Students nearing the end of their college careers might live in fear of their graduation day. To many who earn diplomas during the economy’s weak recovery, graduation means unemployment.
However, career fairs have become an important tool for college students looking to get a jump start on their job search.
Colleges throughout the country offer career fairs and advice for their students, and the three Arizona universities are no exception.
Arizona State University’s Career Services department doesn’t track how many students land jobs and internships from its fairs, but nearly 2,000 students and alumni attended its Collegiate Job and Internship Fair in February, in which 147 employers took part.
“I think (the employers) are definitely serious about hiring from ASU,” Elaine Stover, director of ASU Career Services said. “Most of the events that employers go to are going to be fee-based, and employers aren’t going to be spending that money or that amount of time if they aren’t interested in hiring.”
Many employers look to college campuses for future employees or interns who have bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“As a firm, we will hire 10,000 people a year, so a big part of that, like 5,000, will be younger students and recent graduates and interns,” said Ken Bouyer, Ernst Young’s Americas director of inclusiveness recruiter.
Students are not limited to campus career fairs. The Valley offers many career resources for students, and organizations host events in the area, as the National Association of Black Accountants did June 15.
More jobs available?
Employers recruit from colleges and attend fairs looking for students that can be brought on as interns or cheaper hires. Businesses look for candidates as they network with students and alumni.
Job seekers spend an average of approximately 40 weeks before they find work or quit searching, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May. When employers attend career fairs, they might expedite the job-finding process for some students.
Many young people with bachelor’s and master’s degrees have struggled to start their professional careers because no jobs have been available in their chosen fields. That left many looking toward retail and restaurant positions for work.
However, the momentum may be shifting.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed 244 employers for its Job Outlook 2012 and found that 51 percent of respondents plan to increase their college hiring and 38 percent plan to maintain their college hiring.
“We go to several colleges around the United States,” said Alicia Downey, campus recruiting manager for accountancy firm PwC. “Our target is probably interns and full-time hires coming straight off of campus.”
More than 4,600 ASU graduates who obtained bachelor’s degrees in 2011 responded to a survey about their job offers. Some received jobs in retail, while others received offers from major corporations like Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc.
“We’re at universities, we’re at the business schools, we’re working with faculty and we’re working with high schools,” Bouyer said. “In the profession of accounting in particular, we have a lot of jobs available and need a lot of talented people.”
At the ASU Collegiate Job and Internship Fair, 40 of the participating employers reported they had 760 full-time positions to fill, and 50 reported they had 360 internships available, according to Scott Berren, Career Services program manager .
“Of course, we do not know if they ultimately filled those positions with ASU students and alumni that attended the fair, but there is certainly a good chance,” Berren said.
Employers at the event included Apple, Inc. and NBC Universal, and job offers ranged from retail positions at Kohl’s department stores to accounts executives with GannettLocal. (Gannett, Co., Inc., owns The Republic.)
PwC also recruits from the university, Downey said.
“It’s a standard in the career-fair process, but it is just one point,” Downey said. “It’s also about building relationships with the people that you meet at the career fair and following up with those people, and then trying to attend and get into other PwC events that we’re doing either on campus or in the office.”
Universities lend hand
Students with the three Arizona universities have opportunities to attend at least one collegewide career fair each semester, in addition to smaller career fairs tailored for specific areas of study.
These get students directly in front of larger corporations and employers.
Since 2008, the University of Arizona has had an average of 3,553 students attend the UA Fall Career Days, the largest fair the university hosts, according to figures provided by UA Career Services special-events manager Susan Miller-Pinhey.
Miller-Pinhey is organizing this year’s event, which will be held Sept. 20-21. Arizona Public Service Co., Honeywell International Inc. and Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. are among the companies that have already agreed to attend.
“It’s very helpful, for one thing, practice makes perfect,” she said. “It’s an extremely stressful situation no matter how long you’ve been a professional…. Sometimes we encourage students to come wherever they are in their academic career.”
Monica Bai, assistant director of the Northern Arizona University Gateway Student Success Center, said an average of about 500 students, alumni and community members stop by the biannual Career and Graduate School Fair.
Those numbers do not include students who attend career fairs hosted by colleges, including ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Career Fair or UA’s Education Career Day.
Sun Devil CareerLink, a national online system for recruiting ASU students and alumni for employment opportunities, notifies students of the employers planning to attend career fairs.
“At a job fair, or career fair, students have the opportunity to stop and talk with someone they never even heard of before,” Stover said. “Part of the advantage of a career event is that they can be more flexible and serendipitous.”
Career Services departments also offer students informational sessions beyond the career fair. The NAU website provides students tips for the job hunt, from how to write cover letters to how to network.
Even though most students have the summer off, the ASU Career Services department works on. The department will host a free workshop for students and alumni July 16 about career mixers and resume writing.
Landing a post-grad job
ASU graduate Adam Layman said he would not have found his current job in New York if he had not attended a supply-chain-management career fair at the university.
“I was looking at jobs other ways,” he said.
Layman landed his position at Xylem Inc., a water-technology company, after receiving an internship with the company, which he was offered through the ASU career fair. After his summer internship ended, Layman spent about three months looking for work. He continued attending ASU-sponsored career fairs and came close to taking another job.
Gilbert resident Chelsey Nelson began looking for work a month before she graduated from ASU in May 2010.
“I got really lucky,” she said. “I applied for three jobs, and I received contact from one, which is the current company I work for. I was called for my formal interview on graduation day, five minutes after I received my diploma. It was a nice graduation gift.”
Although Nelson never attended a career fair, she found her job as a claims adjuster for MapFre Insurance through Sun Devil CareerLink, the tool the university uses to list jobs and recruit employers for job fairs. Nelson said she thinks the career help universities offer gives students a chance to find work they are qualified for.
Both Layman and Nelson felt career fairs are important because the people who attend want to hire college-age students and have that goal when they attend the fair.
“It’s a pretty good format, you can research (companies) and see someone face to face right away,” Layman said. “They are companies that are actually looking to hire people 98 percent of the time.”
Beyond the campus
Career fairs outside of campus are also available to students and recent graduates.
From June 13 to June 16, more than 1,500 people attended the National Association of Black Accountants convention, according to spokeswoman Phyllis Bailey.
The organization hosted a career expo open to its members and the public. Ernst Young and PwC were among the 70 companies at the expo.
Several students attended the event, such as Clyon Jackson of New York. Jackson, a senior at Baruch College, was reluctant to go to a career fair but believed it would help him find a better job after graduation.
“I don’t like going to career fairs…. I just like genuine conversations instead of just trying to push that I need a job or something like that,” he said.
Maria Xu of China graduated from the University of Michigan in December 2011.
She spent a month looking for work, sending out 14 applications. She heard back from two companies and flew to Phoenix to meet one at the career expo.
“Right now I’m just looking at all locations for jobs,” Xu said of her job search.
Adeola Davies of Nigeria is a career-fair success story.
Davies brought eight fellow students from Northern Kentucky University to the NABA event, where she received an internship the previous year.
“It’s a very great place to get a job, because there are so many companies and fewer students, and they really take you to the front of employers,” she said.
Many companies offer companywide career fairs, and such organizations as Goodwill host fairs featuring a variety of employers.
Phoenix Workforce Connection and Maricopa Workforce Connections have programs geared toward younger job seekers through such organizations as Arizona Call-A-Teen Youth Resources Inc. Phoenix hosted the Youth Career Exploration Job Fair for job hunters between ages 14-21 on June 15.