Fulbright alumni looking to start their careers.

Creating an opportunity for informal networking should be a primary goal of any professional conference. Unfortunately, I find younger would-be professionals at times hesitant to approach senior ones. And older colleagues sometimes limit their socializing to their friends (often the ones they see every year). It is important to move individuals out of their comfort zones and allow for sharing across generations.

David J. Smith, Adjunct Faculty, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

I was part of a panel discussion on careers with Sherry Mueller, co-author of Working World: Careers in International Education, Exchange, and Development, 2nd edition, and Nada Glick, a professional career counselor and member of the Fulbright Association national board. About 20, mostly younger Fulbrighters, attended our session. For many, this was their first conference. Some were clear about their plans in launching a career, they just needed help in developing a strategy. Others were not so sure. They had returned from their experience enthusiastic about international education and wanting to do more but unsure exactly what that might be.

In my remarks, I stressed the ways in which a Fulbrighter can leverage their experience to impress potential employers and those who might help them in their careers. One important way is to offer examples of the work you did overseas and its impact. This allows for storytelling, an important way to share about your insights and enthusiasm for your work and the country you lived in.

I also had a chance later in the conference to meet one on one reviewing resumes and offering personal advice on strategies. These conversations provided me a chance to engage in an empathic way with someone who might be struggling with uncertainty about their future.

I hosted a roundtable discussion meeting with a mixed group of older and younger Fulbrighters looking at ways to leverage their experience. Some ideas I offered included:

• Stressing the significance of being selected for a formal peer reviewed prestigious exchange. Sometimes potential employers might not recognize the extensive process you went through to obtain your grant.
• Sharing about the project, research, or teaching you engaged in. The core of a Fulbright experience is doing important work to advance the objectives of the program.
• Discussing the various networks and linkages you’ve both created and benefited from during your experience. The ability to offer this to an employer can provide you with an important advantage in the hiring process.
• Recognizing that you are now to some extent an “expert” in the country or subject matter of your Fulbright. Even if your stay was short, your “on the ground” observations and interactions with locals have provided you with awareness that positions you as someone who can offer insights when asked.

A conference such as the national Fulbright Association meeting provides important opportunities to learn and share from others. If you are a senior Fulbright alumni, talking with younger ones offers you the chance to recapture the spirit and purpose of your own experience. And younger Fulbrighters, benefit from the reassurance and knowledge of those who have blazed the path for them.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

October 31, 2019 0

Career Corner: Participating in Professional Groups as a Job Search Strategy

Career Corner: Participating in Professional Groups as a Job Search Strategy

As I write this I’m at the Association for Conflict Resolution conference in Tucson, Arizona. I’m an active member of this group, which puts on an annual meeting devoted to training and education, and promoting new approaches in the field of conflict resolution. My interest in international education is rooted in my commitment to nonviolent approaches to resolving differences. While on my Fulbright in Estonia, I taught conflict resolution and peace studies courses at the University of Tartu.

David J Smith — career coach, author, and Fulbrighter

We are all part of a field, academic discipline, or professional community of some nature. International education itself is a field, but likely your entry into it came from another area or interest. It was that first field that provided you with a professional identify and allowed you to learn and develop as a professional. Going overseas as a Fulbrighter was an extension of that, and possibly allowed you to move from seeing something in a more “domestic” context to what it might look like in a global way.

In looking for work, networking is critical, and being connected to others studying, researching, and working in your primary field is important. You can make a valuable contribution to a community because of your Fulbright experience. Most professional groups have sections or committees that look at the international aspects of the field. This is where you can engage.

What are the professional groups that you can be part of? How do they integrate or support international education? You might be unique to an association because of your Fulbright experience. When I was teaching in a community college, very few of my colleagues had participated in the Fulbright Program. As such, I was often sought out because of my experience, and was able to mentor others. This might be something you can do.

Networking and participating in groups is an essential strategy to career exploration. It is at these meetings and through these networks that you meet new colleagues who can provide you with insight and ideas for your career. In turn, you can provide others with advice and inspire them to pursue an international experience such as Fulbright.

In this way, your Fulbright experience not only opens doors for you but allows you to open doors for others.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

September 26, 2019 0