Job Fair Draws Employers Looking to Diversify Their Workforces

October 28, 2008

October 28, 2008 — Approximately 150 potential employers at the 25th annual Diversity Career Day showed students that jobs are out there, even in an economic downturn.

About 1,300 students — from U.Va. and 28 other schools in the state, including Virginia Military Institute and Radford University — attended the largest employment fair at the University of Virginia, held Tuesday at the John Paul Jones Arena.

Twenty students from Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C., participated in an orientation and met with Dr. Marcus Martin, U.Va.'s associate vice president for diversity and equity, to discuss medical careers.

"The fair is open to students of all majors," said Barbara Hampton, associate director of employer services for the University. "Our goal is to connect students with employers who are trying to build diverse work forces."

The event, sponsored this year by the Central Intelligence Agency, Master Card and the Computer Science Corporation of the North American Sector, attracted a mix of private companies, non-profits and government agencies from around the Commonwealth, as well as Washington, D.C., New York City and Atlanta. The list included the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Customs Service, Wells Fargo Financial, Belk department stores and Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

"The attendance of government agencies has gone up because they are trying to replace a retiring work force," Hampton said.

"We're looking for students with strong language skills," said a CIA representative who asked not to be named. "Right now our critical needs are Mandarin, Cantonese and Arabic."

The CIA has between 90 and 100 job categories, she said, including accounting, human resources, finance, medicine and law.

Nearby, Russ Johnson of Wells Fargo Financial — which recently purchased Wachovia — said his firm is seeking business majors for its sales force.

It is harder to recruit for the financial industry during a market downturn, he said. "Two years ago I could hire anybody with a warm smile. Now I need somebody who is assertive, competitive and knowledgeable about our product."

While Wells Fargo has not recruited at U.Va. before, about 90 of the employers were repeats from previous years.

"A few may have canceled because they are not sure of their employment needs, but these companies and agencies also have their own cycles of when they need employees," Hampton said.

The University's own College Guides program was recruiting at the fair. Program director Keith Roots said most of his current guides are from the College of Arts & Sciences and he wanted to expand that to other schools.

"We're looking for students who have a dedication to public service and who are interested in education," he said.

The companies were not arranged in a particular order at the arena, and Hampton said she did not want them clustered by field.

"We didn't want four accounting firms right next to each other and have a student give the same 30-second pitch to each one," she said.

Choice spots were given to sponsors and companies that were expected to draw crowds. Students could shop around, seeing what each company had to offer, or target specific ones.

"Students were encouraged to put together a list of the companies they wanted to visit," Hampton said. "But some of them may not know who they want to talk to."

First-year McIntire School of Commerce graduate student Phi Trinh, who was looking for marketing jobs, was impressed with the variety of potential employers.

"It is nice to have the employers in one place," said Robert O'Connell, a first-year graduate business student who attended with Trinh. O'Connell was window shopping, seeing what was available.

Some companies and agencies interviewed candidates on the spot Tuesday, and others planned to stay overnight to conduct interviews. Hampton said many of the students were looking for summer internships and ways to expand their experience.

"That is why we have made the event as broad as possible," she said. "We want to meet the needs of more students."

While some students may have fewer job offers to sift through, Hampton said they are still being selective.

"They may be accepting offers more quickly, but there is no panic," she said.

— By Matt Kelly