As an incoming first-year student, Mary Ankenbauer faced a common dilemma: how do you gain career experience when you don’t have any to start with?
Ankenbauer, a mechanical engineering major from Kalamazoo, Michigan, wanted to secure a position in her field during her first year at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. But with babysitting and mowing lawns as the only jobs on her resume, it seemed like a daunting task.
“My older sister is not an engineering major, but she has a lot of engineering friends, and they always talked about the importance of trying to get internships early on,” Ankenbauer said. “But I knew it was going to be a long shot, because I’d be coming into my freshman year with little to no technical experience when it came to engineering.”
Today, Ankenbauer is a sophomore with two internships under her belt — and she credits Nebraska’s career fairs with helping her bridge that gap and get a successful head start.
Ankenbauer attended the university’s STEM career fair the fall of her first year to meet with employers in person and see what opportunities were available.
“I worked really hard on my resume, and I researched the employers ahead of time so I would know which ones to talk to and which ones were hiring mechanical engineers,” Ankenbauer said. “So when I did go, I kind of knew what was going on, even though I was very scared. I just stayed the whole time and talked to everyone who hired mechanical engineers, and it was a really good experience. It got less scary as I talked to more employers, and I knew what to say after the first time.”
That preparation and networking paid off when one of the engineering companies she spoke with at the fairs, Vishay Americas, offered her a summer internship in Columbus, Nebraska.
“I was surprised to even get the internship,” Ankenbauer said. “It was definitely one of the most formative experiences of my life.”
After that successful first experience, Ankenbauer made it a point to regularly attend the fairs each semester. Last fall, the day after attending her third fair, she received five phone calls from companies looking to set up interviews.
One of those calls was from Burns and McDonnell, an engineering consulting firm in Kansas City. The firm was at the top of her list for places to work this summer. Ankenbauer accepted an offer from the firm and will move to Kansas City to work there after the spring semester ends.
“I was excited about it because it’s very different from manufacturing, and I wanted to try something a little bit different from my previous internship,” Ankenbauer said.
Tracy Lungrin, director of Nebraska’s Career Services office, said success stories like Ankenbauer’s are common for Huskers who attend the career fairs.
“Career fairs are a great place to start establishing a professional network, which is a critical component of job searching in today’s digital world,” Lungrin said. “Many employers rely on internal advocates (employees of their company) to make recommendations on who to interview; therefore, meeting with dozens of recruiters and company representatives at a fair increases a student’s chance of getting an interview.”
This spring’s career fairs are Feb. 11 and 12 in the Nebraska Union. Feb. 11 will feature opportunities in business, social and human services, agricultural sciences and natural resources, while Feb. 12 is dedicated toward STEM opportunities.
Each semester, Career Services offers a number of events — including resume and interview prep — to get Huskers ready for the fairs. Students can preview which employers will be at the fairs, and what those employers are looking for (such as year in school and major) on the Career Fair Plus App. Jobs and internships at the fairs are also posted through Handshake.
Having seen the results from attending, Ankenbauer encourages other students to take advantage of the fairs as well.
“Definitely go, because it’s just an incredible experience no matter what,” Ankenbauer said.