Engineering Career Fair Fosters Networking, Helps Students Land Internships and Jobs

September 19, 2016

Two Illinois engineering students, Abby Pakeltis (center) and Rachel Burroughs (right), chat with a recruiter at the Fall 2016 Engineering Career Fair.

Did you notice that on September 7th and 8th, campus was inundated with scores of students who, instead of sporting the traditional September garb of shorts and orange t-shirts, were dressed to the nines in professional business attire—guys looking sharp in suits, ties, and shiny shoes, girls in stylish black business suits and even heels? If so, it was most likely some of the 6000 or so Engineering students who ventured south of Green Street to attend Illinois’ Engineering Career Fair (ECF) at the ARC. Why'd they go? For freshmen, it was to get some experience under their belts, and to begin the process of networking with representatives from companies in their field. For sophomores and juniors, it was to possibly net an internship for next summer from some of the prestigious companies they might like to work for down the road. For seniors, it was the real deal—to land the dream job they've been preparing for over the last several years.

ECF at Illinois is a big deal, with 400+ companies on hand to secure some of the nation’s top engineering students. Who were some of the companies who showed up? Lots of household names: Amazon, Microsoft, Go Daddy, Samsung, Caterpillar, Apple, Rolls Royce, Pepsico—you name it, they were there. A number of start-ups and companies none of us have ever heard of came too, hoping to attract the attention of some of Illinois’ talented students.

Engineering 100 TA, Jess Villie, waits for her freshman charges to show up so they could experience the Fair in small groups.

Though it will be a while before they're ready to enter the work force, even freshmen showed up for the fair, some at the behest of the Engineering 100 TAs, who wanted them to get their feet wet. Jess Villie, one of the TAs, explains why she encouraged her freshmen to go:

"I have learned if you aren't pushed to go your freshman year, then most freshmen won't attend. Freshman year is a critical time to attend the career fair and get out all of the nervousness about talking to recruiters and the career fair process in general. That way, when they attend their sophomore year (when their odds of getting an internship are much higher) they will be much more prepared. I couldn't express to them enough how important networking is, and the career fair opens up so many opportunities for that."

Villie adds that the fair is also "a helpful time to get advice from recruiters for what they [students] can do to make the most of their freshman year and best prepare themselves for the future!"

A Senior in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Villie says her advice to the freshmen is based on her own positive experiences at the Career Fair: "I have been attending the Career Fair since freshman year (this is my fourth year). During these fairs, I have had several interactions to gain experience in communicating and networking with recruiters, as well as in participating in interviews. Overall, I feel like the Career Fair is a great way to make a good first impression and make yourself stand out—it is essentially the first round interview."

Engineering freshman Douglas Bach chats with his Engineering 100 TA, Jess Villie, while they wait to enter the Career Fair.

Villie relates the impact the Fair has had on her personal job prospects. She met Chevron recruiters at the 2015 Career Fair, which led to an on-campus interview, and, finally, resulted in her being offered an internship that she accepted for this past summer in Houston, Texas. "Without the career fair, my online application would have just been another resume in the pile," she admits.

One freshman who took his TA's advice and attended was Douglas Bach, who admits to being “a little bit” nervous. But he had decided he was going to “Just go in there and be confident, I guess."

Liam Carroll (center) and another Engineering 100 freshman chat with a recruiter at the recent fair.

His purpose in going to the fair was to network and get familiar with company representatives.

“Just because you’re a freshman doesn’t mean you can’t get your name out there, and also see what companies have to offer." Bach says he also hoped to discover, "Where companies are based, where you might want to work, and what you want to do.”

Another freshman, Liam Carroll, who says he was “not particularly nervous,” just came for the experience:
“I don’t know if I’m looking for an internship quite yet, but the experience I can get by going this year will be very helpful in the coming years to get an internship.”

Devon Goszkowicz (left) chats with a recruiter at the recent Engineering Career Fair.

Material Science and Engineering junior Devon Goszkowicz values the exposure she’s gotten to future employers. She says, “I don’t think any other university could have given me the same experience. Just between exposure with all these start-ups I’ve worked for…I love going to career fairs, even though it’s a little bit scary at times, but it feels really rewarding to be able to talk to people from your potential employers.”

Electrical Engineering junior Sanjay Kalidindi.

Another junior, Sanjay Kalidindi, who's majoring in Electrical Engineering, explains why he attended ECF: "I'm looking for an internship this summer, so I thought it would be the best place to go for one of those." As a result, Kalidindi, whose focus is power and energy, and who says his dream job would have something to do with solar panels and wind energy, had Interviews with both Leidos and with ADM. Kalidindi said he has gone to ECF every year he's been in school, but adds the caveat, "It's tough your freshman year, because ususally people aren't too interested, because you don't really have any experience yet.

But Kalidindi does believe he benefitted by going. "Oh, definitely. You learn how to talk to them. That's the most important thing, because I think that gets you the interview more than anything else. Most kids don't have that much on their resume yet, because they're still in college, so they don't really have much going on besides clubs and maybe an internship for research. So I guess learning to talk is the biggest thing you get."

Chemical Engineering senior Palak Dharia waits to get into the Fair.

Most seniors, of course, were at the Fair looking for jobs. For example, Palak Dharia, a senior in Chemical Engineering, came to the Engineering Career Fair “looking for a full-time position out of college, so recruiting starts now.” He indicates that this was his 5th or 6th time. “They have it every semester,” he says, “so I try and come.”

