The Super Bowl of Recruiting on College Campuses

By Ray Mizgorski posted 09-21-2017 08:54

by Raymond Mizgorski, Stacy Moore, and Steve Patchin

This is the first in a series of STEM collaboration blogs.

The Fall recruiting season is shaping up to be the strongest and most competitive of the year for STEM-related careers. Of our STEM focused higher education institution cohort, more than 90 percent have indicated fall career fair participation on their campuses is increasing or staying the same as last year’s strong performance. Career fairs on these campuses are the Super Bowl of professional networking and career opportunities, but with them come challenges for faculty, staff, and students at our STEM-focused institutions.

Students’ academic schedules are rigorous, with no official time off given to attend career fairs. “Our students are extremely busy….even coming for a few hours to a career fair can be difficult,” states Judy Fisher at Harvey Mudd College. Faculty are tasked with teaching students complex content needed for career success, often not giving time off to explore those opportunities at career fairs. Patricia Bazrod of Georgia Institute of Technology notes the difficulty for students to engage with all the companies (390) attending their two-day event saying, “We encourage students to download the Simplicity mobile app to do their initial research and review information about the major companies interested in hiring them.”

Additionally, students find it challenging communicating their distinctive set of talents to recruiters. “We work with students to help them develop skills to show how they are unique, allowing them to tell their story,” says Raymond Mizgorski at Carnegie Mellon University.

Other challenges include long lines at recruiting tables and follow up with recruiters. As a result, Missouri University of Science and Technology focuses on programming that helps students navigate the recruiting process, and The Cooper Union career team stresses the value of building a professional network at career fairs.

How to Engage Outside These Recruiting Super Bowls

These challenges, coupled with the competitive nature of STEM jobs, have encouraged schools to become increasingly innovative in strategies to satisfy students’ career needs. One such example includes more informal events where employers and students can meet. Michigan Tech created Industry Days, emphasizing hands-on activities for students. At one such event, GM tore down a transmission and provided food while doing it. Rose Hullman developed specific industry student interest clusters, with focus on finance, automotive, and aerospace. Each allow students to explore current and future careers in these industries, while connecting with recruiters in a less stressful format.

Delaware Valley University students must complete a professional development course prior to participating in the college’s required E360 hands-on experiential learning program. Harvey Mudd conducts a program called “Beyond the Bubble: Life After Harvey Mudd College.” These seminars are hosted by alumni in specific industries that allow students to learn about and engage with professionals in various STEM careers. Colorado School of Mines provides their “Engineering Your Career Path” course, helping students develop tools to pursue their unique interests. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engages their alumni via Evisors, industry professionals that provide students with resume critiques, technical interviewing workshops, and career conversations with alumni in their areas of interest.

Workshops, recruiting tables, tech talks, and information sessions led by recruiters remain a popular outlet for many institutions to connect their students with potential employers. North Carolina State University, Colorado School of Mines, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Capitol Technology University, Harvey Mudd College, Colorado School of Mines, Georgia Institute of Technology, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and The Cooper Union all reference this practice as one connection strategy.

At some universities, recruiters use this strategy in a targeted manner by presenting or setting up as part of a related course or club organization. At Michigan Technological University, Carnegie Mellon, and Montana Tech, recruiters speak in classes about new technology, applications, and how they are being used in industry.

In an effort to provide meaningful connections, some universities are making note of the value of networking opportunities. The Cooper Union specifically encourages employer partners to decrease presentation time in order to increase networking opportunities. Additionally, universities such as Worcester Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina State University, Michigan Technological University, and Delaware Valley University are focusing on industry-specific networking events or career panels.

Employers’ Increasingly Innovative Approaches to Recruiting

The creativity of employers’ university recruitment efforts also continues to increase in pace with university engagement efforts. Company recruiters at Worcester Polytechnic Institute have held coding/tech competitions. At Carnegie Mellon, several companies sponsor events during a set week, such as Boeing week, where a company sets up tents on campus to display products and projects aimed at engaging students as they walk by. At Michigan Technological University, employers have engaged with the university and their students in a variety of innovative ways. Most notably, Ford’s Euchre nights are hosted in the residence halls with cars parked out front to advertise. GM, Ford, and FCA worked with the university to host ride-n-drives through scenic shorelines, boasting a waiting list of students to participate. Mercury Marine also worked with the university to host a boat ride-n-drive up and down the campus shoreline on Portage Lake, powered by dual 300 horsepower Mercury engines. Manufacturing companies brought donuts into labs at 4 a.m. for students working on special projects.

