Biopharma Career Fairs Stage a Remarkable Revival: Get Ready for the Excitement!

Amid the pandemic, the rise of virtual job fairs was nothing short of a game-changer, especially in the realm of higher education and the pharmaceutical industry. These digital gatherings not only offered the convenience of social distancing but also slashed costs and allowed employers to tap into talent pools from coast to coast. In an era when remote work was the norm, virtual career fairs emerged as an obvious solution.

In 2021, Handshake, the online platform connecting college students with career opportunities, predicted that a whopping 80% of hiring would stay virtual. Just last year, the BioNetwork, a training initiative by North Carolina Community Colleges, hosted a virtual job fair that attracted over 100 students. This event resulted in a remarkable 41 interviews and a whopping 92 pre-interview screenings. However, the winds of change are blowing, and the once-popular virtual approach is now taking a backseat as college students eagerly embrace the return of in-person pharma fairs.

Networking Opportunities

In the era of virtual recruiting events that gained prominence during the pandemic, one truth remains steadfast: students thrive on personal connections when exploring company culture and forging relationships. According to research conducted by Mary Scott, the founder of Scott Resource Group, who boasts over 30 years of experience as a recruitment expert, the dynamics of recruiting have evolved significantly. However, the unshakable priority for students has always been the power of personal contact.

Kevin Meli, a PhD candidate in Harvard University’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) program and co-president of the Harvard Biotech Club, echoes this sentiment. He witnessed a remarkable transformation when the club’s annual fair returned to in-person interactions last fall. As he shared with BioSpace via email, both companies’ participation and student signups saw impressive upticks.

Michelle Boisvert, Meli’s co-president, emphasizes that in-person events offer more than just eye contact with recruiters. She believes that the true essence lies in the human interaction experienced by students as they engage not only with company representatives but also with like-minded peers from their community.

Joseph Baker, the director of graduate career initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, underscores the critical role of career fairs as networking opportunities, often featuring influential alumni. In an email to BioSpace, he highlighted the value of alumni insights, which equip students with actionable knowledge about research skills valued in job openings and strategies for successful applications.

Playing the Field

Joseph Baker emphasized that career fairs serve as invaluable opportunities for gathering information, allowing attendees to explore the landscape of opportunities available to them. In 2022, the University of Missouri–St Louis reopened its doors to in-person career fairs, sparking astonishment among biopharma aspirants. An article in UMSL Daily captured their surprise as they encountered a diverse array of employers. The presence of representatives from organizations, even unexpected ones like the FBI, standing behind tables, revealed the far-reaching demand for pharmaceutical expertise.

Mary Scott, speaking with BioSpace, shed light on the contrasting needs of large and small companies. While larger corporations may find nationwide online searches more cost-effective, career fairs remain the treasure trove for smaller enterprises seeking fresh talent.

Scott articulated the essential distinction between early career talent and seasoned professionals, noting that working from home might hold appeal for experienced individuals with numerous commitments, but students yearn for something different.

Even community colleges like Wake Tech in Cary, North Carolina, are jumping on the bandwagon, organizing biopharma career fairs to bridge students with potential employers.

Caroline Baker, the Assistant VP for Careers and Corporate Partnerships at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, underscored the role of time investment in the success of career fairs. In-person engagement from employers resonates with students, signaling a willingness to invest effort and resources in future employees.

Scott concluded with a poignant observation: “Recent graduates crave face-to-face contact; it’s how they learn.”

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