Fall 2018 Career Fair Is a Win-Win, Both for Illinois’ Engineering Students and Industry Recruiters

September 13, 2018

Siobhan Fox
Systems Engineering senior Siobhan Fox (right) chats with an AT&T recruiter.

Armed with a list of companies they were interested in working for, a list of questions they intended to ask, and probably a revised resume, a steady stream of Illinois engineering students—dressed to the nines—made their way across campus to the ARC for the Engineering Career Fair on September 11–12. Their goal: network with company representatives and land an internship, or even more importantly, a job for once they graduate. For the recruiters, their goal was to romance the coveted Illinois engineering students, possibly attracting the best and the brightest to their companies.

Students from all stages of their educational careers attended the fair. Freshmen, acknowledging that they probably didn’t know enough about their field yet to land an internship, showed up just to get their feet wet and overcome some first-date jitters. Sophomores with a year under their belts sought internships for the following summer, and many obtained them. Juniors who were more serious about job hunting, hoped to explore different areas of their fields, as well as network with companies. And seniors hoped to land the big one—an interview for a job. All total, a whopping 7,947 undergrads participated. Even graduate students (2,249 all total) in various stages of their degree process sought internships that would help further their careers.

Niya Mitchell (left) signs up to chat with one of the recruiters.
Mechanical Engineering student Niya Mitchell (left) signs up to chat with one of the recruiters.

For instance, Chemical Engineering (ChemE) sophomore Niya Mitchell particiated in the fair for the second time. Hoping to go into research and development, she’s interested in foods and packaging, so some of the booths she intended to visit included companies like BP, Proctor & Gamble, and Kraft. Hoping for an internship this summer, she says, “I feel better prepared this year. I didn’t bring my resume last year. There’s more opportunities for sophomores.”

Industrial Engineering junior Charles Wennerstrum waits in line to chat with some company representatives during ECF.
Industrial Engineering junior Charles Wennerstrum waits in line to chat with some company representatives during ECF.

Another engineering student who participated in Engineering Career Fair was Charles Wennerstrum, a junior in Industrial Engineering. “I’m here to find a job, hopefully,” he admits. Interested in doing consulting this summer, he hoped to visit a couple of companies each day of the career fair. “Hopefully I can land an interview and go further in the job procedure,” he reports.

Some questions Wennerstrum hoped to ask recruiters were related to what he’d be doing for their company: “I want to know the type of work I’ll be doing at the company, and also whether I’d be working with other interns or if it’d be more a job shadowing thing. For me, I would like to do real work rather than walking around with someone.”

He assumed some questions they’d likely ask him would be related to why he thinks he’s qualified, or why he thinks he has the skill set that matches their job.

“I’ve researched these companies fairly intensively,” he admits. “This is definitely my most prepared year, as a junior.”

Mechanical Engineering junior Moira Iten.
Mechanical Engineering junior Moira Iten.

For Mechanical Engineering junior Moira Iten, this was her 3rd time at the career fair. She reports that going as a freshman more or less served to help her get over her nerves. “I went as a freshman. I didn’t get anything,” she admits, “but it was super overwhelming, and I didn’t know what to expect.” But she says that as a sophomore, she knew what to expect. “So I’m much more comfortable going in when I actually have a chance of getting an internship from it.” Which she did this past summer.

This time, going in, she hoped to get something a bit different from last summer’s more design-based internship. “So I’m looking at more of a manufacturing internship, so I can look at the two and see which one I like more,” she says.

So she’s visiting both Ford and Honda Research and Development with regard to manufacturing.

Citing the benefits of the career fair, she explains: “It’s a good opportunity. It’s great that engineers are able to have this, because I know a lot of majors don’t, so that’s good.”

Samantha Paige
Aerospace Engineering senior Samantha Paige

Aerospace Engineering senior Samantha Paige, who was waiting in line to chat with a Boeing representative, reports that it was her 4th time to attend the career fair. She indicates that, coming as a freshman, “It was a really good experience just to see what recruiters were looking for in terms of resumes and to just get the opportunity to break the ice and talk to people, because you don’t necessarily get those soft skills from your Engineering 100 class. There’s no pressure. But sometimes freshman do get lucky.”

In fact, she reports knowing a number of companies who are looking for younger talent, “so they can get repeated internships, that way they can tender a job offer and groom them in their company ways.”

Paige says she’s worked at GE innovation twice, and did a summer abroad, so she didn’t work that year.

What were some of the questions she planned on asking recruiters? She says one was, "'Why I should choose their company over others.’ I think that’s a really important question, just to see what kind of company culture they have.” She’d done her research and already knew she was interested based on the online job description. “I meet some of the qualifications,” she continues, “But for me, I want to know more about the people that work there, company culture, that sort of stuff.”

Paige reports that her dream job is anything that makes her excited to come in to work every day. “I don’t know if I could choose my career for the next 4 years right now, but I’m obviously interested in space. So anything that really furthers space exploration and makes a difference.”

