Tips for a Successful WE14

It is once again time for the annual conference. Honestly, it is one of my favorite conferences. I love getting to reconnect with friends from my undergrad section (Boiler Up!) and meeting people in-person with whom I’ve only corresponded via email or phone. There are so many inspiring people, too! Every year I come back to school re-energized and ready to keep going! But with so many sessions, and such a HUGE career fair, it can be quite daunting. Here are some tips and tricks from a seasoned SWE Conference veteran.

Also, remember the grad student related sessions listed in an earlier Blog post and don’t forget to RSVP to our first ever Grad Student Networking Reception!


Before Conference:

Career Fair —

  • Make sure to look at the list of exhibitors at the career fair and identify which companies you most wish to visit. Many of the bigger name companies will have long lines, and you’ll often wait for 20-30 minutes just to talk to a recruiter, so plan accordingly!
  • Print plenty of 1 page resumes, but also have printed some longer resumes with more detail in case of interview or recruiters want the extra information. As graduate students, we tend to have a lot more experience that recruiters like to see and read.
  • Make sure to bring a USB with resumes on it. Often at the conference there will be a business center where you can print off more resumes should you need them.
  • Make sure to pack a padfolio or folder to store your resumes with paper and a pen for writing notes.

Sessions —

  • Make sure to download the app or read through the sessions online and determine which sessions most interest you. You don’t have to completely decide which sessions you want to attend. What I typically do is identify which ones interest me, and see what I feel like at that time during the conference — or, if an interview comes up, or I need to go back to the career fair for any reason then my schedule is more flexible.
  • The app is useful because you can specifically save sessions you’re interested in, and have the list at your fingertips. The conference books get quite bulky after awhile, and you’ll most likely not want to haul your laptop around all day.


At the Conference:

Career Fair —

  • I suggest going to the companies you’re really interested in on the opening night. They’ll often start scheduling interviews right away.
  • Be ready to stand in lines! Also, make sure to bring comfortable walking shoes. The career fair is HUGE! Your feet will be very sore by the end of the day.
  • Have a bag ready for all the free swag items.
  • Bring a padfolio or folder to keep paper and your resumes in. You won’t want to have all your resumes out in front of a recruiter. Instead, while you are in line or before you get in line, take out a resume and have it ready.
  • Have your 20-30 second elevator pitch practiced. E.g. My name is Katharine and I’m an Aerospace Engineering PhD Candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. I’m interested in XYZ positions…
  • Be prepared for recruiters to ask you questions about your research and life as a graduate student. In my experience, talking to recruiters and interviewing as a PhD candidate is completely different than as a Bachelor’s candidate.
  • Make sure to go to the Hospitality Suites. This is a great way to get to know the recruiters on a more personal level — and potentially get interviews. Plus…free food!

Sessions —

  • That app will come in handy when you realize how big the conference is! Having the sessions you’re interested in stored on your phone will help you feel organized and not overwhelmed.
  • It’s common for people to sit through half a session and leave, or come into the session halfway through. While not necessarily proper etiquette, people are trying to make the most of the sessions and go to everything they can.
  • You’re not going to be able to make it to everything! It’s ok…really. Many sessions pop up at the region conferences, or at the next year’s conference.


After the conference:

  • Make sure to follow up with any contacts you made. Even a simple, “It was nice to meet you, thanks for your time!”
  • Fill out the surveys for helping to make sessions and conference better next year!
  • Reflect on how awesome of an experience it was!


What to wear:

  • Conference sessions tend to be fairly laid-back, but if you’re planning on attending the career fair throughout the day, it is best to dress up. While a full suit is not necessary, suit separates are definitely appropriate.
  • Dressy flats are a wonderful alternative to heels, especially with all the walking and standing you’ll do!
  • My advice is always to wear your hair back, or at least out of your eyes, so that you’re not messing with it while talking to recruiters.
  • Bring a nice bag for carrying your personal items around. Most years the conference give-away is such a bag, but there’s no guarantee. You don’t want to be trying to get a job and have a torn-up old bag around your shoulder.


Don’t forget:

  • Your phone charger! If you’re using the conference app, you’ll most likely drain your battery at some point throughout the day. Don’t forget to bring a wall charger, or if you have one, a portable charger.
  • Resumes!
  • If you wear nylons — don’t forget extra pairs! (also clear nail polish helps stop runs)


I hope those tips and tricks help reduce some of the uncertainty or overwhelming aspects of conference. Good luck, and I hope to see you at the grad student events!


2 thoughts on “Tips for a Successful WE14

  1. Hello – thanks for this very helpful post. I was wondering, is the Career Fair Opening Ceremony on the thursday night an actual career fair? I’m driving from far so I’m wondering whether it will be worth it to go to both the opening night and the career fair on Friday.

    • Hi! Good question. The career fair opening ceremony is indeed an opportunity to speak with companies, share your resume, and set up an interview. However, the time for that isn’t very long (I think like 2 hours) and then many of the companies move to their hospitality suites. The Hospitality suites are sometimes chances for you to talk to employees about the company and the culture but there are also a lot of people who are just excited about free food, drinks, and swag.

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