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NEW BRUNSWICK — The seniors at Rutgers University are well versed enough in job fairs to know the events are an imprecise science.
The students dress in their best suits. They find an employer that might fit their skills. They talk to the recruiter for a few minutes, drop off their resume and off they go.
“There’s so many people there, they don’t get to know me personally, see how I work, what I’m doing,” said Morgan George, 21, a chemical engineering major from Danbury, Conn. “I’m just one of the crowd.”
Rutgers decided to turn the tables at a job fair on Thursday. This time, students from 40 campus groups, ranging from the Society of Hispanic Engineers to the Student Volunteer Council, invited employers to come talk to them.
They wanted to show employers that they are well-rounded people who have leadership skills and passion, setting themselves apart from job hunters with whom they are competing.
The event made more sense considering that, even though the job market appears to be thawing, New Jersey’s unemployment rate remains a high 9 percent. Employers can be choosy.
“More and more, employers place a lot of value on leadership skills that engaged students possess,” said Janet Jones, senior associate director at Rutgers Career Services.
The event was expected to attract representatives from more than 72 employers. Among them was Greg Ingrassia, a field representative for Geico in Edision, even though there is no Rutgers insurance salespeople group.
It didn’t matter. Ingrassia figured he could teach the basics of the business; what he needed was workers who had strong interpersonal skills and possessed curiosity.
The more students participate in outside activities, “the more they’re willing to take on new challenges that haven’t been done before,” he said.
Which is why the Rutgers Juggling Club unapologetically set up shop between the Rutgers University Programming Association and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
It’s entirely possible that prospective employers would discount juggling skills. But Vivian Chan, 21, a junior from East Brunswick, said juggling helps clear her mind and relieve her stress.
“It shows we’re dedicated to something we’re interested in,” Chan said.
With graduation approaching, students hoped their message got through. Sameera Namazi, 21, of Old Bridge, and a member of the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineers, handed out resumes, pens and laptop cleaner brushes and stood ready to answer any questions prospective employers might have had.
A chemical engineering major, Namazi wants to go into research and development, but she fears her timing is bad; New Jersey’s pharmaceutical industry has been consolidating.
Her own visits to job fairs have been fruitless, she said, recounting the times she found a desirable employer, only to be told that they weren’t looking for researchers, only information technology workers.
The process could be disheartening. But on Thursday, her outlook was bright.
“I feel like the employers are coming to you because they’re interested in what you have to offer,” Namazi said.