Collaboration sparks new and improved career preparation initiatives
December 3, 2019
Today’s graduates need much more than a strong academic background to land their first jobs and be successful in the workplace, so staff and faculty in the college are working together and connecting with industry partners to prepare career-ready young professionals.
One ongoing effort is the college’s annual career fair and accompanying networking reception. When John Freeborn, director of employer relations, was hired in May of this year, he knew that planning these events would be one of his first priorities, as they represent established and essential ways for connecting students and employers.
“They [students] get to see what is out there in the field, including opportunities they may not be aware of.”
—John Freeborn, director of employer relations
With a new sense of purpose and fresh ideas in hand, Freeborn set on a course to grow these events by reaching out to contacts within and outside the college. For example, he made phone calls to all previous fair attendees and updated and expanded the invitation list to ensure participation by a deeper and wider pool of organizations.
These efforts, in addition to an improved social media and web presence, have already proved fruitful. Career fair attendance was up 22% among employers this year, as 45 organizations and more than 100 representatives connected with over 400 students.
All this effort is time well-spent. For students, the career fair is a chance to talk with a variety of businesses and nonprofits about what they do, what kind of jobs are available, and what they are looking for in a potential employee. “They get to see what is out there in the field, including opportunities they may not be aware of,” Freeborn said.
For employers, the event is about recruiting future employees as well as showcasing their organizations for the larger university community. According to alumnus Adam Warf (’09 B.S. forestry), director of new business development at ECI-Environmental Consultants, “We are always seeking to hire talented individuals to join our rapidly growing company. Virginia Tech breeds extremely smart, motivated, and innovative young professionals, and attending these events to tell our company’s story helps attract the exact individuals we need to join our team to ensure future success.”
Just as important as the career fair is the networking reception that takes place the night before, providing a larger playing field for an innovative approach to recruitment. Last year, Director of Alumni Relations Corrine Woods proposed a new way to add some excitement and career-readiness practice to this event: speed networking. It’s like speed dating in that employers are stationed at tables and students rotate among them, each getting approximately three minutes to deliver their “elevator” speech and make a memorable impression.
In addition to being an opportunity for students to develop and display their communication skills, the networking reception also allows them to cross another hurdle in the job search by just putting themselves out there. According to Freeborn, students attending the event learn that it’s OK to be a little uncomfortable, but that employers really do want to talk with and learn about them.
These events represent just the start of some new career-ready initiatives. Freeborn’s message to alumni who are interested in recruiting CNRE students is to reach out and connect: “We want to engage with you, whether it is through the career fair, a campus visit, or some other option.”
One of those options includes offering more opportunities for a presence at Virginia Tech. In September, a team from Weyerhaeuser spent two days on campus — networking with students, presenting a guest lecture, discussing faculty research opportunities, and conducting job interviews. Freeborn hopes to invite other companies to campus on a regular basis.
In addition, Freeborn and Woods are also working with alumna Megan Schnizler (’12 B.A. geography) of Richmond International Forest Products to pilot a new experiential learning opportunity: an immersive experience. Think of it as an internship on steroids, where students spend two days on site learning about a company’s business and culture, and the teamwork, customer service, and other skills needed for success in that particular industry and organization.
Dean Paul Winistorfer summarizes the value of these new programs: “We have to do more to connect our students to employers for experiences outside the traditional classroom. We also have to do more to connect our employers to our students to build the talent pipeline for a global economy.”
Winistorfer hopes that the initial immersive experience program will be the first of many. “Having John Freeborn on our staff dedicated to this purpose each and every day will yield results that are impactful for everyone. I’m excited about this new initiative as a possible innovative model of broader scale moving forward.”