Engineering Career Services Helps Students Prepare for Careers, Upcoming Career Fair

"It’s never too early to come to the Career Services offices." Deon Robin, Assistant Director for Employer Engagement, Engineering Career Services

August 26, 2016

An Illinois student checks out the Engineering Career Services' new pamphlet about career services being offered in Fall 2016.

On September 7th and 8th, around 6,000+ Illinois engineering students will get a jump start on finding the perfect job by attending the Engineering Career Fair. And according to Deon Robin, Assistant Director for Employer Engagement, Engineering Career Services has a raft of materials/events to help students not just prepare for the upcoming Career Fair itself, but figure out what career is perfectly suited for them and then land that dream job. Materials/events ECS has developed/offers include: a pamphlet outlining ECS events and services, the Lunch & Learn series, a Mock Career Fair: “Prepare for the Career Fair,” RésuméMania, Engineering Career Fair, i-link, the Career Fair Plus app, Pre-Career Fair Virtual Meet-Up, ECS Workshops, and the Job Shadow Program.

Regarding the upcoming Engineering Career Fair, Robin says ECS started sending emails to students before they even got back on campus. “We start early marketing,” she says. “We have a series of events that lead up to the Career Fair. The series of events is to prepare students so once they’re at the career fair, they can present themselves both professionally and also on paper.”

Illinois Engineering student Stephanie Lona attending the 2014 Engineering Career Fair.

Since the fair is the first full week of September, isn’t that a bit early in the semester? Will students be geared up for it?

“They come back prepared,” says Robin. She says that even before classes started this fall, they were trickling into the center to print out name badges, get information. “They’re asking questions; they’re making inquiries about the fair,” she explains.

“I thinks it’s already a culture here at the University. They know that once they’re back, Career Fair is happening, and they need to be prepared.”

And they are. She says they even have their spiffy, business/professional attire ready. “I think they come back packed with their clothes. They may not have winter gear yet, but they definitely have their attire ready for the fair.”

Career Services is ready for the Fair too, and wants students to be apprised of and ready for their biggest event of the year. So to help students get prepared, ECS recommends the following:

ECS Pamphlet

This colorful trifold pamphlet covers all of the workshops and events leading up to the Career Fair and throughout the rest of the semester, plus a listing of all of the services offered at the ECS.

ECS' Career Resource Guide (photo courtesy of ECS website)

Career Resource Guide

This 64-page Career Resource Guide is chock full of resources ranging from résumé writing to interviewing, to negotiating a job offer, some articles with both email and other etiquette tips (such as, ‘Don’t Slurp Your Soup’), 6 Tips to Convert a Summer Internship into a Full-Time Position, plus salary info and companies recruiting through ECS.

Lunch & Learn

During Career Week, August 29th–September 1st, ECS is hosting a series of Lunch & Learn events that cover different career-related topics:

  • Résumé: Mon., Aug 29th, 11:30 am–12:30 pm, 3300 DCL
  • Elevator Pitch, Tues, Aug 30th , 11:30 am–12:30 pm, 3300 DCL
  • Career Fair, Wed., Aug 31st, 11:30 am–12:30 pm, 2240 DCL
  • Interview Tips, Thurs., Sept 1st, 11:30 am–12:30 pm, 2240 DCL

In addition, there will be a number of other Lunch & Learn workshops throughout the fall and spring semesters.

Mock Career Fair

For the first time ever, ECS is hosting a mock career fair, “Prepare for the Career Fair,” on August 30th, 5:00-7:00 pm, DCL Atrrium, 1st Floor. “Prepare for the Career Fair' is targeting freshmen and sophomores to help them do just that. “As freshmen and sophomores going to the career fair, you’re going to feel intimidated,” predicts Robin. “This is a simulation fair. It gives you an idea of how to present yourself, networking tips."


This drop-in, résumé-building blitz over a couple of days (Wed., Aug 31st, 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm; and Tues., Sept. 6th, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm) gives students a chance to have members of industry in their own field critique their résumés.

“RésuméMania is a great event for both employers and students. Employers are the ones providing feedback and critique on student résumés." Robin says ECS has advisers available throughout the semester to provide feedback to students, "but once it’s an employer telling a student how to polish their résumé, light bulbs go off—they love it.”

