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Villanova University’s career center recognizes the value of first-year students connecting with employers during career fairs, and prepares both students and the employers that work with them for the experience.

The career center’s career fair registration form asks employers to indicate if they are willing to speak with first-year students during these events. Last year, 45 out of 150 employers indicated their willingness to do so.

“Not everyone wants to work with first-year students,” says Nancy Dudak, Villanova’s career center director. “Juniors and seniors are more directed, because they’re typically going after specific internships or jobs. Meanwhile, freshmen are trying to learn about a company or industry, or sometimes are trying to find out information on which to base an academic decision about their major.”

Villanova’s career center identifies the employers willing to speak with first-year students by designating them as such in the career fair program and by placing table tents that recognize employers that are “freshman friendly.”

Dudak encourages first-year students to talk to employers to find out what the organizations do, what opportunities they have for college students and certain majors, the profiles of successful employees, and more. To help prepare these students for career fairs, the Villanova School of Business' Office for Advising and Professional Development created a handout for them that includes basic business profiles; tips on appropriate dress, etiquette, and behavior; and sample questions to ask employers.

“The important thing for first-year students to understand is that there are no silly questions,” Dudak says.

A crucial component to making the event a success for students is managing their expectations. This means apprising them of the opportunity to gain valuable information and forge new relationships.

“Students tend to ‘live’ online,” Dudak notes. “We let them know that it’s important to meet recruiters face to face and start to develop key relationships. We manage our students’ expectations by, for example, letting them know that they’re not going to come out of the career fair with 10 internship offers, but they are going to gain valuable information.”

This dovetails with another key factor in successfully preparing for a career fair with first-year students—managing employer expectations. While the career fair is an opportunity for recruiters to strengthen their brands and connect with students early in their college careers, Dudak and her staff advise employers of the general nature of the questions typically asked by first-year students.

“We also let recruiters know that this will be the first time that most first-year students are meeting with a recruiting professional in person, and that the burden of the conversation might be on [the recruiters],” Dudak says.

As Dudak points out, there are real benefits for first-year students attending career fairs and for employers willing to work with them. For both groups to get the most out of their career fair experience, career center staff need to properly prepare them and manage their expectations.