Iowa State career fairs continue to flourish in spite of the weak economy

AMES, Iowa - It's the fall career fair season at Iowa State University. The Engineering Career Fair will take place Tuesday, Sept. 22, in Hilton Coliseum and the Scheman Building, with the Business/Liberal Arts and Sciences Career Fair taking place the next day in Hilton. The Ag Career Day is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 13, in the Lied Recreation Center.

ISU career officials emphasize that the fairs are still one of the best ways for students to get some initial face time with potential employers. And in spite of the nation's weak economy, there are still plenty of companies sending recruiters to campus to meet with potential new talent.

But that doesn't mean the traditional career fair isn't changing. All the colleges report that the numbers of employers at this year's fairs are down slightly -- due, in part, to the economy. And because the job market is still tight, recruiters may be seeking a different type of hire.

Career fairs see more experiential education recruiting

Larry Hanneman, director of Engineering Career Services at Iowa State, says companies are increasingly looking for more interns and co-ops at career fairs.

"There's been a significant increased focus on experiential education recruiting," Hanneman said. "Eighty percent of employers recruiting engineers are recruiting for co-ops, interns and/or summer help. Career fairs have become the venue for early identification and networking -- all the way down to first semester freshmen."

Steve Kravinsky, director of career services for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, concurs. He reports that companies want to see more freshmen and sophomores at career fairs.

"They are stockpiling student candidates for the future," Kravinsky said. "More companies expect you to have an internship and not enough students are taking advantage of them."

Mike Gaul, ISU's director of agriculture and life sciences career services, calls these internships the "feeder system" for full-time hires for many companies -- and for good reason.

"Many boast of 50 to 75 percent conversion rate -- intern to full-time hire -- hence emphasizing the extreme importance of internships to students," he said.

And there may be plenty of internships to choose from at the upcoming career fairs. Hanneman is expecting nearly 230 companies -- and possibly as many as 240 -- at the Engineering Career Fair. Nearly 120 companies will participate in Wednesday's Business/Liberal Arts and Sciences Career Fair. And Gaul reports that 160 companies attended last year's agriculture career fair, with over 140 already registered to attend the 2009 fair in October.

"Many of the sectors seem fairly resilient despite the [economic] doom and gloom," Gaul said. "There will be a slight decline in career fairs overall, but we are still talking about over a hundred businesses coming to visit you [student participants]."

Be ready with the one-minute commercial

That's plenty of opportunities for students to make first impressions upon potential employers. For that reason, Kravinsky says they should have their "one minute commercial" ready for the fair. He advises students to:
• Know yourself
• Set goals
• Be familiar with the companies
• Maintain a positive attitude
• Realize the importance of networking
• Be professional
• Have your résumé ready

While the career fairs continue to flourish, not every employer can make it to campus. But they can still post positions electronically for free through the Iowa State University Career Management Service (CMS). Students can also post résumés and interact with potential employers through the service.

"We run a big electronic system," Hanneman said. "Employers can post everything, including co-op positions. We have between 500 and 700 companies using this system per week, which is now running with 2,000 students using it per day. That's a significant electronic on-campus and off-campus support system for employers and students. And you know there's a very high level of engagement when you see those kinds of numbers."

Additional information and career fair schedules may be obtained online at: