Fall Career Fair organizers look to increase company diversity
MIT students and organizations are looking at making changes to Fall Career Fair, an annual student-organized campus recruiting event, including increasing diversity of companies at the fair, as well as changing the career fair revenue structure. In this feature, we look at the history of the career fair and the long-standing concerns that has led to the current push for reform.
One condition of the agreement governing the Fall Career Fair is that there can be no other student-run career fairs in the fall. In 1999, the administration asked the Graduate Student Council, Society of Women Engineers, and Senior Class Council — which previously held separate career fairs — to merge their fairs. “Back then, it was probably challenging with so many fairs happening all at the same time. Some companies didn’t want to send their representatives here multiple times, so the fairs were competing with each other for the same employer. Students also didn’t know which fair to go to. It was a logistical nightmare,” GECD CF advisor Tamara Menghi said.
However, CF Facilitator Isaiah Borne ’18 clarified a caveat that has not been publicized nor can be found anywhere in writing. “A student group who wants to hold a career fair in the fall can reach out to the GECD and CF Committee. We will let it happen,” Borne said. “We are fine with anything outside the range of Career Fair Week.”
Though the administration ultimately has the power to make decisions, the Fall CF is managed by 12 CF Directors, who are selected by the three partner organizations and the previous year’s CF Directors. Two GECD CF advisors also assist the directors.
The revenue, which typically approaches a million dollars, is distributed among these three organizations. SWE Financial Officer Rebecca Grekin ’19 declined to give its specific percentage. GSC received 42 percent of the revenue in 2017. The Senior Class Council could not be reached for comment.
The career fair is overseen by the Graduate Student Council, Society of Women Engineers, and Senior Class Council. It is governed by an agreement signed every three years by the Dean for Undergraduate Education, Vice President of Student Life, Chancellor for Academic Advancement, Executive Director of Global Education and Career Development, and Dean for Graduate Education, according to the UA Innovation Committee’s Report and Assessment of the 2016 Fall Career Fair.
Students have long expressed concerns about the dominance of Course 6 opportunities, dating back to a 2013 article in The Tech. Zareen Choudhury ’18 told The Tech, “For non-Course 6 majors, Fall CF can be a very disheartening experience because they don’t see the things that they like. If there are things that they like, it’ll be extremely crowded because everyone in their major is there.”
The lack of diversity extends beyond job opportunities to choice of major. “A lot of people get their first impressions about career options from the Fall CF,” Amelie Kharey ’18 told The Tech. “If freshmen don’t know what they want to major in, what’s represented there gives them an idea about the jobs available.”
In March 2016, a group of students that included some UA committee chairs discussed starting an alternative career fair that focused on social good and non-Course 6 opportunities, according to the UA Innovation Committee’s Report and Assessment of the 2016 Fall CF.
In April 2016, then UA President Matthew Davis ’16 charged the UA Innovation Committee to observe and suggest recommendations about the planning of the 2016 Fall CF.
In June 2017, then UA President Sophia Liu ’17 wrote an op-ed in The Tech criticizing Fall CF’s revenue structure. Because the three partner organizations get most or all of their budget from the fair revenue, “monetary incentives skew CF towards Course 6,” Liu wrote. Liu quoted a 2016 CF director who said, “The issue is we could get more non-Course 6 companies, but we would have to lower the price [for company admission to the fair], and the student groups who get a ton of money don't want that."
Liu recommended that the revenue go into the General Institute Budget, a source distributed by MIT, instead of only the GSC, SWE, and Senior Class Council. This would allow all members of the MIT community to benefit. “In an event that profits off of MIT students in such a prohibitive way (no other [student-run] career fairs are allowed [in the fall]), the revenue must go back to serve those whom were underserved,” Liu wrote.
Diversity: Recent Initiatives
In recent years, the administration, the three partner organizations, and the Fall CF directors have increased efforts to recruit companies from underrepresented majors. In the summer of 2016, the GSC e-mailed a survey to all graduate students, which was later forwarded to undergraduate students, asking which companies students wanted to see at the fair, according to GSC Secretary Orpheus Chatzivasileiou G. MIT Institutional Research and the GECD also e-mailed out a Career Exploration Survey over IAP 2017.
Based on the results of the GECD survey, the CF directors identified the underrepresented majors, which included Courses 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 20, 21, and 22. In July 2017, Fall CF Director of Employer Relations Drew Weibel G collaborated with the GECD to compile a list of 450 companies that students had specified in the survey that they were interested in seeing.
Weibel recruited 25 student volunteers to call and e-mail each of those companies. According to Weibel, they were able to get in contact with about 85 percent of the companies that students were interested in. “Our plan for the future is to do it earlier in the year, like in February or March instead of July,” Weibel said.
The Fall CF also offered discounted prices for startups, nonprofits, and special interest companies. According to the 2017 Fall CF website, the Copper sponsorship tier cost $1,250, which was for a regular booth location. In comparison, the Start-up/Non-profit tier price was $500 (with the option to request reimbursement for accommodation and travel expenses up to $500) for a designated location with increased student traffic.
Meanwhile, special interest companies had to be primarily hiring from specific majors. They were given priority booth location within their tier, higher priority to host information sessions or coffee chats, and other benefits.
Diversity: Comparison to the GECD Spring CF
The Fall CF is open to any company who wants to attend. “There has never been an issue where we had turn away companies,” Weibel said. “We had about 400 companies attend this year, and we have room for 450.”
