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  • Reverse Networking Fair Rekindles Employer-College Relationships

    January 24, 2022 | By Kevin Gray

    Networking Events
    man in the middle of a virtual meeting on his laptop

    TAGS: best practices, nace insights, talent acquisition

    Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

    In April 2021, the State of Georgia hosted a reverse networking fair for Georgia Association of Colleges and Employers (GACE) employer members to reintroduce themselves to their university partners. Ten agencies and 30 GACE members representing 11 universities throughout the state participated.

    “This event was an opportunity for state of Georgia agencies to introduce themselves and promote career opportunities available to college students,” explains Monique Jenkins, manager of enterprise talent management services for the Georgia Department of Administrative Services Human Resources Administration.

    “It was a targeted event to engage and build relationships with career services professionals in partnership with the Georgia Association of Colleges and Employers and was open only to its members.”

    The networking fair was a standalone event and was not held in conjunction with any other career or networking fairs. Planning for the fair began before the COVID-19 pandemic and, thus, it was initially planned to be held in person.

    “We moved to a fully virtual event conducted via Zoom as the pandemic continued,” Jenkins explains.

    The event started with a welcome from the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Administrative Services and was followed by five-minute presentations by recruiters from 10 state agencies.

    “These were introductory presentations that described the agency and its mission, its locations, the types of opportunities available to students, and their benefits,” Jenkins says.

    “Each agency also provided information on how it was managing the disruption caused by the pandemic.”

    Every 10 minutes, participating career services professionals were moved through three breakout rooms to learn more about the agencies—which were grouped by location—and asked specific questions regarding their student population. The event ended with a round of questions and answers and a closing session by the GACE president.

    Jenkins says that it can be tough for career services professionals to guide students to the agencies that match their degree, skills, and career interests in a state as large as Georgia.

    “This event was the perfect way to help those professionals learn more about our agencies and ask specific questions about their career offerings and requirements,” she adds.

    “Career services professionals usually only talk to me or the agencies that recruit on campus, which is a small number, so this allowed them direct access to the recruiters. This event also served as a marketing opportunity for state agencies, especially those that are not current recruiting on campus.”

    Since it was hosted virtually, there was no travel involved (which was restricted because of the pandemic), allowing a variety of agencies to participate.

    “The benefit to them was that they were able to speak directly to the career services professionals and receive advice on how to attract more students,” Jenkins says.

    She notes that the biggest challenges with the reverse networking event was designing it for a virtual environment and making sure there was enough time for the career services professionals to speak to all of the agencies that participated, while also keeping them engaged.

    “Unlike a traditional career fair where an entire day might be set aside by recruiters and career services professionals, this was only a two-hour event,” Jenkins explains, adding that allowing enough time in breakout rooms was particularly problematic.

    Still, she says, the biggest lesson learned was that this type of event was welcomed by the career services staff and the agencies. Another lesson learned was that the virtual environment did not diminish the value of the event.

    Jenkins points out that the elements of a successful reverse networking or career fair are the same as they are for any career fair.

    “It starts with great organization and communication, but also requires partnering with the right organizations so that we reach as many careers services professionals as possible,” she explains.

    “There also needs to be a good representation of the diversity of the state in the agencies that participate. We achieved that and the response from our attendees was overwhelmingly positive.”