The potential downside of careers expos – perspectives from careers advisors

If you regularly read our articles, you may recall that I went on a rant recently about the things that I see happen at careers expos that can mislead students about their study options. Since this time I have had a number of careers advisors approach me saying things like “yeah, and I also saw this horror story and that terrible thing happened to one of my students.”

So I thought it was an excellent time to invite careers advisors, guidance officers and career development practitioners to share their horror stories of what can happen at careers expos in the hope that those who are trying to decide on their career pathway will be able to know when they are receiving mis-information and take it with a grain of salt.

Lauren Maxwell

Lauren Maxwell

One careers advisor wishes to remain anonymous so as to not identify the students and organisations involved. Career development consultant Lauren Maxwell, founder of Headstrong Women, has given a broader overview of what can happen at a careers expo.

Lauren Maxwell says:

“One of the biggest issues I have found, is that people tend to take the generalist nature of advice given at expos as individualised, and leave with incomplete advice rather than incorrect per se .

Often when I am providing advice at adult career expos, one of the first things I recommend to people is that they should leave the expo with the pamphlets provided, and complete research into the areas that their thirst has been quenched. I reinforce the fact that in an overwhelming environment such as an expo, stallholders – career practitioners like myself included – can only provide general information in an efficient manner, which means that without knowing your exact circumstances, they may not be able to provide complete recommendations that might be given if you were having a one-on-one discussion with them.

Career expos are a great resource, and a fantastic way to open your eyes to LOTS of possibilities – I will definitely continue to promote them and participate in them. But, the advice received at them should be considered a ‘jumping off point’ rather than a substitute for seeking individual advice.”

career expo advice

Let’s continue with what our anonymous careers advisor had to say.

“As the name “expo” suggests, a careers expo provides students with exposure to options.  Great…right? Well not necessarily.  Expos also expose students to “words of Wisdom” of dubious value from the mouths of untrained (sometimes unskilled) marketing reps pretending to be career counsellors for the day.  These well –intentioned, sometimes overly-enthusiastic folk are often from the marketing department of the university.  Sometimes they are current students’ spruiking for the institution.   They often have limited knowledge of course content/admissions criteria but spades of charm. In the eyes of high school students, and their parents, they are “people from the university”- a credible source of information, surely?

A few real world examples that suggest otherwise:
1.    A very low-performing student from my school went to a university open day and was encouraged to apply for a course for which she would be lucky to ever meet the OP cut-off.  “Will l get in?” she wondered aloud.  Without knowing anything at all about her she was assured she would!!!!  Consequently her QTAC application contained just one, unrealistic, preference and when it was suggested she might alter this she replied “No the people at the expo said it would not be a problem, they assured me they will take me”.

2.    A very well-known university had an information session on one of its more popular programs.  The chair of the session assured everyone present that her course was THE premier course in its field and the only one in QLD with a science prerequisite.  A student from my school, having been “sold” on the course raised her hand and asked; “Can I apply? I’m not doing Science” She was told not to worry about it, to submit an application.  I rang the university and asked the admissions team if this was correct (after all why have a prerequisite if it’s meaningless).  Guess what? The prerequisite did apply. Incorrect information publicly disseminated by the university.

3.    A student visited a university and was taken on a tour of the facilities for a course with an OP 1 cut off. She heard of the wonders of the course and its fabulous outcomes for all graduates. This student knew she was likely to get an OP in the 15-18 range and asked the tour leader if it was still worth applying.  “Yes, absolutely!” she was told.  She put it at the top of her QTAC preference listed and effectively wasted one of her precious 6 preferences, one of her only 6 chances to crack the tertiary sector.  Needless to say, she wasn’t made an offer.

4.    At a university open day a student was sold on the wonders of the Dentistry degree.  She told the “university person” she wouldn’t get the necessary OP 1 to get in and he said “No worries, you just do Science for a year and then upgrade.”  Any mention of GPA? No.  It was put the student that this was routine and she was taken aback to discover that while she might indeed upgrade from Science she would need a near perfect GPA to pull that one off… something the “university person” didn’t mention!

When students are given incorrect or misleading advice I now take it upon myself to contact the institution and give them feedback.  I live in hope that one day all students will be given accurate information dispensed in a considered and measured manner.”

As I have mentioned previously, I have witnessed mainly a good standard of advice being given at careers expos, but have seen some very misleading advice being given out too. Hopefully you will now be better prepared if you are attending careers expos this year!

Amanda Griffiths – Founder My Health Career.

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  1. John Gilders says:

    Hi Amanda,

    I too have witnessed some poor information given to students at career expos over the years. This issue really highlights the need for career development activities to be undertaken by students throughout their school years, not just at a one-off event like a careers expo.

    At a careers expo you have (usually) marketing staff or student ambassadors giving general information under the pressure that comes from a large crowd. This information needs to be checked and verified before the students act upon it. Luckily we have some great programs and Guidance Officers in many schools who provide students with supporting activities and research. Students need many sources of information, not just a careers expo, to refine their post school options.

    So, if students can get all of the information and download brochures from websites, I wonder how we can improve the way careers expos are operated. Are there other activities that can be incorporated into career expos, if “information gathering” can be done more accurately and efficiently online? Can career expos re-invent themselves to include other activities instead of a traditional brochure grabbing frenzy as the crowd rushes through?

    • My Health Career says:

      Hi John,

      You raise some excellent points there. Students indeed need many sources of information in order to consider their post school options.

      Obviously the previous Partnership Broker instigated events such as the Gold Coast Health Careers Forum had excellent ways of having students engage in activities other than the brochure grab. It’s a shame that funding for that style of event was pulled before there was time for this style of event to become the norm.


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