For the August 31st RésuméMania, there will be around 10–15 employers. However, on September 6 (the day before the career fair), ECS has reserved 39 interview suites. The goal is to have them all filled with recruiters providing input regarding student résumés.

Do students need to make an appointment? Nope. They can drop in with their résumé, and spend 15–20 minutes with the employer. However, they can expect long lines.

In fact, Robin says that this past spring, the event was supposed to end at 6:00 pm, but students were still coming in wanting to get their résumés reviewed. “The employers had been there all day,” says Robin, “and I’m like, ‘Please?’” But she says that, because they love mentoring the students, they stayed.

Robin reiterates how important it is for students to have someone from industry critique their résumé. “For students, it clicks when it’s someone in their field. “ She shares a scenario: “‘I’m sitting with an aerospace engineer, and he’s giving me advice on what I should be doing to further develop my résumé, giving me advice, suggestions, and we’re discussing projects that I’ve worked on.’ It’s a light bulb for them. When it’s someone in their industry, it’s mind blowing for them, and they run with it.”

Deon Robin, Engineering Career Services' Assistant Director for Employer Engagement, outside the Engineering Career Services office, 3270 Digital Computer Lab.

Robin shares another scenario about a student who has also taken advantage of ECS’ résumé-building services, then attends RésuméMania. “Guess what?” says Robin. “If you came to the Career Center before, and one of our career advisors reviewed your résumé, then if you come to this event, the employer may review your résumé and be like, ‘Your résumé is great. Tell me about yourself.’ And guess what? You’re able to connect and almost get a mentor. You can say, ‘Well, this is what I do. This is what I’ve done in the past. This is what I’m looking for. What advice can you offer to me?' And here’s someone who’s in the field that you’re interested in who can give you feedback.”

Engineering Career Fair

Robin says Illinois’ two-day Engineering Career Fair held at the ARC (Activities and Recreation Center) on September 6th and 7th, 2016 is a big deal. Spread out at the 248 tables, 400 employers and more than 700 recruiters will be available to chat with the 6,000+ students who are projected to attend, based on past fairs.

At a recent Engineering Career Fair, an Illinois student chats with a recruiter, an Illinois alumnus who is an engineer with Union Pacific.

Close on the heels of the Career Fair (the very next day, in fact), many employers conduct interviews on campus with students they met at the Career Fair. In fact, Robin says certain companies have done it so many times that they know they want 6 or 8 rooms. “It’s a very popular program, and it’s requested, so that’s why we continue to offer our service to employers,” she says. So ECS reserves 174 rooms for interviews. “To maximize their time on campus, we offer them that option.”

Who are the companies who show up? The big names you’d expect: Apple. Caterpillar, Whirlpool, plus not-so-big names too. Robin says that while she is constantly developing relationships with new companies, there are the companies that come every semester, year in year out. “Illinois is one of their targeted schools,” she acknowledges, “so they return every year and they are active throughout the semesters.”

And a lot of the recruiters the companies send will be fairly recent Illinois alumni—as per Robin’s advice.

Illinois Engineering student Emily Matijevich (right) chats with an Abbott recruiter Claire Slupski, a May 2013 Illinois graduate, at a recent Engineering Career Fair.

“When I’m talking to employers about their recruiting strategies, I always say, ‘Think about the students and who they want to hear from.’ They want to hear from recent graduates because they want to talk about transition; they want to learn about company culture, things that are important to them. Because they’re so close in age, they are able to connect a lot more. Once they get into that interview, then your senior can start engaging with those students. But at the Career Fair, you want to have those alumni. They have bigger impact.”

Robin has advice for students too. “Definitely come to the career center,” she recommends. “Participate in our workshops and our career events leading up to the Career Fair. Ask questions; do your research. Research organizations before you get there. Know the position within that organization that you’re interested in or have some sort of idea so when you’re talking to a recruiter, you can talk about that position you want and not just ask, ‘Well, what positions is your company hiring for?’ That’s not the way you want to start the conversation. If that student is coming to our office, they’re going to have the tools they need, so that once they get to the career fair, they’re ready to execute and be successful. It’s never too early to come to the career services offices! Never too early!”

