Student Maggie Quinn shares her experience at JWU’s recent Career Expo, along with some tips for other students on how to make the most of the event.
Career Expo 101
I’m going to let you in on a little secret of mine. It’s not difficult; it’s not an exclusive thing; and it’s really not even a secret. It’s Johnson & Wales University Experiential Education & Career Services (EE&CS) Career Expo. Now, I know what you’re thinking — the thing that happens on the Harborside Campus that our teachers keep telling us to go to, but you’d rather enjoy staying in bed an extra two hours because your 9:20am class’ professor told you to go to the Expo instead of class. Right? Wrong. You should have gotten up. You should have put on your suit, printed out your resume, marched in there and met some professionals who are looking for people just like YOU.
Personally, I have benefited greatly from the career events that the EE&CS staff put on. Students have no idea how much hard work these people do to make these opportunities happen. I have gained 3 internships, been given hundreds of business cards, made numerous LinkedIn connections, and given out my résumé to well over 25 professionals in my industry (and some that are not in my industry — I like trying different things). I am currently working with GO Educational Tours and am doing Hilton’s property management internship program in Orlando, Florida, this summer. These are both experiences I would never have had if it wasn’t for JWU’s EE&CS.
How it works
EE&CS invites companies to come and host a booth inside the Wildcat Center to meet with our students. This year, 160 industry professionals came to the Harborside Campus to meet and greet the leaders of tomorrow. (Hey, that’s people like you and me!) People from places like Aramark, Disney’s Culinary Program, Great American Restaurants, Hyatt Hotels and Delaware North spoke with students from 10am–2:30pm and scheduled more than 450 interviews on campus.
Why it’s important to attend
Since I am not currently looking for a position, I walked into the expo with a different plan in mind. I networked with the attendees and reconnected with employers I have met in previous years. Before entering the floor, I had the chance to speak with Donna Remington, assistant director of career services at JWU. She told me that the EE&CS staff were there early that morning to check in guests and help set up their booths. Students from various clubs, like the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality, were also there to help carry boxes and posters. Students are given the chance to volunteer their time to help out the professionals while also creating personal relationships with them. Remington said with a laugh, “Why wouldn’t you want to be here? It’s a great way to get professionals to recognize your face and remember your name.”
“Professionals push to come back because they have seen great results from our alumni + continue to find excellent candidates at JWU.”
This is not just a hospitality and culinary career fair. We encourage students of all majors to attend because every hotel, restaurant or private club needs people who have backgrounds in areas like accounting, business, marketing and so much more. Your career path does not need to be perfectly defined by your exact major. Taking every opportunity and gaining experience is key. It’s just as important to know what you don’t like as it is to know what you do like.”
Now, I am no expert, but I have attended every expo since I started at JWU back in Spring 2016. I have learned a few things since then and I want to make sure you have everything you need before you set foot on the floor. Here are some things to make sure you have and do before and during the event.
CAREER EXPO CHECKLIST:
- Résumé: This is a no-brainer/must have/don’t leave without it kind of item. Write it, have it checked by our lovely career service staff and print out multiple copies of it. Have it easily accessible and ready to be handed to someone should they ask for it.
- Mock interview/elevator pitch prep: Do this ahead of time and practice! EE&CS has an outstanding support system for students to use when we need it! Reach out to them to set up an appointment.
- LinkedIn profile: Recruiters are going to Google you. Don’t you want the first thing that pops up to be your LinkedIn account? And get rid of that senior photo from 2 years ago — get a new headshot at the career expo! They have a professional photographer on staff to make you look good.
- Professional attire: Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want. Go shopping and pick out something sharp. Think of it as an investment. This will not be the only time you’ll ever wear a suit jacket.
- Deodorant: Do I need to say more? People tend to sweat when they are nervous.
- Folder/portfolio pad: These make you look super prepped. Also, they give you a place to hold your résumés, business cards and other miscellaneous papers you might be handed. Don’t be afraid to bring a shoulder bag as well.
- Pen: Of course you need one! Did you know that employers actually pay attention to this? It seems silly, but if you have to ask them for a pen, it shows that you are unprepared and didn’t consider the fact that you may need to write notes. A little detail goes a long way.
- A smile: Cheesy, I know, but it is CRITICAL. It has been scientifically proven that smiling not only improves your mood and attitude, but it also boosts your confidence and reduces stress. Smiling activates molecules in your brain that help fight off stress and produce dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. So, in other words, just smile.
I entered the expo floor and searched for professionals to talk with. I normally just get the student’s perspective about the expo, but I really wanted to hear the other side of it. Hyatt Hotels was one of the most popular booths at the event. Kevin Poploski, the director of talent at Hyatt in New York City, was hosting the booth along with JWU senior and Hyatt campus ambassador, Alexander Figler, a Travel & Tourism major. I asked Poploski what his experience has been like with Johnson & Wales.
“My experience has been … How do I say this? … I WAS a JWU student.” He graduated from JWU in 2011 with a degree in Food Service Management. “Hyatt has been a partner with this school for a long time. We have a great internship program as well as an outstanding management training program. We love to be here on campus getting the next year’s talent. Students here really seem like they are ready for the real world.”
Meagan Tosh, associate director of talent development at Great American Restaurants, is no stranger to Johnson & Wales either. “We have about 20 Johnson & Wales graduates on our management team, and we’ve had great luck with [JWU] finding what we are looking for in a manager.” I asked her what they look for in a student when they approach them. “We look for grit and a polished presentation, and a commitment to quality and loving the industry they want to work for,” said Tosh.
“I find that a lot of the students here are well prepared and very well presented. It’s been very beneficial for us having a relationship with Johnson & Wales,” said Brandon Olson, a recruiter from Collette Tours who was happy to talk about JWU students. He even had JWU alumnus, Tabetha Taylor, a Travel & Tourism graduate, with him at the expo.
Taylorworks as a specialized travel associate at Collette. “I graduated with a degree in Travel & Tourism and this is actually my third time coming back to Johnson & Wales. JWU has done such great things for me. It’s always great to come back.” I asked Olson what he looks for when a student approaches him. “When someone comes up and has, you know, a good handshake and good eye contact, they are dressed appropriately, look good, and are acting like they are motivated to find an internship or a position. It’s just general ways about how they carry themselves and present themselves,” said Olson.
“I had one professional tell me that they were blown away by a student who turned out to be a freshman!”
Overall most professionals agreed that JWU students are well prepared, polished and confident. I had one professional tell me that they were blown away by a student who turned out to be a freshman!
Professionals push to come back because they have seen great results from our alumni and continue to find excellent candidates at JWU. So, with that in mind, we need to continue to impress, prepare and take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way. Who knows, maybe one day you'll come back to the Career Expo as an experienced industry professional. For me, I am so incredibly grateful to be attending a university that puts so much care and effort into student employment and career services. Whether I’m looking for an internship or a career, JWU and EE&CS have my back.
Career Advice from Momofuku’s Leslie Ferrier