The University of Wisconsin-Stout’s semi-annual Career Conference brings 300-plus employers, 2,000 students and endless opportunities to campus. Unfortunately, every year an uninvited guest crashes the party — anxiety.
In the weeks leading up to the Career Conference, there is a lot of conversation around how to appear prepped and groomed on the outside, but for students, managing internal emotions is often overlooked.
The Career Conference and job placement is part of the UW-Stout culture. The semi-annual conference is one of the largest career fairs in the Midwest. It’s the event that secures UW-Stout’s famous 98.7% job placement rate, and makes students career goals become a reality. Everything about this event should evoke positive emotions, but so often it does just the opposite.
Career specialist intern and mental health counseling graduate student James Ebben explains why emotions are heightened for a lot of students: “Anxiety always ramps up closer to graduation, especially among students who have required co-ops, or are getting ready to graduate and are seeking their first job.”
Students with required co-ops often attend the career conference with added weight on their shoulders, knowing that not landing a position could lead to postponing their graduation. Sydney Davis, sophomore in the packaging program at UW-Stout, attests to this: “The most pressure comes from comparing myself to my peers. Everyone is trying to land their required internship, and if you haven’t gotten one yet it can add a lot of pressure.”
Davis goes on to explain the origin of her nerves: “The first encounter is the worst part. I know that nothing bad is going to happen but it can be so awkward to put yourself out there. Sometimes it feels like I’m faking it because I’m not a professional yet, which can make it hard to hold conversation with people who seem to have it all together.”
The first encounter seems to be a common point of stress for a lot of students, Ebben addresses this: “A strategy I like to tell students is to look at our website beforehand, identify the employers they want to talk to, rank them, and start with the one you want the least and work yourself up to the one you want the most.”
Ebben assists in hosting Career Conference prep week, which is generally held two weeks before the event.
Prep week is open to all students and consists of four sessions, including a resume workshop, honing interview skills, negotiating a job offer and general Career Conference tips.
Ebben facilitates the resume workshop and speaks of its value: “Having a clean and professional resume will give students confidence that they are ready and at par with their peers.”
Social anxiety is just one layer of the many emotional challenges that students face when it comes to the Career Conference. There is pressure from parents and teachers, fears of rejection and embarrassment and even getting lost in the sea of strangers and sweat.
Tiffany Johnson, sophomore in the criminal justice program at UW-Stout, touches on the fear of rejection: “You go in there and give them your best, and they get to decide if that’s good enough.”
These thoughts of inadequacy hold students captive in their own mind. They create a toxic internal dialogue that can be debilitating if it isn’t dealt with.
“Students need to see that rejection is not the end of the road for them, there are more opportunities out there,” Ebben said. “Don’t do this by yourself. Attend prep week and meet with career counselors. If you specifically want a career counselor to address the emotional side of things, be sure to vocalize it and they will be happy to walk through it with you.”