Encountering corporate fortune tellers

At the University’s job fair, I discovered that working for the corporate world doesn’t always mean selling your soul.

On a miserable Monday morning, I boarded the bus for the University of Minnesota Student Job Fair and immediately regretted my decision. I should have worn black pumps instead of my crummy Converse sneakers; I should have grabbed a briefcase instead of my purple and neon green âÄò80s throwback tote bag; and obviously, I should have showered. Luckily, the smell of cigarettes and sweat still from Sunday nightâÄôs Lykke Li concert served to part the sea of black and gray business suits long enough for me to find a seat. The scene on the bus reminded me of the chicken buses in Guatemala, only significantly less colorful. Someone had come up with the idea to refurbish old school buses, paint them in psychedelic shades and use them as transportation to take the rural mountain villagers into the city for work. When I was in Guatemala, I would see these busses careening down dirt roads at breakneck speeds and I would always stop and stare. People were stuffed in to the point of suffocation, and still more hung off the windows or clung to the bumper. They were completely unconcerned for what I was convinced was almost certain death, always just around the bend. On our bus, the situation was not much different. We were packed in like hogs on the way to the slaughterhouse and we were all looking for work. Instead of live chickens to sell at the market or a shovel for the road crew, we carried with us our perfectly packaged skill set and a few trite lines sure to seduce the recruiter. Oh, and we were all heading toward a certain and sudden death. Welcome to the corporate world, the largest earthly kingdom of martyrs to conformity, or at least thatâÄôs what I told myself as I entered the Minneapolis Convention Center. Clearly, with that kind of snobbish mindset, I shouldnâÄôt have even made an appearance. However, a tiny little comment that my roommate made recently was still eating away at my brain. âÄúWe were talking about where all of us in the house would be in five years,âÄù he said. âÄúAnd you were the only one that we had no idea about.âÄù I didnâÄôt have an answer either, so I decided to go to the job fair to inquire with the fortune tellers about my future. Upon arrival, however, I had to veto my initial plan. Students surged through the aisles with snazzy leather résumé binders and BlackBerries in hand. I, however, had chosen to bring my résumé copies in the very same cardboard box that my fancy résumé paper had come in and my Sony Walkman CD Player (yes, you read that right, no iPod for the poor) was the closest thing I had to a sleek electronic device. I looked like a 12-year-old who had lost her Mom in the grocery store; I was surprised they even allowed me a nametag at check in. After a few moments of bathroom panic, I decided to improvise and take on the familiar role of Minnesota Daily columnist trying to collect information on the importance of the student job fair. My denim duds and random traveling gear would be easily excusable under the introduction of âÄújournalist.âÄù And if I found a company that I actually liked, I would just âÄúhappenâÄù to have a résumé on hand (because as a writer, youâÄôre always looking for another job). I did a general tour of the convention hall in order to stock up on pens and candy bars and then settled upon Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a life insurance company, as my first victim. Tony Vetsch and Alison Baker, both Thrivent recruiting specialists, were friendly, funny and surprisingly human âÄî not quite the kind of corporate fabrications I had anticipated. âÄúDo you see any irony in this event?âÄù I asked. Baker and Vetsch agreed that it did seem kind of silly to hold a job fair in the midst of a recession, but noted that Thrivent gains 15 percent of its hires from job fairs such as these. I was actually referring to the irony that the University of Minnesota job fair website instructs students on exactly how to dress, think and act for the event while every recruiter explains that they select from those who âÄústand out from the rest.âÄù Huh? That was like asking 600 chefs to each make a unique, fancy four-course meal with only three ingredients: a smile, a handshake and a swanky briefcase. âÄúIf youâÄôre confident, weâÄôll love you,âÄù Baker said. âÄúBut donâÄôt come for the last 10 minutes of a job fair. It doesnâÄôt look professional and weâÄôre pretty tired by that point.âÄù This went against all my common sense. Carlson kids are incredibly confident, but this breeds annoyance over joy more often than not, and the best part of anything is the last 10 minutes. Think about it: the end of a good book, the encore at a rock show, the summit of a mountain, the climax of an âĦ anyway, the list goes on. Vetsch asked to see my résumé and posed the one question that always follows after learning that IâÄôm a Global Studies major. âÄúSo what exactly can you do when you graduate?âÄù âÄúFloat down a river on a boat somewhere? I dunno, I want to save the world,âÄù I sighed. âÄúI know I donâÄôt belong here.âÄù âÄúMaybe you do,âÄù Vetsch said and he proceeded to tell me about Thrivent Builds, the companyâÄôs partnership with Habitat for Humanity. In 2009 alone, Thrivent has committed up to $1.3 million to build houses in El Salvador. He assured me that there are plenty of companies in Minnesota and abroad that practice this kind of benevolence, better known as âÄúcorporate social responsibility.âÄù I nearly kissed him. Vetsch hadnâÄôt exactly predicted my future, but he had shown me a light at the end of the tunnel. If the current economic crisis should require us globetrotters to buckle down instead of break free, we can at least work for a company that practices a degree of humility. Business, for once, doesnâÄôt seem quite so shady. Ashley Dresser welcomes comments at [email protected]