It wasn’t just undergrads who attended the fair. Zonghao Wan, a second year Master’s student in Computer Engineering, indicated that this was his third time at the career fair. Last year he had an internship in Chicago as a result of the fair. But since he’s considering going for a PhD, he figures he’ll be attending several more in the future.

Schlumberger recruiter Prapti Neupane (left) chats with an Illinois engineering student.
Zonghao Wang
Computer Engineering grad student Zonghao Wang.

Wan’s three main targets this time were three internet-based, technology mammoths: Google, Amazon, and Nvidia. While his dream job is probably to be a researcher, he hoped to gain some wisdom in addition to a summer position: “I want to do an internship next summer, but this is also definitely a good chance to do some networking with recruiters and get to know the industry.” Plus, he hoped to “talk to those recruiters, and get their suggestions for my career paths.

The engineering students weren’t the only ones who came to the fair armed with a list of questions. Like the students, recruiters from 447 companies who participated in the fair were shopping around for students whose resumes and qualities would make them the perfect fit for their companies.

For example, on hand was Prapti Neupane, a recruiter from Schlumberger, a software engineering company, which produces software as well as embedded programming involving programming machines. Neupane shares why her company likes to recruit at Illinois.

“We recognize the U of I as one of the top colleges, and I think you guys have a really good Computer Science program, so we like hiring Computer Science grads from there. And all other disciplines as well, you guys have a good reputation. And we have great employees who graduated from here.”

Schlumberger was not only at Illinois for the two days of the actual career fair, but came early for the corporate after hours with computer science grads.

What was her company looking for in a recruit? “We like to see that they do well in school, that they have leadership qualities,” she explains. “Just the way they talk, we like to see that their passion comes across. We like to see that they’re actually passionate about what they do. Not so much what their skills are, because in the real world, you can never have all the skills you need. When you graduate, you can learn all those things in your job, but we want to see that they actually have the capability to learn, so that’s what’s important.”

MechSE junior Olivia Barron chats with a recruiter rom Woodward.
MechSE junior Olivia Barron chats with a recruiter from Woodward.

Many of the recruiters were Illinois alumni, many who had graduated fairly recently and who seemed to quickly connect with the current students and to speak their language.

For instance, recent Illinois grad Dan Margulis, who graduated this past May in Food Science, indicates that he volunteered to return to his Alma Mater to represent PepsiCo at the career fair. “It’s really nice to come back,” he admits, “especially so soon. I feel like I was just in school yesterday, so it brings back some memories of working hard on my program. The food science program is great, so it brings back some really good memories.” Margulis has been in the saddle at PepsiCo for two and a half months.

What are his priorities as a recruiter? “I’m looking for a candidate that’s well rounded and shows interest in research and development,” he says, “that has good communication skills as well as the academics, and good experience in past fields. I think good experience correlates well with moving forward in our industry so they’ll have a baseline of knowledge. So we’ll know that we’re getting something good out of a candidate.”

PepsiCo recruiter Lauren Zelaya, an <em>Illinois</em> alumna
PepsiCo recruiter Lauren Zelaya, an Illinois alumna

Another PepsiCo recruiter was Lauren Zelaya, an Illinois alumna who majored in ChemE and minored in Food Science.

Zelaya, who works in PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats division, reports that for her current job, she’s used the food science portion of her degree the most. However, while she hasn’t used her ChemE skills as much in terms of what she does, she’s found the problem-solving techniques she learned as an engineer to be quite helpful.

Zelaya indicates that she and her fellow recruiters are “looking for leaders. We’re looking for people to come in and solve problems confidently. People who can work with people.” She says they’re also looking for “people who can influence people to make the right choice. We need people to be people leaders.”

While many alumni who come back to the career fair as recruiters find returning to Illinois a big deal, for Zelaya, who still lives in Champaign and commutes to her job in Danville, revisiting old stomping grounds wasn’t as much of a draw, but it was more to see the students—the potential her company is hiring.

“So I enjoy getting to see all the influx of talent. I’m not exactly going to be there to see where they go, but I think it’s interesting to see who we’re taking in and what as a company we’re looking for.”

Also, unlike many other recruiters, for whom the fair might be a mini vacation away from the grind of work, Zelaya reports, “I’m actually working on my days off, to be honest!”

Story and photographs:Betsy Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative

For more related stories, see: Career Resources, Engineering, 2018

An<em> Illinois</em> engineering student (right) chats with an Illinois alum who was recruiting for Google.
An Illinois engineering student (right) chats with an Illinois alum who was recruiting for Google.
Two <em>Illinois</em> engineering students (left) chat with recruiters from Texas Instruments.
Two Illinois engineering students (left) chat with recruiters from Texas Instruments.

Three engineering students prepare to meet with recruiters during the Engineering Career Fair.