Column | Feb. 18

Nonprofit career fair should be an alternative, not an afterthought

Each fall, hundreds of students venture over to the career fairs in Dillon Gymnasium, and this year, for the first time, I was among them. I spoke with some interesting representatives about interesting jobs, but the majority of the options presented there were not in line with my interests in arts, environmental advocacy and education reform. Many of the programs that were related to my interests were either Princeton programs (Princeton in Asia, Princeton in Africa, Project 55) or founded by Princeton alums (Teach for America). These are wonderful programs, with inspiring missions, and they offer opportunities to do great work. But it would be interesting to hear from organizations without this special connection to campus. After the career fair I attended, I started asking around and searching online, and I learned that a nonprofit career fair would be held separately, which perhaps explained the relative lack of diversity represented at the fall career fair. Unfortunately, the nonprofit career fair is held in February.

By February, countless deadlines have passed, and seniors are getting anxious about next year, not to mention impending thesis deadlines. Granted, there are plenty of other ways to hear about interesting organizations and apply to jobs outside of Princeton-sponsored career fairs. Plus, the application deadlines for nonprofit jobs are often later, while recruiting for finance and consulting jobs happens early in the fall. Still, if Career Services is going to put in the effort of offering a nonprofit career fair, it should be presented as an alternative, not an afterthought. Or maybe, nonprofit careers should be better represented at the general career fairs, which would not necessitate a separate event.

Last Friday, I went to check out the nonprofit career fair, which was held simultaneously with the summer internship fair. The Career Services website speaks of the two fairs in the plural, to indicate that these are separate events (which just happen to occur in the same place, at the same time). As soon as I set foot in the gym, a friend muttered to me ironically, “I wonder which side is which.” At the nonprofit side to our right, there were rows of tables covered in plastic tablecloths, each with a paper sign marking the organization situated there. Several of them were unoccupied, with signs but no representatives, perhaps because of the lousy weather. Students were milling about and talking with representatives or reading colorful pamphlets, while some of the representatives were eating lunch or observing the scene.

To our left, the internship fair was a buzzing hive of activity. Students in dark suits, with resume folders and firm handshakes were intently engaged in conversation or else waiting in line for their turn. Tables were piled high with awesome freebies: T-shirts, travel mugs, candy, pens. Behind the tables were tall, flashy posters with bold logos. I couldn’t read the names of some of the companies because there were so many students crowded around the tables. The free gear on the internship side of the room seemed to say, “At these jobs you will be rewarded, in material and tangible ways.” The allure is irresistible. The free gear also creates a visible imbalance between the two events.

Presenting internships and nonprofit careers side-by-side sends a message: Working at a nonprofit, like interning at a corporation, is a step on the way to something more legitimate, and probably higher paying. The implication is that nonprofit and civic service jobs, like internships, are not long-term options. The nonprofit fair also confirmed my fear that February is too late. I spoke at length with the representative for an environmental fellowship program, only to learn that its application deadline was that very day.

People often imagine nonprofits as disorganized, bureaucratic and inefficient. This may be true for some small nonprofits, just as it can be true for any small company, but there are also brilliant, effective nonprofits of varying scales, from local to international. Some of them have no affiliation with Princeton but might be thrilled to hire talented and enthusiastic Princeton graduates. I want to see more representation from major aid organizations, advocacy groups and NGOs, like Oxfam International or Partners in Health, especially when the world leaders in technology, finance and consulting are so well-represented at these campus events. If the nonprofit career fair is going to continue as a separate event from the general career fair, it deserves its own time and place and should include an array of organizations with the influence and effectiveness that Princeton students look for in future employers.

I’m not the first person to make remarks like these. Just last month, Azza Cohen ’16 and Kemy Lin ’15 wrote an interesting opinion piece in the ‘Prince’ about the dearth of opportunities advertised on campus for careers in the arts. Career Services can do better. Though perhaps an oversimplification, it is easy to see the career fairs as manifestations of Princeton’s priorities. Certainly there are other areas for change, but the career fairs are a good place to start.

Anna Nilles is an art and archaeology major from Wellesley, Mass. She can be reached at anilles@princeton.edu.

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