In fact, in keeping with her “never-too-early mantra, she encourages students to start the process as early as their freshman year. ‘If you’re a freshman, you can come and just start building that relationship, building your résumé, building that network, so once you’re a junior or senior, you have something established. You can land that internship. Once you’re a junior, you have some experience, then you can land that full-time opportunity. While you’re a senior, you already have an offer extended upon graduation.”

Regarding which companies’ tables students should visit at the fair, Robin has this piece of advice: Do your homework beforehand—electronically, of course.


The traditional electronic method, according to Robin, is i-link: “Students can log into i-link, click on the event, and actually see the employers that are registered to attend, what the employer is hiring for, whether they’re interested in juniors, seniors, Masters, or PhDs. Get an overview of the organization and start planning out and selecting their favorite employers. So once they get to the career fair, they know, ‘Ok, these are my top ten employers; I want to be sure to visit their tables.'”

Career Fair Plus App

Also new for this year is a new app ECS is introducing: Illinois ECS Career Fair Plus. Students can download it onto their iPhone or their iPad from the Apple App Store. (Android users, don’t feel left out; you can download it at Google Play.) Robin cites its benefits: “It’s interactive. It’s free. It doesn’t take a lot of wifi bandwidth to download.”

Illinois Engineering freshman

Robin gives us a play by play on how to use it: “I can go through the company list; I can select companies I’m interested in, and then as I select those companies (she demonstrates by choosing Apple, Caterpillar, and Whirlpool), when I go over to the floor plan, it’s actually going to be highlighted in yellow…so as I’m going through the ARC, I’m going to be like, ‘Ah, there it is!’”

(FYI, this reporter has already downloaded the app in preparation for Career Fair.)

Pre-Career Fair Virtual Meet-Up

Another new electronic event this year is the Pre-Career Fair Virtual Meet-Up on September 1st. ECS is doing a small pilot “to see how our students react to being in a virtual platform communicating with employers,” she explains. A small subset, 40 of the 400 companies participating in the actual fair are participating in the pilot. Through the virtual platform, employers will have their own chat room, where students can be a part of a group chat. Employers will also have a private chatroom for conversations with individual students: i.e., ‘I clicked on your résumé and saw that you were in “x, y, z,” or invite them to do an on-campus interviews. Students could ask, “How can I engage more in this organization?” “How can I learn more about what you’re doing?” or “What programs are you developing?”

Robin says this platform allows employers, especially those who are not a household name, to have an information session and engage with students in order to build their momentum before coming to the career fair on campus. Through the virtual platform, employers could share about their company, culture, or whatever else they want to discuss via PowerPoint or a live presentation, where students could see the recruiter’s face or engagement within his or her office. The students get to see that, ask questions, and engage with them.

Via Virtual Meet-Up, students will be able to ask an employer, “Do you hire freshmen? Sophomores? Do you have any internships?” as opposed to waiting in a long line at the career fair (she says Apple's line is probably wrapping into another company’s line), just to get: “I’m sorry, but we don’t have internships,” or “We don’t hire sophomores.”

While some schools rely solely on virtual career fairs, Robin says that for ECS, it’s just a supplement. She can’t see replacing the actual career fair where students are face-to-face with an employer, and can each others' passion.

Robin cautions students against using Virtual Meet-Up as a replacement for attending the actual Career Fair: “Even if you’ve met that one employer here, and they’ve extended you an interview on the private chat, and they have you on that list to interview, you still want to come to the career fair, because you want to build engagement and interest. It just shows that you’re committed and want to be a part of the organization.”

As someone who is a liaison with companies and is aware of a wealth of untapped companies, especially overseas, Robin recognizes that Virtual Meet-Up could be expanded to include many of these companies who can’t travel to the actual career fair. “If we can have a virtual career fair, that would give us a little more exposure to inviting new and unique companies to come and recruit our students,” she admits. And there’s definitely interest in overseas companies. “If you look at our students, most of them are international students. And then we have our domestic students who are interested in international opportunities as well.”

Regarding all this new technology, ECS is always on the lookout for new things, “trying to be creative…trying to keep up with this generation. We have to give them what they want. We can’t stick with the same old thing,” Robin says. That’s why they implemented Career Fair Plus. “We saw this career fair app and said, ‘Let’s give it a shot!’”

