Career Corner with Russ

The case for career fairs


Campus job fairs are often maligned by students for being intimidating, loud, crowded, or inconvenient for their class schedule. However, they can soon find out that jobs fairs can be life-changing events. On Sept. 24, 2019, Tennessee Tech welcomed 154 organizations for the purpose of recruiting talent from Tech to join their workforces. Many of the tables were staffed by Tech alumni, and the Hooper Eblen Center was aglow in Purple and Gold. Throughout the year, there are many ways that Tech shows off the quality of its academic programs, community impact, and athletic prowess. But you’d be hard-pressed to find more compelling visual confirmation of Tech’s impact than at the STEM/Engineering and Computer Science Fair. The employer turnout of 154 companies was highest single-day job fair attendance in Tech’s history. As I viewed the fair from the arena seats, I couldn’t help but wonder how many lives would be impacted today as students moved from table to table. One conversation with one employer at the right time can truly be a game-changer in a young person’s life. In addition, more than 40 of the companies stuck around for “day after” recruiting. These day-after interviews often lead to site visits where offers for full-time career opportunities happen. Just imagine, in the span of 48 hours, students’ lives can be turned upside down by realizing they are about ready to make one of life’s biggest transitions: college student to career professional!

  • Unique ways to give back to your alma mater

    The beginning of recruiting season reminds me that alumni often have too narrow a perspective on how they can give back to their alma maters.  Most assume that the university is only interested in cash donations.  One often overlooked way to assist your alma mater is through your place of employment.  Tell your senior leadership that Tech is a great place to source talent (like you).  This is greatly appreciated by the university and its current students.  Helping us create more experiential learning opportunities such as cooperative education or internship positions is beneficial and has positive impact on the employer, student, and university.  Plus, experiential programs are an excellent way for organizations to prepare for future positions vacated through retirement, attrition or something else.  Co-ops and Internship programs are not difficult to start; in fact, the Center for Career Development can assist you with benchmarking data, developing best practice program plans, and providing a vehicle to advertise job postings and source Tech talent.  

    In addition to experiential jobs, Tech also provides entry-level talent to corporate, government and non-profit employers annually.  If you have full-time positions available, consider placing an ad with Tennessee Tech.  It’s free and easy to do, and you can start by creating a Handshake account here or by calling the Center for Career Development (931) 372-3163 to discuss talent acquisition strategies.

  • Restarting your career

    Ever had that gnawing, sweat-inducing, gut feeling that a change in career or jobs might be necessary in the near future?  It can happen.  Even though the economy is in great shape, you still may face mergers, corporate relocation, the threat of artificial intelligence, and/or just plain old burnout.  As upsetting as it can seem, re-inventing yourself in a new job or career field can be a rewarding and lucrative proposition if done with introspection, hard work, research, and a career coach you believe in.  Here are some simple ways to get started, should you fall into any of the above categories.  

    First, take stock of where you are financially, as the old adage of “it’s easier to find a job when you have a job” is really still true.  Set a realistic timeframe for making things happen that works with your own financial situation.  Once committed to changing positions/careers, reach out to a seasoned jobs professional to conduct informational interviews and discuss occupations, fields, and potential employers to pursue.  You want to make sure that you are a credible candidate for what you are considering before going further.  If you sense a green light, probe your network (including Tech alumni!) for contacts with companies or industries that may be viable as a result of your research.  Ask for a meeting or at least a conversation (phone, email) with them to find out more information.     

    Next, work with your career coach to get your resume and career story together.  Re-inventing yourself on paper can take the assistance of someone skilled in translating the work you’ve done into the language of the work you want to do.  The more you can make it seem like the change you are seeking is simply the next step in a well-thought-out career plan, the better.  Career coaches and expert resume writers are adept at using the vocabulary and phrasing that will make you more desirable in your new target area of interest.  Next, practice your career story and repeat it over and over until it becomes second nature.  This will particularly come in handy at “chance meetings” when opportunities present themselves without warning.  

    Finally keep your attitude positive.  You’ll never convince others of your desire to make a change if you’re not 100% committed yourself.  Remember to stay focused on what you want in a new job, not what you didn’t like about the old one.  People in positions to help you will be much more inclined to do so when they see you are motivated to make something happen.   Finally, it’s unusual to go through a career without having to make considerable changes.  When it happens, embrace it, learn from it, and make something happen!

  • Do I need to go back to school?

    My career-trajectory is not what I had in mind. Do I need to go back to school?

    Mid-careerists often struggle with this dilemma.   When a career stalls or when burnout seems more real than not, people often have thoughts of returning to school for a master’s degree or maybe a different undergraduate degree.   There are several questions you need to ask when these uneasy feelings about “career” consume you.   Sometimes a simple micro-credential or certification might jumpstart or ignite your career in a slightly different but better way.  But when you are seriously thinking about a career redirection and before filling out that graduate school application, ask yourself a few questions.

