It’s finally the spring semester of 2023, a time that was unimaginably far away from me back when I first arrived on campus in the fall of 2019. Like many other peers of mine in the class of 2023, I am seriously having to confront the problem of “What on earth am I going to do when I graduate?” And it’s an issue that makes me shudder whenever I think about it. Some people I know were so scared of this question that they decided to punt the problem off for six or more years by going to graduate school just to say they have something solid for their future. And I respect that decision; I just didn’t want to spend a lot of time in the fall filling out a dozen applications and doing back-to-back interviews, and honestly, some of that was just laziness on my part. However, now that I’ve decided not to go to grad school for at least a year, I have to figure out what to do. So, I thought I would check out the Haverford Career Fair on Friday, January 20th. Maybe I could find someone to bail me out of this dilemma, or perhaps I could at least find something to say whenever my family asks me the dreaded “So what are your plans for the future?”
The actual process started even before I came back to campus. I saw an email via Handshake that a career fair was happening, so I needed to prepare beforehand. The last resume I used was a sloppy mess I threw together in Google Docs because I couldn’t get my Word account to work, and I didn’t think using it would put my best foot forward. So I redid it, which was a much bigger task than I initially envisioned. I spent hours sitting in a basement toying with formatting, headings, and content, and what made it harder was that each person I asked for input gave me contradictory information. “You should include everything you can in a reasonable font on one page.” “Actually, if you’ve done anything important in college, you shouldn’t include things from high school.” “Oh, but actually, some high school activities can be good inclusions.” All of that, for days. And don’t even get me started on the arguments over authority on the subject. Based on what I kept hearing, it seems like career advisors and the Human Resources department are conspiring to not hire anyone or at least make the resume-writing process as confusing and opaque as possible. But I persisted, and eventually landed on a design that I hoped looked nice.
When Friday came around, I felt moderately prepared. I threw together my best guess at what a business casual outfit looked like. But when I walked out of my room, I saw one of my hallmates walking out in a suit. It shook my confidence for a moment as I worried my high-school-chemistry-teacher-esque look might not pass for business casual, but I decided to have faith that the other guy was just overdressing. I was trying to catch the 11:50 am shuttle to Haverford, yet I thought it would be a great idea to hold off on printing copies of my resume until 11:40. This ended up biting me a little when I couldn’t get the Parrish Hall printer to work and felt some real pressure. Thankfully, McCabe Library was so close that I managed to stash five copies of my resume in a beat-up Swarthmore folder before hopping on the shuttle. That was one of my biggest mistakes of the day, as the shuttle was wildly overcrowded. And it wasn’t that big of a deal until the combined body heat started building up. The air conditioner was struggling to keep up, and I realized my decision to put on a sweatshirt over my clothes before getting on the shuttle, because it felt cool outside, had been a foolish one. One sweaty bus ride later, I arrived at Haverford for the first time.
I followed the crowd off the bus trying to get to Founders Hall, and we then collectively got lost. Our group split at a fork in the sidewalk, and I mistakenly followed the larger of the two to the wrong side of the building. When we asked a staff member for directions, she told us to go around the building until “you all get to the view that you see whenever you google Haverford.” We thanked her before hushedly conferring with each other that none of us had actually googled Haverford before and agreeing to search for a door with a stream of nicely dressed people going into it. Thankfully, we found the entrance without any additional wrong turns. We put away our bags and coats upstairs before putting on name tags and entering the main hall. Here would be the make-or-break moment. Could I convince someone that I’ve been cultivating hirable skills through a world-class liberal arts education, or would I be forced to move back in with my parents at the end of May?
It went better than the worst-case scenario, for sure. Though I had to do a little bit of schmoozing. I don’t think I’ve ever said, “I’ve put a lot of thought into going into this industry for my career,” as many times as I did that day. You have to be flexible in these situations; not many companies and nonprofits are super interested in the specific study of either English literature or astronomy, as it turns out. But someone who might be considering going into law school down the line or eventually specializing in computer programming makes a better candidate for a paralegal or tech company intern than someone rigidly focused on niche fields. However, it was fun to see the contrasting reactions whenever my majors came up. Anyone dealing with education or child care would say something like, “Oh, wow, that’s so neat; you’re like a left-brain and right-brain kind of guy then.” Anyone in technology or business would give me a pained smile before saying that “it sounds neat, but that’s not really what they’re looking for in a candidate.” One interaction was painfully awkward, as a guy kept fishing for any detail about me that might align with his organization, and my honest answers kept evoking sighs from him. It didn’t matter at any rate, because I only wanted the branded socks at his kiosk. One piece of advice I have gleaned from this experience is that people are more impressed with a nice folder than you’d think. While beat up, the folder I brought still looked shiny and new on the outside, and I received compliments on how professional and sleek it looked. So, I’m glad I got it from the Swarthmore bookstore.
After a thrilling hour and half of casually strolling through the same crowd over and over while occasionally dipping out for a sip of water, I decided that I had talked to all the organizations worth my time. I wanted to get back to my home campus as soon as possible, tired and laden with loads of random goodies to stash in my dorm, so I figured that the TriCo bus I saw ahead in the same spot I had been dropped off would do the trick. I was overly confident, and I thought, “Why bother checking the shuttle schedule again?” Unfortunately, I was the last person onboard before the door closed, and I didn’t notice until we were moving that there were quite a lot of women on the bus. So anyway, that’s also the story of my first time going to Bryn Mawr. I sheepishly got off the bus when it arrived at the wrong campus, only to get back on the bus to return to Haverford. Then, I spent a lovely hour in the Haverford library before returning to Swarthmore.
As it stands now, I feel good about the whole experience. I’ve had some pleasant email exchanges with a couple of the organizations I talked to, and it’s built my confidence in facing the future. So now it feels less like, “Oh God, I have to figure out all this life stuff in like three months,” and more like, “If I keep wearing khakis and learn to smooth-talk well, then someone will probably hire me.” And if nothing else, I’m at least coming up with better answers to tell friends and family when they ask what I plan on doing after graduation.