Ask an Ethicist: Should I attend a career fair after accepting a job offer?

September 12, 2016

In partnership with the Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State Today’s feature column "Ask an Ethicist" aims to shed light on ethical questions from our readers. Each article in this column will feature a different ethical question answered by a Penn State ethicist. We invite you to ask a question by filling out and submitting this form. An archive of the columns can be found on the Rock Ethics Institute website.

Question: Should I still attend a career fair if I’ve already accepted an offer?

An ethicist responds: It's a great moment when you finally get that first job or internship offer. It feels even better to formally accept the offer, feeling secure about that next step in your career. But what if that offer comes before a career fair? Many companies come to career fairs with positions they’d like to fill, and, in some cases, they will schedule interviews with qualified candidates soon after the fair. If you have not yet accepted an offer, you should not hesitate to go to the fair and speak with employers. But what if you have accepted that offer — is it ethical for you to attend? It is important to consider both the pros and cons of doing so, and that’s what this article will address.

Typically, career counselors would advise students not to attend a career fair if they’ve already formally accepted a position for reasons discussed later in this article; however, there may be some positive reasons for doing so. Career fairs are excellent venues to network with employers. Employers are eager to speak with students about their opportunities, and students get some great “face time” with companies — an important part of the networking process that allows the student to become a personality, instead of just a resume. If you have accepted an offer, you may find these interactions to be much more relaxed, allowing you to really put your best self out there. Networking opportunities can be positive for the long term. After all, no one stays in their first job forever.

Career fairs can also help you to learn more about the industry in which you are about to enter, preparing you for the professional environment. Again, given that the job search pressure is off, you may be more relaxed and willing to engage in a conversation that would provide a lot of valuable feedback and information about an industry.

In addition to the networking benefits a fair provides, you will be able to educate yourself on what other opportunities might be available to someone with your credentials. In many cases, students receive full-time offers in the last weeks of their summer internship, with a deadline to accept or decline before the school year and career fairs commence. But it can be helpful and reassuring to know what else might be out there, while being secure in the knowledge that you do have a position lined up.

That all being said, there are some major ethical drawbacks to attending a career fair after you’ve accepted an offer. When attending a fair, employers assume the people coming to the fair are, in fact, job seekers and uncommitted to other positions. Depending on how upfront you are with the employer about your acceptance of an offer and your intentions at the fair, you may be misleading the employer as to your interest and availability.

Likewise, you must appreciate that employer and student time at fairs is precious and very limited. There are many students seeking employment who are not committed to positions, as well as employers who have immediate employment needs. Taking up an employer’s time at a fair, when there isn’t an intention to apply for a position, is limiting the time for your peers and the employers to connect.

But what if you do have every intention to apply for a position at the fair? It is possible that the employer you committed to could be attending the fair to fill other positions they have available. In that case, you run the risk of being “spotted” at the fair by this employer, therefore damaging your reputation with them, and perhaps putting your offer in jeopardy. You should also understand that recruiters do speak to their peers at other companies, and it could damage your reputation with other employers as well. 

Finally, and most importantly, your acceptance of an offer is a commitment to that organization. By attending a career fair and applying to other positions, you are stating that you do not truly take the commitment seriously. To put this in other terms, think about how you would feel if you saw the employer to whom you’ve committed to at a career fair, recruiting students for the position they had offered to you, stating that they still wanted to “shop around” for other, better qualified candidates.

It is both an exciting and overwhelming time when considering the next steps in your future, and every situation is unique. Talk to one of the career counselors on staff at Penn State Career Services to figure out what might be the best path for you. 

Lesley Jackson is a career counselor at Penn State Career Services. Before joining Penn State, Lesley worked for a national company, where she frequently recruited undergraduate students to participate in sales and marketing internships.

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Note: The "Ask an Ethicist" column is a forum to promote ethical awareness and inquiry across the Penn State community. These articles represent the interests and judgments of each author as an individual scholar and are neither official positions of the Rock Ethics Institute nor Penn State University. They are designed to offer a possible approach to a subject and are not intended as definitive statements on what is or is not ethical in any given situation. Read the full disclaimer.

  • Lesley Jackson

    Lesley Jackson is a career counselor at Penn State Career Services. Before joining Penn State, Lesley worked for a national company, where she frequently recruited undergraduate students to participate in sales and marketing internships. 

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated April 19, 2017