Opinion guest column

Monetary incentives skew Career Fair towards Course 6

The flaw in the Career Fair business model is a problem that you should care about

The Career Fair (CF) must be managed by an organization motivated by a mission to serve the entire undergraduate population and not rooted in monetary incentives. In doing so, CF will be better aligned with the professional development needs of MIT undergraduates.

If MIT wants its students to truly serve the world, it must provide the tools and talents for students to propel themselves along their professional pathway. The Undergraduate Association (UA) must think about how undergraduates are currently served by professional development resources on campus and what changes need to be made to improve access. MIT students often complain that they struggle to find resources targeted toward their specific career interests, and this problem is apparent in the company representation at the annual Fall Career Fair. 

The Fall CF is run by three partner organizations: the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Senior Class Council, and the Graduate Student Council (GSC). At present, this structure leaves a number of undergraduate students underrepresented and raises questions over how monetary incentives for these organizations influences the planning of CF and why their agreement prohibits all other career fair events. Each of these partner organizations is tasked with first, selecting CF directors from across campus who do the majority of the planning, and second, advising on changes to advance student professional development. The revenue of CF, which typically approaches a million dollars, is then distributed amongst the partner organizations’ operating budgets. After a surplus of concerns from unsatisfied undergraduates over the past two career fairs, the UA Innovation Committee began working to improve CF, and a report is now available on the UA’s website elucidating its findings and recommendations. 

This document, led by Innovation Committee members Shirin Shivaei (‘17) and Tiffany Yeh (‘17), reports a few concerning items indicating that the underrepresentation of groups in planning yields negative effects. Shivaei and Yeh recount that attempts to collaborate were unwelcome. The partners initially denied the UA’s request to have access to planning documents. After agreeing to send bi-weekly updates at the beginning of the summer, this communication only happened once.

Without undergraduate partners’ feedback, misunderstandings are bound to happen. While we have heard positive comments on the GSC’s management of CF, the concerns over undergraduate management and representation are legitimate. In a recent discussion, an undergraduate CF director said, “The issue is we could get more non course 6 companies, but we would have to lower the price, and the student groups who get a ton of money don't want that."

The profit structure of CF raises serious questions and concerns over the unequal distribution of funds on our campus. How do we tell students that there isn’t enough money for professional development on campus when SWE is receiving a budget that is over ten times the size of Graduate Women at MIT’s budget? Why are other undergraduate professional development groups, such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers or the National Society of Black Engineers, not only prohibited from planning career fairs in the Fall because of this agreement but also subjected to significantly smaller budgets for professional development? If we are only allowing one career fair in the Fall for the purpose of optimizing employer interactions (many companies can only send recruiters once a year, and having many career fairs would make it more difficult for students and employers), shouldn’t the organizations in charge of advising career fair take a more proactive role, be most representative of all students, and actively engage all professional development organizations on campus?

Most important is understanding the principle behind monetizing CF. There is no fundamental issue with neither monetizing CF nor optimizing for revenue (often meaning that the Fall CF is Course 6 heavy), so long as that revenue goes back to serve all students’ professional development (especially those in underserved majors.) In an event that profits off of MIT students in such a prohibitive way (no other career fairs are allowed), the revenues must go back to serve those whom were underserved. The partners should, instead, receive their funding from the General Institute Budget, a source distributed by MIT. This would not only be an improvement for students in terms of their professional development but also provide a more stable source of revenue than CF revenue. Alternatively, MIT’s class council systems could move to one of taxing via class dues, similar to other universities, where each class sets the dues that they want to pay for their events. Such a system would promote more diverse programming and reasonable fees. 

How many times have you wanted more resources for your professional development on campus? Have you planned on attending a conference, competition, or poster presentation, but found yourself without any resources to do so? If you represent a student group, have you struggled to find funding to hold your own professional development events to increase the diversity of companies recruiting on campus? 

The revenue from the career fair should be set aside as a large professional development fund, to which any student, student group, or member of the MIT community can apply to for the purpose of furthering student professional development at MIT. Applications would be reviewed by a representative structure governed by students, including members from the UA, GSC, and any other professional development group on campus (SWE, HSPE, NSBE, etc.). This body would lift the prohibition on career fairs in the Fall and coordinate all career events to optimize both employer communications and the student experience.

Rethinking CF is an ongoing conversation, and we invite you to ask us questions, voice your concerns, and get involved. Look forward to hearing more from us and important next steps!

Sophia Liu 2017 is a former UA President.