Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
June 6, 2012
On March 1, 2012, the tables were turned at Rutgers University. On that day, approximately 200 students from 40 student organizations and representatives of approximately 120 employers participated in the Rutgers Reverse Career Fair.
The reverse career fair was a reprisal of a similar event Rutgers held in 2004. Why bring it back?
Janet Jones, Rutgers’ interim director of the Rutgers-New Brunswick career services office, says the reverse career fair format addresses the desires of two groups—student leaders looking to showcase their organizations for an employer audience and employing organizations wanting to build stronger ties with student organizations.
The Rutgers Reverse Career Fair also had a loose model from which to draw.
“Our student involvement fair at the beginning of the academic year hosts more than 300 student organizations whose members are selling their groups and recruiting members,” Jones says. “We thought it would be interesting for employers to see this side of it: students describing their organizations’ work and communicating their missions.”
Rutgers career services partnered with Student Life, which holds the student involvement fair, and the Rutgers Alumni Association’s Undergraduate Committee. Student Life and the Undergraduate Committee sponsored the reverse career fair.
“[The career services office] invested our resources in partnership with Student Life to make this happen,” Jones says. “Since it’s a free event for our employers to attend, it’s a great employer development tool for us.”
The office also connected with and borrowed best practices from the career centers at Marquette University and the University of Miami, both of which hold reverse career fairs.
The Rutgers Reverse Career Fair featured a diverse representation of student organizations ranging from engineering groups to one whose members are jugglers.
The Rutgers career services office required individuals who registered for the fair to be prepared for the nontraditional format by attending a training session in the weeks before the event. Student participants learned about why employers want to connect with student leaders, what was expected of them as representatives of their organizations, how to present information about their organizations and themselves, and more.
These student leaders also learned about an opportunity to win money for their organization. Following a suggestion from Marquette, the Rutgers career center held a “best booth” contest to encourage clever displays. A Rutgers student organization devoted to mobile app development had two giant screens that displayed the apps it has created, and, Jones says, the demonstrations by the juggling and yo-yo clubs were popular attractions. Employers, however, voted Engineers Without Borders the top booth, which earned the club a $200 prize that was provided by Student Life.
In addition to monetary awards, there were wide benefits for participants. One recruiter told Jones his organization hired two students it met at the career fair to be interns this summer. And, in a survey of student participants following the event, 98 percent of respondents said they would participate in a future reverse career fair.
Still, there are modifications Jones and her staff will make for next year. Chief among them is that they will start the process earlier. This year, planning began in January for the early March event.
“It was problematic because employers wanted to know what student organizations would be there and students wanted to know which employers would be there,” she notes. “The employers have more at stake because of time away from work and travel, so next year, we’re going to get the student organizations on board early and use that in our marketing materials to employers.”
To do so, Jones says the career center will start marketing the event to student groups in November.
Rutgers sees the reverse career fair as a supplement to the traditional career fair. Both are effective in different ways, Jones says.
“The reverse career fair is more like a networking event between employers and student leaders,” she explains. “However, the dynamic is changed because students are in the ‘power seat’ and the conversations are different. Students can not only highlight the good work of the organizations they represent, but, in doing so, they can showcase their own skills—such as leadership and communication skills—to employers.”