From the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on 3-25-21:
Preparing for a successful post-college career takes strategy, focus and grit. At New College, our faculty, staff and administration are constantly promoting our talented students and readying them for the competitive job market.
This commitment was perfectly exemplified this week at one of our most popular yearly events: The Cross College Alliance (CCA) Reverse Career Fair.
A fully online and free gathering, the fair was held live on Remo (a piece of software for virtual conferences) on March 25, and employers from across the state and nation recruited top talent from the Florida Suncoast.
More than 50 students from New College, Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD), State College of Florida (SCF) and the University of South Florida (USF) represented themselves during the annual opportunity. Attendees were able to browse different booths and exhibits while networking.
“From an employer’s perspective, this year’s Reverse Career Fair offered a guaranteed return on investment because recruiters could target and meet talented candidates with diverse interests (and educational backgrounds) that specifically aligned with their hiring needs – all in an interactive, virtual environment,” said Dwayne Peterson, the director of New College’s Center for Career Engagement and Opportunity (CEO) and one of the event organizers.
The aim of a “reverse” career fair is to spotlight students (so each student has a table where they greet and interview potential employers, not the other way around). And the remote format, now in its second year for the CCA, already has proven to be a massive success.
Last March, 76 employer representatives participated in the fair, and more than half of all student participants were offered at least one interview (several also landed jobs and internships).
But making the fair remote was a move born out of necessity. During spring break 2020, as the New College campus was being evacuated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the previously in-person gathering pivoted quickly. This shift was thanks to quick-thinking organizers at the CEO, including Peterson and Assistant Directors Maddie Tympanick, Lisandra Jimenez and Ciara Suarez.
The CCA had planned to host the 2018-founded event for the first time at New College on March 26, 2020, in Sudakoff Conference Center. Organizers intended to invite employers to visit student booths for handshakes, networking and recruiting – until, of course, the pandemic rendered the concept unrealistic.
“Since we couldn’t have an in-person fair, we put together a Google drive that was accessible to all registered employers. Our students put together folders with their résumés and recorded ‘elevator pitch’ introduction videos,” Peterson said. “Our CEO team individually coached each one of our students and helped gently push them to the finish line. Turning this virtual was happening at the same time students were relocating physically. But our coaches got on the phone with students one at a time and made sure they were prepared.”
Some participants dropped out at the last minute, but an impressive number of New College students pushed through and ended up accounting for 18 of the 31 student attendees (more than half). Then, when a mass of employers from all over the country (not just regional) started showing interest in the event, New College students began benefiting big time.
“When this event went virtual, the number of employers registered skyrocketed from 30 to 76. Recruiting programs nationally were all being canceled so recruiters were like, ‘How am I going to get talent?’ They were actively looking for ways to connect with students,” Peterson said. “And our event, because we turned it virtual in a day, became probably one of the first virtual events available in Handshake (the career software system that we and many employers use). They really noticed us.”
Reverse career fairs, as a whole, are an emerging trend nationwide. The National Association of Colleges and Employers has even recognized the uniqueness and efficacy of this event and its format (a concept that USF Sarasota-Manatee initially created).
“At a regular career fair, by happenstance, the right student might come to an employer’s table, or – in many cases – recruiters leave without any good candidates,” Peterson said. “This virtual format allows our students to connect with opportunities outside of our region. It works out so students can explore opportunities all over the country.”
It is never too early for students to begin thinking about – and working diligently toward – their post-collegiate paths.
Learning how to promote oneself and connect with future employers, all before graduation, provides students with invaluable experience in a world where adults can expect to average eight different careers during their working lives.
We know how bright CCA and New College students are, and we want to give them every opportunity to shine.