For more on the CALS Career Center: https://cals.arizona.edu/students/cals-career-center
At most career fairs, students seek out potential employers at numerous tables and stand before them to present their job qualifications. It can be a nerve-wracking experience.
A different dynamic is in play during a "reverse career fair."
Under a large tent pitched on the grass-covered courtyard of the Forbes Building on the University of Arizona campus, students sat at tables hosted by 11 clubs and organizations in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Dressed in business casual or logo shirts from CALS, the students asked the recruiters who visited them from noon to 4 p.m. about their companies or agencies, and about potential internship and employment opportunities. Students rotated in based on their class schedules, and the clubs had the chance to discuss their unique roles, skills, knowledge and expertise with recruiters.
"They were allowed to really open up and show what they do, show their passion and skills. I don't think I'd have gotten that (in a traditional career fair)," said Rachel Cardona of Vanguard, a financial services firm. "It was a unique experience once I got the hang of it. I could reach out and get connected with these clubs and do workshops. There were avenues for how we could connect. The students were phenomenal."
Participating employers represented financial services, government agencies, livestock production, produce growers and insurance companies.
"The idea behind hosting a reverse career fair rather than a traditional career fair was to further the culture of career readiness that has been fostered in CALS over the last four years with the creation of the CALS Career Center," said Kyle Sharp, assistant director of the CALS Career Center in Career and Academic Services. Sharp put on the event with assistance from Gabrielle Sykes-Casavant, coordinator of student engagement, and Lee Dueringer, interim director of the CALS Career Center.
The students were primed ahead of time with tips on networking and interviewing skills. They learned about how to present themselves during the conversations with a 15- to 30-second elevator pitch, how to talk to (and actively listen to) the recruiters, and how to create a concise, properly written resumé.
The resumés of all interested participating club members were included in a CALS Reverse Career Fair Resumé Book, which was shared with employers after the event. A professional photographer was also on hand for headshots.
After the fair, the fourth annual Dean's Leadership 50 networking event took place with the same recruiters in the Forbes lobby. As one of CALS' three leadership programs, the DL50's mission is to develop the skills and knowledge necessary for students to pursue careers in management and entrepreneurship in STEM fields.
STEM students often are not exposed to formal networking until graduate school or after beginning work in the professional world, which can put them at a disadvantage compared to other fields. The recruiters provided feedback and advice to members regarding the finer points of their networking style throughout the evening.
"Students who have attended the event over multiple years develop strong bonds with employers and some have even started the path to employment and internships at the networking event," Sharp said.
"It was interesting for the recruiters to come in and ask us about ourselves," said Stephanie Ibarra, a CALS sophomore in animal and comparative biomedical sciences, a DL50 member and a member of Volunteers for Intercultural and Definitive Adventures. "I talked with the representatives from Vanguard. I didn't know anything about them, and I actually learned a lot. They had a lot of internship opportunities I didn't know about.
"I think it's a good opportunity for the representatives to get to know the students behind the clubs, or how the club connects to the students' daily lives," Ibarra said, "and then build on their career, helping them see what they can do for their career in the future."