Making a Career Fair Work For You: Clemson Alumni Grace Graves (2017)

February 10, 2020

Grace Graves credits a career fair, and one of her Clemson professors, for helping her find her first job in the hotel and service industry. 

PRTM alumni Grace Graves (2017) on the job with OTO Development, while the AC Hotel Spartanburg was under construction.

PRTM alumni Grace Graves (2017) on the job with OTO Development, while the AC Hotel Spartanburg was under construction.

Grace graduated from Clemson University in 2017 as part of the first cohort with departmental honors for her major in parks, recreation and tourism management (PRTM). Although she had a job when she graduated, it was with an employer she almost didn’t connect with at a career fair organized by the department. 

“I had done all of my research on the companies I wanted to talk to before the career fair, but when I got there, I didn’t find anything I was super excited about,” she says. “I ran into one of my professors on the way out and told him I was feeling discouraged, and he encouraged me to talk to a hotel development and management company that had been added at the last minute.” 

Grace was a bit nervous to approach an organization she hadn’t researched in advance, but when she realized their representative was based near her home in downtown Spartanburg, they fell into easy conversation. Although they didn’t have any opportunities for her at the corporate office, the company was building a new hotel in downtown Spartanburg that needed people. She was encouraged to talk to the staff on site. 

“I wasn’t sure about approaching this organization at first because I didn’t know anything about hotels, but I did it anyway,” she says. “I’m so glad I did, because that conversation turned into a job that taught me so much – and that took me through the process of building a hotel from the ground up.” 

Grace started as an operations and sales intern. After her internship was complete, they hired her as their sales coordinator and soon promoted her to sales manager. The job gave her experience working with the area’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, and helped her apply her learning in several different PRTM areas of focus, such as tourism, events, sales, community relations and management. 

Grace Graves during Clemson University’s summer 2017 graduation ceremony.

Grace Graves during Clemson University’s summer 2017 graduation ceremony.

Although she’s since left the organization for a job in the higher education industry, she remains on good terms with her former employer and is interested in getting back into the service and hotel industry at some point. 

Grace says that career fairs are important, because they prepare students for real world interactions in a professional setting. She encourages students to talk to their professors both before and after the event, as they have valuable advice about how to make industry connections. She also says it’s important to ask for business cards and to contact the people you met after the event is over. 

Grace’s other career fair tips include: 

  • Buy an “interview” outfit before the event that feels comfortable and professional. 
  • Review the list of employers that are attending and highlight your top choices. Use a different color to highlight other organizations to talk to if you still have time. 
  • Research each employer that you plan to speak with. Find three facts about the organization, and write three questions in advance. You can also brainstorm a short, relevant story about yourself that relates to the company or its goals. 
  • Bring your printed resume and a notepad. You can also use your phone to take notes, but make sure you ask if they’re comfortable with you taking notes first. 
  • Smile and have a firm handshake. Be confident and sell yourself. 
  • Follow up with either a thank you note or quick email the same day, and make sure you refer to something that you spoke about so that they will remember your name and face. 

Above all, Grace says, it’s important to be open to ideas, experiences and opportunities. Career fairs give students opportunities that simply aren’t available after they graduate, and keeping an open mind can open doors to something unplanned, but rewarding. 

“Career fairs are a real, live in-person LinkedIn,” she says. “You’ll never get that many organizations in the same place again. The connections you make may not lead to something right away, but if you continue to take advantage of these opportunities, you’ll start to see doors start to open up for you over time.”


The CEPA/PRTM Career/Internship and Camp Job Fair is on Monday, February 17 between 9:30AM and 1:00PM on the second floor of the Hendrix Center. Read more about the career fair, including which organizations are participating.