Making the most of UC Berkeley’s career fairs

photo of the career center building
Sunny Shen/Senior Staff

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Though it may not always feel like it among the hustle and bustle of taking exams, attending club meetings and trying to have a social life all while maintaining a respectable GPA, employers want UC Berkeley students. 

That’s what the UC Berkeley Career Center is for: connecting us to them. This fall, it is holding 13 different career fairs in sectors from engineering and physical science to education. The events, planned a year in advance, will all be held virtually. 

Sue Harbour, the interim executive director of the UC Berkeley Career Center, believes this virtual setting is here to stay. 

“I think there’s just some security in, you know, having one on one conversations with employers in a setting such as this instead of being surrounded by lots of bodies in RSF,” Harbour said. 

Though a virtual format may feel unfamiliar to some, UC Berkeley’s Career Center website has a page full of advice for things students can do before, during and after speaking to employers to make the most of their experience. The fairs are being conducted via Handshake, an app that connects students with job and internship opportunities.

Once they’ve set up their Handshake profile, students can sign up for fairs one week in advance and register for specific sessions. These sessions will allow them to speak directly to employers, either in a small group or one-on-one setting. The Career Center has a video on its website that assists students with navigating all the technical aspects of the fairs. 

When asked how students can get the most out of this experience, however, Harbour emphasized the importance of having an open mindset.

“Each student has to identify what their needs are, and I don’t just mean what their needs are in terms of what they need to have on their resume to get to the next step,” Harbour said. 

She points out that personality type matters — a more introverted student may not actually want to be a small fish in a large pond of 500 employees, despite the fact that everyone at UC Berkeley seems to want to work for the same 10 big companies. Therefore, it’s important that students research the employers ahead of time and inquire about the personal experiences of employees, without discrediting a company they’ve never heard of. 

“I think that’s one of the most exciting parts of being a college student because really everything is a possibility. You know, it’s easier to narrow down what you don’t want to do,” Harbour said.

Harbour works to dispel the common misconception that career fairs are only designed for seniors and encourages sophomores and juniors to attend as well to meet with companies and establish relationships with them. This way, the employer knows the student when they come back the next year to look for an internship and the following year to look for a job. 

The fall is the peak recruiting season for the banking, finance, consulting, engineering and technology sectors. All other sectors recruit year-round. Harbour sees that as a benefit because students can then take advantage of fairs that happen in the spring as well. She also points out that every fair, with the exception of engineering and technology fairs, could be applicable to students from any major. 

“They’re looking at your skills because you learn skills based on the experience you have as well as what you’re studying in the classroom,” Harbour said. Majors are simply the subject matter you study in the classroom and therefore do not need to lock you into a set path.

Regardless of what skills students are learning from various experiences in school, the Career Center helps students learn the skills required to find a job. They offer year-round counseling appointments and hold mock interviews, as well as provide resources for writing cover letters, resumes and reference lists. Career counselors can help students with elevator pitches and 30 second commercials — practice that may be beneficial for students nervous about attending their first career fair. As Harbour sees it, it’s all about finding that first job, which may not, as is commonly thought, be the place where you’re going to work until you retire.

“We train you and teach you how to find the next job and the next job after that because once you have the skill to talk with employers, to interview effectively, to put a resume together, to ask the right questions, even though you’re out of school in three to four years, when you’re applying for that next job you’ll know exactly what to do,” Harbour said. 

Harbour has been working in career services for the past 25 years because she loves the energy and excitement that comes from working with young people and on college campuses. These are many of the same qualities that she assures students will make them desirable to employers.

“You were sought after from this campus, you’re sought after from future grad schools, you’re sought after from employers,” Harbour said. “Companies want motivated students and UC Berkeley students are known for being high caliber, motivated, energetic and purpose-driven.”

Beatrice Aronson is the special issues editor. Contact her at [email protected].