|Conducting Career & Job Fairs|
On a somewhat larger scale than a workshop series, a career fair or symposium is a chance for postdocs to interact one-on-one with potential employers, and gather information directly from them as to the requirements for future and currently-available positions. They can also be organised in conjunction with sessions offered in a workshop-style format. Using this format, postdocs get a chance to discuss aspects of their future careers, and gather information about the skills required to succeed. This type of symposium generally lasts half a day to a day, which allows time for a break and refreshments for both attendees and speakers. This section of the toolkit offers guidance on:
When planning a career symposium, the first issue to be addressed is its format. The most common format is for a series of exhibition booths, hosted by representatives from companies, institutions and other groups, often with literature available, to provide information on careers and future opportunities. One feature an institution may wish to consider is whether there will be opportunities for companies to collect resumes (ie will there be job openings available), or whether the symposium is intended to provide only career guidance. In the specific cases of pharmaceutical or industrial companies, a recruitment drive versus a career guidance event may mean that a different representative of the company will be present as an exhibitor. When planning a recruiting drive style of career fair, there are many undergraduate and graduate school models to work from, and several good sources of information, contacts and potential exhibitors:
Science Magazine typically sponsors two career fairs per year. Details can be found at http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/meetings
The sponsoring institution should determine whether there will only be exhibitors and recruiters, or whether the symposium can be held in conjunction with a series of discussion forums/workshops. These could consist of either plenary (of general interest to all attendees) or breakout style sessions (specific issues that will be of interest to a fraction of the attendees), or both during a symposium. In addition, a single speaker could host these sessions, or alternatively several could be involved in a panel discussion about their specialist topic. Such a career symposium for biomedical scientists is held every two years at NYU School of Medicine, for New York City area graduate students and postdocs:
This section is intended to provide an outline of the factors to consider when planning and running a career symposium or job fair. It covers many of the organizational aspects, as well as hints and tips for keeping everything on schedule, whatever the size of event an institution may be hosting. For some back-up advice, there is a useful pair of articles in Science’s Next Wave about organizing career development workshops, as much of the advice (while on a smaller scale) is very relevant.
A useful checklist of the steps and timeline for planning a conference or career fair, distributed as part of a 2006 NPA Annual Meeting workshop, can be downloaded here: Conference and Event Planning Checklist.
As early as possible, the sponsoring institution should solicit interest and support from colleagues and departments internally, as well as other institutions and local organizations that may have a vested interest in this type of event. This will help with two things: firstly, a well-planned budget can be put together for the event if more supporting groups are involved from the start, and there may be more choices from which to select an appropriate venue for the projected number of attendees.
An outline sketch of the topics to be addressed should be decided at the outset. Once this has been addressed, then a list of potential invitees can be put together, both for booth exhibits and for possible speakers. Help can be solicited from many sources for invitees; a panel discussion with people from different organizations, perspectives and backgrounds can give a lot more constructive information to the audience.
Workshop topics of specific interest:
These types of workshops can proceed smoothly when presented by two or three speakers from different organizations or companies, giving a ten-to-fifteen minute presentation, followed by a panel discussion involving the audience.
Coordinating the best speakers, particularly if they are traveling some distance, will take some advance notice. For a large career fair (500+ projected attendees), five to six months ahead of time is a reasonable time frame to work with for these early steps.
Get help! Form an organizational committee, with administrators and postdoc members. It is helpful to designate people to take charge of various aspects such as contact information, confirmed speakers and notes from meetings. On the day of the event, these people can serve as well-trained volunteers, to assist with setting-up, and be on hand to answer a lot of the simple but inevitable questions.
Defining a budget is very important, and will depend upon what type of career fair is envisioned. For a small job fair consisting of exhibitor booths, and minimal refreshments, targeted at a single institution’s postdocs, the cost requirements can be quite low, and within the range of the host institution’s budget. Alternatively, for a full-day symposium requiring speaker travel reimbursements and lunch for up to 1000 registrants, hosting a career fair could cost in the range of $20-30,000.
For the latter style of career symposium, it is essential to solicit sponsorship and support from other sources. Other local institutions with postdoc associations, offices and/or graduate programs can be willing to support these events, so that their students and postdocs can participate, and should be approached to donate matching funds. Some companies and organizations can also be a source of financial support, depending upon their potential return for a recruiting drive, for example. Another source of support are commercial vendors, or suppliers of materials to the institution. Company representatives are often willing to co-sponsor an event, in return for an advertising opportunity for a new product at an exhibition booth.
Those career symposia with invited guest panelists and speakers will also need to budget for travel reimbursements, and for some career fairs a fine line may have to be drawn as to who can be reimbursed. Those speakers who are deemed “key” to the success of the symposium, or coming from outside the local area, should be given priority for reimbursement, but locally-based speakers may be entirely on a voluntary basis.
Registration and Advertising:
One month to go and counting:
These guidelines may sound like a lot of work, but this level of effort will result in many fewer headaches closer to the day, and the event itself will run much more smoothly. This will increase the level of satisfaction of the attendees, the speakers and exhibitors, the administration of the host institution, and any event co-sponsors. This will all translate into their willingness to be involved in repeat events, and the professional reputation of the host institution.