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March 09. 2013 12:39AM

Christopher Thompson's Closing the Deal: University career fairs a win-win

Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend a career fair at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, organized and hosted by UNH so that employers and students could meet and discuss career opportunities.

With close to 15,000 students, UNH is by far the largest university in New Hampshire. The university boasts more than 100 different majors ranging from business to civil engineering. Interestingly, close to 60 percent of the UNH student population is from New Hampshire, which is appealing to companies in the area.

This is the third time I have attended a career fair at UNH as an employer and once again, I was extremely impressed with the UNH faculty, organization, results and most importantly, the professionalism of the students who attended.

This particular career fair was the largest one I have attended so far. The two previous career fairs I attended were held in a different building. Due to the large number of employers registered this year, UNH was forced to move the fair to the Whittemore Center, which is better known as the hockey rink where the UNH Wildcats play.

The fair was set up on the main floor (hockey rink), and it was packed. I was thrilled to see the large number of companies that were participating. To me, it's an indicator of promising times. Companies are hiring. And what better place to find new talent than a career fair at UNH?

Companies were each assigned a table and were able to set it up however they wanted. Most companies had signs, small giveaways and information about the jobs they needed to fill.

The students could come to the event within a four-hour window and have an opportunity to meet and talk to some of New Hampshire's largest and best employers. Regardless of your major or interest, there was opportunity for every student, and that is the most exciting part.

The staff at UNH did an impeccable job organizing the event and making sure everything ran smoothly. I was also very impressed with the number of UNH faculty who stopped by to speak to us. They were interested in our company, but they also had a lot of questions about how they could better coach and prepare students for events like this.

I had a good conversation with Randy Schroeder, a counselor and coordinator with the Center for Academic Resources and Student Support Services at UNH. Randy was very interested in what advice he could bring back to his students. He asked me what is most important to employers when they meet the students. He asked what we look for and what is most important as we look for the most talented and capable people to hire. Is it their experience? Is it their major and performance while at the university?

This is what I told him:

First impression: Before I even look at your resume, my first impression is of you. It's how you present yourself, how you communicate, how you dress and the overall confidence you have in yourself. That is the first thing I notice, and for me personally, it carries the most weight. You could have a 4.0 GPA, a long list of extracurricular activities and additional experience, but if you lack confidence, can't carry a conversation or are wearing a baseball hat, you're less likely to stand out in my mind.

Do your research: At career fairs such as this, UNH provided students prior to the event a list of all the employers participating. Identify the companies you are most interested in and do your homework. Visit their websites and learn about what they do. Do research on the jobs they have available and narrow your search. I was blown away by a few students who did this. They knew the whole story about our company, and they knew intricate details of the job that interested them. To me, that shows commitment and motivation.

Sell yourself: If you know you are going to be meeting prospective employers, you have to be prepared to sell yourself. Create an elevator pitch about you - a 30-second statement that describes you, your skills and your past successes. I love to ask a basic question such as, "Tell me about you." You have to expect that and have a compelling response that displays confidence. Think about it like this: There are a lot of people like you with the same major, similar work experience and similar interests. What makes you different?


Christopher Thompson (cthompson@catch22solutions.com) writes Closing the Deal weekly for the Sunday News.



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