In contrast, the GECD-organized Spring CF carefully selects which companies get to attend. The Spring CF Committee, composed of GECD representatives, examines each company for a variety of factors, including what student years and courses they are looking to recruit, according to the GECD Assistant Director of Employer Relations Mike Ahern, who co-leads the Spring CF Committee.
“We don’t accept everyone that gets back to us in that mass email,” Ahern said. “We divvy the companies up so there’s even or at least good representation of each. The main focus for Course 6 is not to have too many.”
Chatzivasileiou viewed the selection process differently. “The idea of Fall CF is to have as many options as possible. We are always reaching to new companies, and we haven’t made the decision to exclude anyone,” Chatzivasileiou said.
Diversity: Future Initiatives
Though the Fall CF directors have been more active in recruiting companies from underrepresented majors, students still feel that the fair is too Course 6-heavy. “Some companies who seemed like they wanted Course 20 only wanted Course 6,” Max Freitas ’19 said. “At the 2016 Fall CF, one biotech company that I talked to ended up only wanting a Course 6 student to program. I don’t really see many changes in the fair from year to year.”
Chatzivasileiou acknowledged that work still has to be done. “We have to educate companies about what skills students have outside their major. For example, a very large percentage of students can do basic coding. Companies should hire for skillsets as opposed to specific majors,” Chatzivasileiou said.
This year, Course 20 faculty invited 20 to 30 freshmen to its Course 20 Career Expo for the first time, according to an email written by Professor Linda Griffith. “Even a small pilot, with 20-30 carefully-selected freshmen, could potentially create “buzz” about Course 20, as the freshmen will talk to their friends, dorm mates, etc. This could potentially have an impact on selection of majors,” Griffith wrote.
Career Fair Funding
According to the 2017 Fall CF website, the Platinum tier, the highest sponsorship level which included a full-page ad in the fair booklet and a custom booth location, costed $18,000. All 4 of this fall’s Platinum sponsors were software and Course 6-geared companies: Ab Initio Software, MOTU, Rev, and Oracle. That was followed by the Gold, Silver, and Bronze tiers, priced at $9,000, $6,000, and $3,000 respectively. More than 75 percent of the Gold sponsorship companies were software or trading companies seeking largely Course 6 students and skills. The Copper sponsorship, which only covered an available booth, was $1,250.
In comparison, the 2017 Spring CF costed $600 per booth. They also offered additional discounts for non-profits and start-ups.
Some students dislike the benefits that the higher level sponsorship tiers receive. Kharey said, “Companies should not be allowed to have giant displays. It’s not fair to give them so much room to advertise. It’s one of the factors that leads people to think that CS is where all the money and opportunities are.”
In October, Vice President and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson began meeting with GSC, SWE, and the Senior Class Council representatives to discuss decoupling the Fall CF revenue from the organizations’ budgets. “The idea is that the revenue would instead go into a big pot that all student groups will get their money from,” Grekin, SWE Financial Officer, said.
One of the reasons for decoupling is to make the funding of the three partner organizations independent of the Fall CF revenue, which varies each year. “The revenue depends on how many companies attend, and it’s hard to innovate to improve representation of majors if student organization budgets are concerned,” UA President Sarah Melvin ’18 said.
The decoupling would allow the CF directors to lower the sponsorship tier prices. “As of now, the more money you pay gets you a better booth location. But with the decoupling, all companies can pay the same amount of money and we can put them wherever we want,” CF Career Hack Director and UA Secretary Kathryn Jiang ’20 said. “We can highlight smaller companies that historically haven’t gotten as much traffic.”
A consequence of decoupling is that SWE would get have a smaller budget, according to Grekin. However, the GSC’s budget would remain the same. In 2017, it got 42 percent of the Fall CF revenue, and this comprised 67 percent of its total budget.
Career Development at MIT
This year, the Fall CF directors added more programs to help students explore career options. There was a passport event to encourage students to talk to companies in different industries, as well as “Me in the Future” events co-organized with several MIT offices to provide tips for career exploration and networking. Freshmen and volunteers were also permitted early access to the fair.
However, “there is a perception of the Fall CF being the only way to find a job. That’s not true. The question is, how do we better communicate to students what the other opportunities are?” Chatzivasileiou said.
The GECD has been “focusing on informing students about careers that they might not realize could be a good fit,” Menghi said. Infinite Careers is one such collaboration between GECD and the MIT Alumni Association that is about “alumni who left the Institute with one path and ended up down another with very unique and unexpected careers that students may not necessarily think about.”
Furthermore, Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz is currently in the process of creating a Career Development Working Group. “My objective is to look broadly at the services we provide to allow students to explore different careers, and identify different job and internship opportunities,” Waitz said. He aims to identify the participants in December and launch the working group in January.
Efforts to expand career development at MIT are ongoing, and the Fall CF is only a part of it. According to the 2016 GECD Graduating Student Survey Report, 33.8% of undergraduates and 4.5% of masters students found their jobs through Career Fair. Other ways students found jobs were by networking, internships leading to job offers, and directly applying to the employer.
“Think about Fall CF as the start to your career search journey,” Weibel said. “Not getting a job at the fair doesn’t meant that you won’t be able to find a job. It should only be a learning experience that encourages students to look into what they want to do."