While Dharia feels that coming to previous fairs has helped him gain confidence and the ability to present his elevator pitch, he says the fact that most of the recruiters just graduated recently themselves makes it easier. “The college recruiters tend to be freshly out of college, so it’s not like you’re talking to someone who’s had experience for 40 years. So there’s also a little bit more of a comfort level. And they help you; they’re here to help you.” Not only that, but Dharia says his internship this past summer with Brady Corporation in Milwaukee was a result of coming to last fall’s career fair.

Rebecca Boehning, a senior in Chemical Engineering has been to ECF every fall since she’s been at Illinois. She says she came as a freshman to one career fair and then has been to both the ECF and the Expo (the student-run career fair) for the last two years.

Boehning says she thinks the career fair is a great opportunity for students to interact with recruiters on a more personal level, “that’s different than just applying online.” She says. “So by having that face-to-face interaction, it really helps your chances of getting that job. Which is, I think, one of the benefits of the University bringing all these people here together, so that I can have these opportunities.”

Left to right: Illinois seniors Kristine Carlson and Rebecca Boehning

Like most of the students who participated in the Fair, Boehning appreciates that many of the recruiters are recent grads. “When you’re talking to a recruiter, it’s all about starting a conversation, and so with students or ex-students that have gone through the same curriculum, they know what you’re talking about when you mention some class work or projects. And it can even form a sense of comradery, which is important for trying to get a job—just making that connection.”

Kristine Carlson, also a senior in chemistry, who will be graduating in December of 2017, says this is her 3rd semester going to career fair. According to Carlson, the ECF helps students to network. “It gives you a good chance to get yourself out there and network with recruiters, and even if you’re not particularly looking for an internship at the time or a full time job, it does give you that good opportunity to network.”

Senior Michael Muehlhauser, due to graduate with a degree in Industrial engineering this December says he’s “been to too many career fairs to count. Probably at least 10. I‘ve been to the fall one and spring one, almost every semester.”

Has it been worthwhile? “I’ve gotten internships out of them,” he says. “I’ve had five internships during my time here.”

While most folks would acknowledge the benefit of coming as a senior, did Muehlhauser come as a freshman, and if so, why? “I did,” he says…“I gained confidence going up and talking to adults, and the experience of talking to recruiters. Mastering your elevator pitch, learning about your resume. I encourage younger students to do that as much as they can, because it definitely helped me. It’s been a great experience.”

Left to right: Illinois grad Danielle Joaquin (see below) chats with Michael Muelhouser about his career options at Proctor and Gamble.

Muehlhauser indicates that the career fair also helped him land his five internships. “The networking opportunities here at Illinois are definitely some of the best in the country in terms of how many companies want to come to our fair and how many students we send to different parts of the country.  It’s definitely helped me in terms of that.”

Muehlhauser has a specific type of career he’s looking for (not necessarily a desk job), and believes access to the large number of companies who participate in ECF is enabling him to target those companies who are specifically offering what he wants. For instance, he’s visiting a lot of companies who specialize in rotational programs:

“I want to focus more on the engineering and business side of things," he explains. "Consulting things as well. I want to be an engineer who knows how to communicate really well; I don’t want to sit at a desk every day.”

Students probably recognized some familiar faces among the recruiters, too—alums who had been students in their own departments a few years ahead of them. For example, Danielle Joaquin graduated from Illinois in Bioengineering in 2012, then with a Masters in Mechanical Engineering in 2014. Joaquin currently works at Proctor and Gamble in technical design for packaging. “So I actually do a lot of CAD (computer-aided design) work, and make sure that the concepts that our design group comes up with are able to be manufactured and actually run on our lines. So I mainly use the mechanical part of my degree.”

Joaquin describes it as “awesome!” to be able to come back to Engineering Career Fair again, this time as a recruiter—and this time, not dressed in uncomfortable business attire.

“It’s crazy how much the campus changes every year I come back,” she admits. “And, yes, this time I get to wear the comfortable clothes. It’s a lot more comfortable on the other side of the table.”

An Illinois alumn, Nikita Patel, who works for Proctor and Gamble was on hand to help recruit students.

Another alum, Nikita Patel, who also works for Proctor and Gamble, graduated from Illinois in 2013 with a Chemical Engineering degree. Patel said it was very rewarding, but also quite interesting being a recruiter looking to hire rather than a student looking for work. “It’s a rewarding experience,” she admits. “So you went through the career fair from your freshman through senior year, and now you're giving back. I wish I could have told my younger self, 'Hey, it’s not as scary as it seems to be!' But it definitely feels cool. It's weird to be with one company versus trying to find one.”

Left to right: Bioengineering senior Rebecca Ficht and a recent Illinois grad, Joseph Isosaki, who is now working for a Johnson & Johnson company.

Rebecca Ficht, a senior in Bioengineering, said this was her third year coming to ECF. She participated every year except her sophomore year. In addition, she explains that there are multiple career fairs to take advantage of at Illinois. Besides, ECF, there is Engineering Expo, which is put on by students. She says the ACES Career Fair often has bioengineering companies too, so she has gone to that one as well.

Ficht explains the increasing importance career fair has as one advances from freshman to senior at Illinois:

“Freshman year, it was just to see the whole thing; it’s not something you would normally see, and it’s overwhelming at first. Going my junior year, I was going looking for an internship for that summer. And I did get one—with AbbVie—and that was very exciting. And then this year I am looking for a full time position, so it’s the real deal now.”

Author and Photographer: Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative

For more related stories, see: Career Resources, Engineering, 2016

Illinois Engineering student Ilana Slutsky gets some info from an Illinois grad who is currently working at Proctor and Gamble.

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