Local Governments at Career Fairs

Posted on February 26, 2019

Career fair

This post was initially an email from ELGL Executive Director Kirsten Wyatt to a state city manager’s association that asked her for advice on presenting at a college career fair.

In this case, the career fair was for landscape architecture and urban planning students so some advice relates to that interest area but this advice can be modified for other degrees/schools as needed, and some ideas have been added to the original email in italics for your consideration or further review.

First and foremost – it’s great to see local governments taking the proactive step to participate in career fairs. I’m a huge believer that local government needs to be more aggressive with on-campus recruiting and this is a wonderful step in that direction.

In terms of my advice for the career fair – I’m basing this on the feedback, questions, and ideas that we’ve received from students at our #ELGLInspire and other events, and also from ELGL members as it relates to what attracted them to local government:

  • First, don’t talk about city management (it’s like fight club – the first rule is to not talk about it). It’s too abstract and managerial, and the way to get students to your table is to focus on the direct public service aspect.
  • Landscape architecture and urban planning students will be interested in a focus on the concept of community building.
    • This is true of any student group but you could tailor your presentation for finance or business, or information technology, or parks and recreation – based on your area of expertise and the degree path that the students who are attending the career fair are on.

  • I love the illustration that local government touches everything you see when you stand on a street corner – the utilities underground, the road, the sidewalk, the signage, the zoning… etc. etc. Big posters illustrating that local government is responsible for all of those things would be eye catching.
  • Students want to know more about the immediacy of local government – that local government is a hands on experience, up to your elbows in the work of building a strong, safe, vibrant community.
  • There are obviously very strong feelings about the federal government, red tape, inefficiencies – talk about how local government gives you the chance to work in public service and get things done without the politics or mudslinging that happens at the national level.
  • Sustainability is also a core concept that students want to know more about… that cities are actively working on things like energy efficiency, conservation, natural resource protection, etc.
  • I’d focus the booth on the core services that local government provides, and “hook” students with that concept, and then when you get talking, you can share the perspective that a city manager gets to work on ALLLLL of the issues.
    • Alternatively, if you’re talking to a group of students about finance, or parks, or library – don’t immediately jump into getting a job as the director or manager – ease into the career path with the types of jobs they could expect to work at in entry level or middle management roles. Make the path engaging to visualize.
  • For visuals – could you get a cross section of pipe, a long range planning map of a familiar part of town, a map of the sewer system, etc. etc. – some visual items that students can ask about and learn about? Are your presenters from communities where the planning department is working on a particularly cool projects you could showcase? Do you have any relief maps to show?
    • Bring a a copy of your CIP to show the important (and big!) projects that your finance department is responsible for managing bond proceeds for; bring your recreation catalog to illustrate how many programs you’re managing each year; etc. 
  • Another core concept is equity – so talking about the work at the local level as providing services to all people, and doing so effectively, is also important. Things like the Flint water crisis resonate strongly along these lines. How could that have happened? How are local governments ensuring it doesn’t happen in their communities? What are some other stories or headlines that could make students think deeply about the provision of equitable services to all people?
  • For swag – I’d recommend big plastic cups and stickers. Don’t try to do anything too tech-y because students will already have that stuff and every student can use a good beer, I mean soda, cup… and they put stickers on their laptops and water bottles. Students will also be more likely to take your swag if features the campus logo in addition to your logo.
  • Lastly, and this is important: you need to ensure that you bring a diverse team to rep your table. Pay attention to not having only older white men there: students need to see themselves in the people they’re visiting with so ensuring that you have women and people of color is important.

NOTE: The approach this organization was taking was also excellent because they didn’t assume a career fair is only for HR offices. They were getting their city manager members engaged and participating in the booth.

If your organization only sends your HR team to fairs with application packets, you’re missing a great opportunity to tell exciting stories about the diverse and interesting careers that students can find with local government.

What are your suggestions on making a career fair a success? Has your local government participated in a career fair? Want to write about it? Email us!

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