Career fairThe Master’s and Ph.D. Career Fair, held by the Berkeley Career Center in the Pauley Ballroom of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union on October 12, was my first career fair experience. My mission: to find out what a career fair is like for Ph.D. students, especially students like me from humanities and social sciences (HSS) backgrounds, who aren’t always used to being directly recruited.

As I walked into the Student Union, I saw a group of students huddled around a set of boards where the employers presenting at the fair were listed. Some of these students were wearing suits and holding copies of their résumés, and seemed like they were attending the fair to speak to specific employers. (Presumably these students had read the Career Center’s useful list of tips for getting the most out of career fairs.) Others, like me, were dressed in less formal clothing and seemed to have shown up more spontaneously.

Once I had scanned my student I.D. for free admission and received a map of the fair’s layout, I stepped into the ballroom. “Fair” is definitely the right word: there was a carnival-like atmosphere, with lots of swag (T-shirts, bags, chocolates), long lines, and colorful signs. Certain booths, like AirBnB and Uber, were very well-attended; others, particularly those recruiting for non-STEM positions, were getting less traffic. I was visiting the less-busy booths, and these employers were very generous with their time. Even if they didn’t have a position that would be a good fit, many of them suggested how I could be more competitive in the future, or recommended positions at other organizations that were more aligned with my skills.

Talking to employers was more productive, and less intimidating, than I had expected. I found quite a few education and nonprofit employers actively looking for HSS students (such as, Basis Independent Schools, and American Institutes for Research). I was also surprised to find that other employers that I might have expected to be hiring exclusively STEM students (such as Covered California, Big Data Federation, and Kaiser Permanente) were offering positions oriented toward the teaching, communication, and research skills acquired in HSS programs.

Even though I wasn’t looking for a job, I came away with a lot of new contacts and new career ideas. Based on my experience, I would recommend career fairs to any student (including my fellow humanists and social scientists). Whatever stage of the job hunt you’re in — from just considering your options, to actively looking for employment — you can use a career fair to your advantage. For me, it ended up being ten informational interviews in fewer than two hours — a quick, low-stakes way to learn a lot about several different industries and organizations. While the Master’s and Ph.D. Career Fair won’t be back until next fall, grad students can check out the upcoming Spring Career Fair (January 24-25) or one of the many other fairs next semester.