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Two Hours Spent at the Commerce Career Fair that I Will Never Get Back

I hear a passing McIntire student tell her friend, “I’m more of an operations person, you know, supply chain. That’s just who I am.

Wednesday September 13th, 9:30 – Today is the morning of the Commerce Career Fair, advertised to the student body through the Career Center’s emails as a smorgasbord of sorts, upon which hungry McIntire students can descend and eat their fill of empty words and validation for choosing a practical career path that will actually make them money. Over 100 companies are listed to attend, and I wake feeling something between dread and excitement. Should I, an undeclared second year, even bother printing copies of my resumé? Are twenty-five copies enough if I do decide to bring some, as Handshake suggests. That seems like overkill. (It did indeed turn out to be overkill. I entered JPJ with 25 resumes; you can find 24 of them if you dig around in the recycling bin nearest the east exit). The urge to show up in my standard garb of cap and a t-shirt is almost overwhelming, but propriety wins and I slide into a navy suit. After all, I need to leave a good impression on these companies that I’ve never heard of before.

10:02 – I’m in the doors as soon as the place opens, and the JPJ is already buzzing with activity. Men and women in suits whirl around me, and I’m barraged by the jazz of tens of leather soles and heels clacking on the concrete floor. I mention offhand that I’m here in service of The Declaration, and immediately I’m swept up in a series of quick introductions with important people I don’t deserve to meet. They even give me a lanyard upon which my name and major (Undeclared, lol) is printed. There’s an irony there, but I don’t think they see it. I’m kind of offended they don’t at least have donuts in the lobby; I didn’t eat breakfast.

10:06 – I’m jotting down some quick notes about what the fair looks like from above. From the lobby’s balcony, I can look down into the arena where the career fair is truly in situ. There’s an easy—almost too easy, really—association to make between the prospective hopefuls looking for a job and this setting for athletic competition: they are gladiators, milling about a concrete arena draped in blue and white banners. I stick my downwards-facing thumb over the railing. No one notices.

10:10 – I’m truly down on the floor now, and have already taken a quick lap through the booths. This is no place for me. Where am I? Someone help me, I’ve made a mistake.

10:16 – The first booth I stop at is for the Hillstone Restaurant Group. Behind their booth is an enormous, full-color banner of haute cuisine. Smiling chefs, exquisitely grilled steaks, and sweating artichokes form a collage behind the woman who tries to talk to me. She speaks to me about restaurant management and I engage her in a tentative conversation; this is, after all, my first career fair. I notice an issue of Bon Appetit on her table and tell her that I love The New Yorker. She blinks confusedly and I politely inform her that Bon Appetit and The New Yorker are owned by the same parent company, Condé Nast. Again, this is no place for me. Someone help me, I’ve made a mistake.

10:19 – A man in a blue polo with a million-amp smile beckons me over to talk to him about CVent, a company who sells event management software. He’s trying really hard to sell me on this career, and uses so many buzzwords per sentence that I’m unsure of what CVent actually does. He uses so many in fact that I can only focus on the artifice of his language. I’d list examples, but I think my brain shut off. Regardless, the dude was a nice guy.

10:25 – I go next door to 3Q Digital. Behind the table, there’s a soft man in a powder-blue shirt, with eyes that flicker around like he’s trying to figure out why he’s here. I ask him what the 3 q’s are in his company. He doesn’t know; he’s never been asked that question before. Huh. Okay. They do digital marketing. No q-words though. I’m disappointed.

10:33 – Toyota has a big booth, and it’s staffed by some fantastically attractive gentlemen recruiters, one of whom tells me that he travels around an assigned region visiting dealerships to manage how fast they’re selling cars. Although I meet none of the internship’s prerequisites, he hands me paperwork to fill out anyways. I’m flattered and decide to let him know that I’m very interested in writing. He replies by telling me that I shouldn’t worry; he writes a lot of emails. I nod a little, a small part of me having just died.

