Mindset is Everything: My First Career Fair

Josie Chiao – September 30th, 2015

Before the Engineering, Science, and Technology Career Fair two weeks ago, I avoided career fairs like a plague. I’d let myself make the excuse of “Eh, I have plenty of time” as a first year. Now a second year computer science major, my desire for an internship outweighed my inhibitions. I fixed up my resume, cut the tag off my pencil skirt, and began a Google search spree of all the attending employers offering internships.

Josie Chiao

Josie Chiao
Major: Computer Science/East Asian Studies
UVA 2018

I arrived at the fair about half an hour in, and already felt overwhelmed—there was already so much going on—some students were changing into dress shoes, some already had their arms deep in swag, others were diligently taking notes and researching employers. Just the sheer number of collared shirts surrounding me was formidable.

I cleared my head and made my way towards the first room of booths. I wasn’t comfortable enough to start pitching yet, so I avoided eye-contact and tried to get a feel of the fair. Right when I entered the second room, a recruiter approached me. I’d never even heard of their company and felt far from ready, but I jumped into my pitch. It ended up being maybe around 60% of what I’d practiced in the shower, but it still turned out okay. The recruiter then explained what kind of projects their company was working on, and it turned out to be a decent conversation. It was after that first conversation that I realized: recruiters are just as eager to show what their company has to offer.

I recognized the need to keep an open mind; I changed my goal for this career fair from “get a job” to “get an idea of what’s out there,” and changed my pitch to be less “I have x, y, and z” and more “I’d really like to know what I’d learn from an experience at your company.”

Speaking with employers became much less daunting after that. I was less nervous, more comfortable, and my voice was no longer unstable. I learned a lot about a lot of companies—my list of opportunities to apply to grew drastically in just a few hours, and my resume folder was full with business cards of people to contact later.

The biggest takeaway of the day: changing the way I thought about the experience changed the entire experience. Chances are I made a better, more confident impression on the recruiters I approached with a desire to learn about their company as opposed to a desire to impress them.

I didn’t leave that day with any full offers, but I didn’t feel disheartened—I was one of hundreds of faces, usually only got a few minutes to make a lasting impression, and almost every conversation ended with them asking me to apply online. But my experience was far from futile. Being able to put the name of the recruiter I spoke with on a cover letter, and simply mitigating my apprehension about career fairs has made the daunting process of applying to jobs a little less so.

So whether you’re a first or fourth year, undeclared or declared, in the process of searching for jobs or not, don’t be afraid—get yourself out there! Just remember to have confidence, and to keep your mind wide open.



Josie Chiao is a 2nd year Computer Science/East Asian Studies double major and Career Peer Educator at the Career Center. She enjoys showing off the beautiful, revamped Career Center website, receiving swag from employers, and her daily 10PM cup of coffee.  

The Fall Job & Internship Fair is just a month away! Jumpstart your preparation today!