Employers also have started to connect with top talent through the sponsorship of events and scholarships. Delaware Valley University recently developed a sponsorship program to provide employers with increased brand recognition at their job and internship fairs. At Montana Tech, employers sponsored barbecues and department connected events. In addition to sponsored cook-outs, employers recruiting at Rose Hulman Institute of Technology have sponsored programs with diversity initiatives as part of their Diversity Connect and Success Accelerator programs. At Michigan Technological University, Barracuda Networks sponsors a 36-hour hack-a-thon competition, and ArcellorMittal sponsors a video game competition.

The ways employers connect with students continues to evolve. The Cooper Union notes that employers are most effective when combining different activities. At Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, recruiters use a variety of programs such as:  lunch and learns, resume blitz, mock interviews, hack-a-thons, student organization/employer participation, senior design projects, company tours, executive-in-residence series, young alumni outreach, and student ambassadors.

Industries Begin Recruiting STEM Students the Day They Begin Their College Experiences

With the increased competition for qualified candidates upon graduation, both universities and recruiters are becoming more creative in their attempts to engage first- and second-year students. This is seen at the Colorado School of Mines where companies are recruiting approximately 20 percent freshmen and 55-65 percent sophomores. 

In addition to innovative recruitment events, another trend seen across many universities is a rise in companies reaching out to first- and second-year students with early engagement opportunities. Companies feel that connecting with STEM students early grants them access to a larger pool of internship candidates and can increase the interns’ responsibilities each year that they work there. Employers say if they can turn these interns into full-time hires, less training is needed during onboarding.

Steve Patchin, director of career services at Michigan Technological University, states “proactive companies now keep databases of first- and second-year students, sending them messages on their birthdays and personally inviting them to events when the company has representatives on campus.”  Many companies also participate in “Tech Talks” and other presentations to student groups, sponsor company visits (such as Real World Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University), and offer campus programming, such as the E360 experiential learning program at Delaware Valley University.   

In seeing this trend, universities are implementing programming to further nurture these connections. Worcester Polytechnic institute holds a co-op networking night, which focuses on connecting sophomores with employers looking to fill co-op positions. The Career and Professional Development Center at Carnegie Mellon holds a networking event called Jumpstart for freshmen and sophomore students the night before the job fair so that recruiters and alumni can talk with students and promote internship and leadership development programs. Each year several students end up with interviews and internships resulting from this event. At MIT, they open their major career fair for the first half hour to freshman only. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology holds an event called Cook Out on the Quad where representatives from 10 to 15 companies work with freshmen and sophomores on a career fair boot camp. Recruiters help students prepare for all aspects of the upcoming career fair, including resume reviews. 

In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted STEM jobs would grow at an 8.9 percent rate from 2014 to 2024. Surveys of higher education institution members of the STEM coalition have found the labor market's appetite for STEM talent is meeting, if not exceeding, predictions. The change has come in recruiting practices, now focusing more on developing relationships with students, encouraging higher education institutions to develop creative networking programs that also develop the students’ skills desired by industry. Clearly, this is an ever-increasing trend. Recruiters and universities will have to continue to work together to engage the students from day one to prepare them for the opportunities that await them.


Raymond Mizgorski – Carnegie Mellon University 
Stacy Moore – Delaware Valley University
Steve Patchin – Michigan Technology University

Contributing university contacts:

Julie Pittser – Missouri University of Science and Technology 
Judy Fisher – Harvey Mudd College
Sarah Alspaw – Capitol Technology University
Kelly Laraway – North Carolina State University
Deborah Liverman – Massachusettts Institute of Technology
Kevin Hewerdine – Rose Hulman Institute of Technology
Patricia Bazrod – Georgia Institute of Technology 
Jolie Woodson – The Cooper Union
Sarah Raymond – Montana Tech 
Maggie Becker – Worcester Polytechnic Institute 
Jean Manning-Clark – Colorado School of Mines

#STEM #specialpopulations #careerfair