10:39 – There’s an IT consulting firm who implement HCM and payroll called Workday, Inc, which, interestingly enough, was founded by the same person who co-founded Oracle, another company in attendance of today’s career fair. The recruiters here call Oracle “a dinosaur” and liken themselves to “riding on a rocket ship.” I went and visited the Oracle booth afterwards and asked them how they felt about this. They actually declined to comment. Ah, corporate rivalry

10:48 – My stamina is waning. This stuff is so boring. I understand it’s urgent to look for jobs, to further your career plans, to optimize yourself for any and all potential employers—but does everybody have to stick to the same script? My god, it’s like talking to wind-up toys. It’s at this point that I turn my name card around so I can stop explaining to everyone why I’m undeclared.

10:51 – I drum up my best simulacrum of renewed vigor and plan to get in with the big dawgs, the investment firms that every business student here is salivating over. It’s a wall of shiny navy, charcoal, and black. A fear of being sucked into the machine strikes me, and I feel like I can hear Pink Floyd playing—or is that in my head? I get out of there fast.

10:54 – A kind woman named Tracy, whose name is the only one I remember because she was one of the few genuinely interesting people there, says hello to me as I pass her booth for her employer K2M. They design complex spine innovations to fix “really difficult spinal deformities.” Arrayed on the table in front of me are various multicolored screws, bolts, and galvanized rods. Her company, who works directly with surgeons to sell these mechanical solutions, aims primarily to help young, self-conscious girls correct their scoliosis. Of all the companies in attendance, K2M’s mission statement is the most noble, and because of that, I refuse to roast them like I’ve been doing. However, Tracy’s products do remind me of how frail my human body is, and I begin to regret spending its finite energy walking around an event like this one.

11:01-11:12 – Buckeye International and CMG. Just business things. God, I’m bored.

11:13 – The recruiter for a new food delivery service—like Postmates, UberEats, or Tap’n’go—hears that I’m writing for a student paper and begs me for a plug. Here it is: Joyrun—they have an app and it delivers food.

11:19-11:28 – I’ve taken to visiting booths that are empty. I can’t endure any more of these lines. Why do people wait in lines here?! To make a forgettable impression? To be reminded that they’re not special? That millions of other kids around the country with resumés that are probably better than theirs are at career fairs just like this one, schmoozing recruiters just like these ones, for jobs just like these ones? I’m going insane. I’ve made a mistake. Someone please help me. I swear I smell donuts.

11:34 – I’ve previously worked data entry at the American Headquarters for the global leader in hearing aid technologies, and I’ve used ADP’s timecard solutions before, so I go over to their booth and open with that. Their recruiter nods interestingly and asks me to tell him more about myself. I tell him the truth, that I’m a second-year planning on majoring in English, and he quite literally says “oh,” looks down, and ignores my presence. That’s right. All of a sudden, I no longer exist to him. He remains silent until I just shrug and walk away. In my notebook for his booth, I have written “BUST” in big, blue, all caps letters. Go to hell, ADP.

11:38 – As I take a moment to collect myself, I hear a passing McIntire student tell her friend, “I’m more of an operations person, you know, supply chain. That’s just who I am.” If ever I define myself by these standards, or consider “operations person” to be a core part of my identity and who I am, I implore my friends to smother me to death in my sleep.

11:43 – The booths are a blur at this point. Every company name is some snappy Silicon Valley startup that makes no sense (read: 3Q Digital) or an old white-person name with LLC or INC added to it; sometimes, it’s even all three. I’ve heard the word “boutique financial consulting firm” tossed around so often that it’s turned me off of that word forever. It’s honestly kind of funny that the vocabulary for fashionable women’s clothing is now being coopted and applied by the corporate business world. And these are the same kind of people who say that maternity leave for powerful women in business justifies the wage gap. Motherfuckers.

11:49 – I’ve heard that the Hershey’s booth is handing out free candy, but to be honest, I don’t think a fun-sized Reeses’ Cup could redeem my morning.

11:52 – I NEED TO LEAVE WHERE IS THE EXIT LET ME OUT

11:56 – I’m free! As I exit JPJ, I see an Anheuser-Busch satellite booth in the JPJ parking lot. I’m considering walking over, maybe asking if they have any beer, because I could sure use one. But then I see the words “beer” and “creative business solutions” in the same sentence on some signage. You won’t take this from me, career fair, not this. Not beer.

Overall, I give this movie 3/5 stars. It’s a revealing exposé on the pageantry of human ambition.

________

David Willis is a second-year who considers himself to be more of a “start-up” type of guy.