Seton Hall University
Higher Ed

The Role of Career Fairs and Career Development Services

Colleges and universities are embracing technology while still using traditional methods to connect students with employers.

In today’s digital world, Garden State businesses are able to recruit graduating college students to fill open positions by posting jobs on websites, scheduling interviews via e-mail, and “meeting” potential candidates via recorded video interviews or VoIP programs like Skype. 

However, the state’s colleges and universities know the value of meeting face-to-face for both students and employers, so they’re continuing to provide ample opportunities for in-person connections, including career fairs and other on-campus networking opportunities.

The Value of Career Fairs

“For students, the opportunity to meet face-to-face with employers is rare today, and for employers, career fairs are really the only venue where they can meet numerous potential candidates in person and quickly get a sense of their personality and communication and workplace skills that aren’t filtered through a digital medium like e-mail or Skype,” asserts William Hill, assistant dean of career services for Monmouth University. “It’s why the career fair is still so popular – we don’t see them going away any time soon.”

According to Hill, career fairs at Monmouth University continue to grow; this past year, the university hosted 130 employers, and has continuously set a new record each year for attendance. The fairs are offered in the spring and fall, and Monmouth also hosts an internship career day to meet the needs of employers who are specifically seeking interns. The cost for employers is approximately $200. “Compared to running online job postings, these job fairs are still relatively inexpensive, and often prove to be a better value for employers,” Hill adds.

“With today’s recruiting relying largely on electronic applicant tracking systems, these personal connections can make a big difference for students in getting to the next step of the interview process,” agrees Beth Ricca, director of the Cahill Career Development Center at Ramapo College. “Recruiters who participate in our career fairs are able to connect with strong candidates outside of the electronic hiring process.” 

Ramapo College hosts one large career and internship fair in the spring, in addition to a few smaller, targeted fairs for careers in fields such as social work, accounting, teaching and nursing/healthcare. The college hosts about 100 employers, from international firms to local employers in a variety of different industries, at its annual fair. The cost ranges from $125 to $350 to participate. 

“Through career fairs, businesses can establish their brand on-campus, meet with potential candidates, and gain a better understanding of our students. Students want to work with companies they know,” Ricca adds. “Strong partnerships between the college and employers often result in a pipeline of intern and full-time talent for the employers.”

The state’s community colleges also frequently host job fairs specifically to connect students with local employers; the County College of Morris (CCM) hosts one fair each semester, which can accommodate up to 70 employers. “We believe it’s our responsibility to provide local talent for local industry in Northern New Jersey … and these events are one way we achieve that mission,” asserts Denise Schmidt, director of career services at CCM. The fairs are organized to incorporate businesses in a variety of industries to provide ample opportunities for students in all majors who are seeking employment. 

“We’re helping the local workforce identify talented, skilled individuals. The primary benefit of these events for employers is to have immediate access to an array of skilled students right here in their backyard,” agrees Dr. Bette Simmons, vice president of student development and enrollment management. “These are students who are being trained for the workforce of today and the future, so for employers to have such direct access to that type of potential talent is always going to be great for their business.” 

While many of the state’s colleges and universities hold various networking events throughout the year, Sharon Rosengart, director of the Career Development Center at William Paterson University, notes that the traditional career fair still proves to be the most popular on-campus recruiting opportunity for employers. “We’ve actively offered networking events for the past several years, but we found that many employers were more interested in one single event … so we returned to the career fair,” Rosengart explains. The university can host about 75 employers at each of its career fairs, which include a variety of industries, from non-profit and government organizations to financial services, sales and retail businesses.

“The career fair really is a one-stop-shop for employers. They can meet current students, graduate students, and alumni, and recruit for positions ranging from internships to full-time openings all in one shot,” adds Victoria Nauta, associate director of employer relations for William Paterson University.

Networking Opportunities at Colleges and Universities

Beyond career fairs, institutions of higher education have recognized the value of fostering more frequent interaction between employers and students as well as offering local businesses the opportunity to develop an ongoing presence on campus. Georgian Court University (GCU) partners with employers as well as local organizations such as the Monmouth-Ocean Development Council to frequently organize events like panel discussions and information sessions at no cost to the employer. “More than 90 percent of our students are from New Jersey, and they want to stay here. So, for local businesses, these events are providing access to students they know are committed to seeking employment in New Jersey,” says Dr. Janice Warner, interim provost and former dean of the GCU School of Business and Digital Media.

 Students in all of the university’s majors are required to pursue internships, which Warner notes is another key factor in connecting students with local industry. “We frequently tell our business partners that providing internship opportunities remains one of the best ways to access our students … and their future employees,” she adds. 

In addition to helping students identify their career paths, craft resumes, and practice interviewing skills, institutions like Ramapo College are partnering with employers to host information sessions, workshops, on-campus interviews, and employer trips as well as an online career management system to connect employers and students. “College career centers want to connect students with employers in the ways that are most convenient for the employer. From virtual information sessions, where employers can share company and career information with students remotely, to on-campus interviews and trips to the employers’ site, career centers want to make it as easy as possible for employers to interact with students,” Ricca explains.

Most colleges and universities also have their own job boards to help employers recruit students to fill available positions. Ramapo College currently has a database of more than 7,000 employers with 4,800 active job and internship opportunities. Forty percent of these opportunities are within a 30-mile radius of New Jersey and New York. Monmouth University’s job board posted more than 3,000 positions last year, and The Career Center at Seton Hall University also maintains an online database which includes thousands of internship and professional job postings. 

“Our employer partners conduct practice interviews and critique students’ resumes as part of our career center’s activities and programming, and we also invite employers to interview at our facility,” says Reesa Greenwald, director of The Career Center at Seton Hall University.

Employers are invited to present to classes, club meetings, and other special events on campus as well as co-teach or serve as keynote/guest lecturers, she adds. “There has been a move by employers toward the virtual interview format, [but we know that] employers are better able to assess ‘soft skills’ of students when they have a conversation in person, and students are able to market their skills and drive the conversation when they’re speaking to a recruiter,” Greenwald says.

While career centers are also still helping students hone their skills in resume writing and interviewing, their approach to helping students land employment has changed dramatically in recent years. According to Gregory Mass, executive director of career development services at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), career services centers at the nation’s colleges and universities have shifted their mission beyond simply attempting to place students in open jobs. “We’re really here to assist students in attaining their original objectives in pursuing higher education in the first place. It will always be our job to equip students for the workplace, but our mission is much more than placing students in jobs,” he says. “Our role is that of connecter, because introducing students to employers, and vice versa, is what we do best.”

NJIT holds two large career fairs each year, hosting more than 200 employers ranging from Fortune 100s to entrepreneurial startups. Mass notes that approximately 15 percent of students report that the jobs they ultimately accept upon graduation began with an introduction to an employer at one of NJIT’s career fairs. 

“Most career centers no longer ‘place’ students; instead, we teach students how to conduct their own job and internship searches,” agrees Joseph Connell, assistant vice president for student success at Ramapo College. “This empowers students with the tools and knowledge they will need for a lifetime of career changes.” College career advisors must also take the time to get to know students personally in order to achieve better success at connecting them with the appropriate employers and job opportunities, he notes.

“Today, if you want help with your resume, a Google search will give you thousands of examples, so if college career centers aren’t constantly striving to find new ways to be relevant in our students’ search for employment, and helping them make sense of it all, then we’re going to be out of business,” Mass concludes.