Biopharma Career Fairs Make a Powerful Comeback
Pictured: Business people networking/iStock, Hero Images
During the pandemic, virtual job fairs became a popular option at colleges and universities, both for general recruitment and for the pharmaceutical industry. Virtual fairs not only featured social distancing benefits but cut down on costs and allowed employers to cast a nationwide net for prospective employees. In a period of time when remote work was normal, virtual career fairs seemed like an obvious choice.
In 2021, Handshake, an online college student career platform, projected that 80% of hiring would remain virtual. Indeed, as recently as late last year, the North Carolina Community Colleges training initiative BioNetwork held a virtual job fair that reportedly drew more than 100 students and resulted in 41 interviews and 92 pre-interview screenings. But now, the virtual approach is falling out of style, as college students are eager to return to in-person pharma fairs.
While virtual recruiting events have become more normal since the pandemic, students feel better about their ability to gauge company culture and build relationships when they meet company representatives in person, according to research by Mary Scott, founder of the independent consulting firm Scott Resource Group. In an interview with BioSpace, Scott emphasized that over her 30 years as a recruitment expert, there have been sea changes in how companies recruit, but students’ priorities have held steady. “Personal contact rules,” she said.
Kevin Meli, a PhD candidate in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) program at Harvard University and a co-president of the Harvard Biotech Club, found the same to be true of the club’s annual fair. “Upon returning to in-person fairs last Fall, we saw an impressive increase in both companies attending . . . and student signups,” he told BioSpace by email.
His co-president, Michelle Boisvert, emphasized that there is more benefit to in-person events than just eye contact with recruiters. “I think the main thing that students look to get from participating in career fairs is human interaction with not only company reps, but [also with] other like-minded students from their community.”
Joseph Baker, director of graduate career initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed that career fairs are critical networking events, adding that alumni are often a part of the mix. “Hearing from alumni who share a similar research background can really help to equip students with actionable insights about research skills that are valued in open positions and strategies for successful applications,” he told BioSpace by email.
Playing the Field
Baker pointed out that career fairs also function as information-gathering opportunities, a chance to peruse what’s on the table. This was the case for students at the University of Missouri–St Louis in 2022, when the school allowed in-person career fairs to resume. In an article for UMSL Daily, many biopharma hopefuls expressed surprise at some of the employers present. Seeing representatives from participating organizations actually standing behind tables made students realize that even organizations like the FBI needed pharma experts.
Scott told BioSpace that while large companies might decide that casting a nationwide net on the Internet is a better investment for their needs, career fairs are good places for smaller companies to recruit.
“There’s a distinct difference between early talent and the experienced marketplace,” she said. “For people who are experienced in their careers and have a whole lot of competing interests, [working] from home is very appealing. Students are different.”
Even community colleges like Wake Tech in Cary, North Carolina, are hosting biopharma career fairs to connect students with employers.
Caroline Baker, assistant VP for careers and corporate partnerships at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, told BioSpace that a big part of the success of career fairs has to do with time investment. Students like seeing employers engage in person because it shows that they’re willing to spend effort and resources on their potential employees.
“Recent graduates need face-to-face contact,” Scott said. “It’s how they learn.”
Andy Gooding-Call is a freelance science writer based in Northampton, Massachusetts. Reach him at andygoodingcall.com.