    First, is it my actual career, or is it the employer that is causing me to reconsider what I am doing? 

    Many times I find it’s the workplace and the co-workers, not the actual work that is causing stress and anxiety.  In this case, finding a more suitable “fit” for you and your career is often the most suitable answer.  

    Second, have I maxed out my career path within my company? 

    If you are seeking growth and the door seems shut, testing the waters for a new opportunity is often an easier and more beneficial path to get your confidence and career momentum back.  In both cases, a new workplace can do wonders for rejuvenating a tired career.    

    In considering graduate school, you should know exactly what you want the outcomes to be before entering.  In fact, the best arrangement is an agreement with your current employer that once a master’s degree is obtained, a promotion will ensue.  (Sometimes they’ll even pay.)  Too many times I witness people entering graduate school assuming the advanced credential, once complete, will automatically provide them with a promotion, only to find they are simply considered more educated but not necessarily promotable.  This can be devastating.   

    So, the smart advice is to discuss options with a career coach—someone not too closely or emotionally tied to your decision.   The right coach will help you examine the right program and direction, how it might affect your daily routine and lifestyle, associated costs and what you can expect from a return on investment.   Always preparing yourself for the next step in your career is key, and if that entails a master’s degree, then graduate school just might be the right answer. 

  • How to prepare for your Skype interview

    Regardless of where you are in your career if you decide to make a move you will likely face a Skype type interview.   One online source estimated that companies looking for entry-mid and executive level candidates jumped from 10 to 42 percent between 2010 and 2017.   So, how do you prepare for this type of interview.   We thought we would offer our five top tips to successfully navigating your upcoming Skype interview.


    1) Plan - prepare well ahead of time – many candidates fail to properly prepare.  Successful candidates do the following

         a. Download and test Skype (or other) well before your scheduled interview

         b. Test your microphone

         c. Check lighting in the room

         d. Prepare the room

    Can’t stress this last point enough.  Candidates should understand exactly what will be in the frame behind them.  The backdrop should be clean, appealing and interesting if possible. 


    2) Rehearse – be sure to look into the monitor not the screen.  If possible do a “mock” interview with a friend as successfully navigating this type of interview takes practice.  Rehearse questions that you can reasonably predict will be asked.


    3) Prepare for the exact interview time -  make sure there will be no distractions.  Turn off your cell phone and land line, put pets out of the room you’ll be in,  don’t have anything running that has a buzzer or timer that could go off . . . and certainly no TV running. 


    4) Dress Professionally – another common mistake is when candidates don’t honor the interview by dressing too casually.  The message sent is that you are “fitting this interview in” to your normal day.   Not what we would advise you to do.  Treat the Skype interview as you would any other interview and dress professionally.  


    5) Stress body language – be aware of your non-verbal communication as you interview.  Sit up straight, stay focused on the camera, shoulders forward and use nodding and facial gestures to show that you are fully engaged.  


    Bottom line is video interviewing has become common place so embrace it, learn it and master it to become the most successful candidate you can be.  

  • When you don't get the job...

    I am often approached by alumni who, for a number of reasons, are interested in looking for a new position or a change in careers. Many times they are not being offered the positions they are interviewing for and immediately assume they are doing something wrong. Candidates for positions may be perfectly qualified, interview well, be dressed immaculately and still not receive an offer.  “I just don’t understand what I am doing wrong,” is often the lament. 

    The simple answer is you may be doing nothing wrong, but the unfortunate reality of the job seeker is that you have no idea who your competition is or truly what the employer desires from the hire. We often hear employers who use the word “fit” to describe a candidate and their organizations. Here’s an example:  An employer interviews three outstanding candidates for a job and after review, all three were considered equally impressive for the position. Employers, all things being equal, will typically choose the person who “fits” best with what they are needing at that exact moment in time. You may have done everything right but not gotten the job.  

    So, in many instances there is no need to change what you are doing, just do more of it. Remember, hiring is often a numbers game, so increase your chances of success by applying for more positions. Final advice: Don’t sweat what you can’t control and focus more on things you can, like attitude, enthusiasm, what you know about the company and your likability quotient. 



The Center for Career Development at Tennessee Tech offers students individualized career counseling and preparation on topics such as:

  • Personality and vocational interest testing and interpretation

  • Internship and cooperative education

  • Resume and job search

  • Salary negotiation

  • Graduate school counseling and preparation

  • Job Fair prospecting and success

Career Development also administers the Handshake system, which is the campus employer database and student resume system. They host seven job fairs per year and run the on-campus recruiting program.


Russ CoughenourRuss Coughenour has directed Career Services offices for the past 25 years. Russ's career has taken him to Augusta State University, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the University of South Florida. Russ is a former SHRM Chapter president and most recently was the President of the State University System of Florida Career Center Directors. Russ's passion is assisting college students with their career development, especially in the area of preparing for a job search and interviews. Russ has been at Tennessee Tech since October 1st, 2018.

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