Getting an Internship

So, on a side note, what about internships? Is it a given that a student will be hired by the company for whom he or she served as an intern? Robin stresses: “About 80% of students completed some sort of internship or volunteer opportunity where they gained some sort of experience. Having that experience is beneficial to landing that full-time opportunity. What I’ve seen with our students is that they know the importance of internships. They seek them out.”

While ECS has not collected statistics regarding the percentage of internships that lead to a full-time position in that company, Robin says, “Going forward, we want to track something that we will hopefully be able to publish.”

While ECS many not have hard data, Robin gets anecdotal evidence. “But you hear it. When the students come in and say, ‘Oh, I had an internship,’ or we have students that work in our office, and they say ‘I had an internship over the summer, and upon graduation I have this opportunity to work full time.’ So you hear of those conversions.”

ECS Workshops

In addition to the Lunch & Learn series, ECS holds several workshops every month. Fall 2016 topics include: “Résumé Writing,” “Interviewing,” “Virtual Interviews, Is Graduate School Right for Me?” “How to Juggle the Recruiting Process,” “Graduate School Applications: Tips for Success,” and “Writing a Compelling Personal Statement.”

Robin says students not only gain information during workshops, but they network with the employers giving the workshops, so she advises:

“As a freshman, be engaged with engineering career services. There are many opportunities here where employers are the ones presenting our workshops…Coming to these workshops, you’re learning a specific topic, but then you have the opportunity to engage with maybe an alum or recruiter. You can ask questions. ‘This is what I’m currently interested in,’ and they can give you feedback—almost a mentor. The world is huge, but if you’re going to the right places, you’re asking the right questions, you will learn and then you can make those determinations at the end, ‘Ah, this is what I’m interested in. This little nugget is what I’m going after.’”

Robin says there are also lots of workshops offered after the career fair because students have interviews. They have offers—questions: “Ok, I got this offer. Should I negotiate?’ Or, ‘I have multiple offers. Which one should I go with?’” So there are numerous workshops offered to help students answer the questions that they have.

Spring 2017 Engineering Career Fair

Should students miss the fall Engineering Career Fair, there will also be one in the spring on February 7 & 8 at the Illini Union. A couple of caveats, however: In terms of numbers of employers, it’s a bit smaller, only 200 tables. Plus, according to Robin: “Most companies tend to do their recruiting, whether it’s for full-time offers or internships, in the fall, and then they’re done. So when they come back in the spring, it’s more for campus engagement, building relationships, so forth. Not necessarily recruiting.”

How does a student determine what their perfect job would be in a specific company? A job for which they would be uniquely qualified and which utilizes their skills and strengths? Once again, Robin says to start early, then when the time comes, you’ll have laid the groundwork and you’ll know. For one, she says students should take advantage of ECS’ workshops.

Job Shadow Program

This program is designed to help students identify their niche in the company they want to be in, a student who says, “I know I want to be an aerospace engineer, but is there a nugget within Boeing that I want to focus on? Do I want to focus on missiles? So if Boeing signed up to be a part of the job shadow program, and I get placed in that program, then I’m going to be in that facility and see what it takes. I can ask questions and find out more.” As an added benefit, the student can focus on this particular area early on, taking courses to address this specific area.

So for the student, the hunt for a job should begin early. Robin shares from her personal experience: “When I was in college, I went to career services when I was a senior. And now that I work here, and this is my profession, I’m like, ‘Why didn’t I do this when I was a freshman? Because there are so many opportunities, from the Job Shadow program to the study-abroad program, so many things that students don’t take advantage of on campus until they’re seniors. Then it’s like, ‘Oh, I only have six more months until I graduate. I don’t have enough time to do all the things I want to do now!’”

Engineering Career Services' Assistant Director for Employer Engagement, Deon Robin.

Robin began working at Illinois in October of 2015, but she’s in her fifth year working in career services on a campus. She explains why she loves her job:

“I love seeing people being successful. Even though we have the career advising team that helps the students polish their résumés and fine tune their soft skills, for me it’s bringing the employers and students together. And hearing those success stories in terms of ‘I got an internship, and I got so much experience!’ or, ‘I got this full-time opportunity that’s going to help me accomplish all my dreams and goals.’ I think, for me, it’s just seeing happiness and seeing students accomplish their goals.”

For other I-STEM articles about Engineering Career Services' events and activities, see:

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

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

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