The Career Fair has had an emphasis on technical jobs in the past, but Career Services is working to fix the problem.
Special to Mustang News
Nearly 200 companies descended on the Recreation Center earlier this year for networking and interviews with Cal Poly students. For many of them, the Fall Career Fair was highly appreciated. For others, however, it was hardly useful.
Absent from the floor were non-technical jobs in arts, humanities and science, relevant to the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) and the College of Science and Math (COSAM). Overwhelmingly represented at the fairs, though, were the engineering, agriculture, architecture and business sectors.
This disparity is often perceived by students as prejudice or even favoritism on the part of Cal Poly Career Services.
“In my experience, there is absolutely a bias,” said mechanical engineering sophomore Julia Hall, who already has three internship offers for this coming summer. “Many of my roommates and peers have not been entirely satisfied with the university’s professional development offerings.”
Art and design sophomore Sarah Ching, found at the most recent fair that there was “maybe one thing that I could have possibly been able to take part in. That was kind of a bummer since I felt like there was nothing for me.”
Career Services does not dispute there is a problem, and has been working to address it for years.
“I feel like our career fairs have a pretty predictable demographic to them, and there are lots of reasons why that’s true,” Charlotte Rinaldi, a counselor in Career Services who has represented CLA for thirteen years, said. “It’s not something that we get to talk about a lot, but it’s definitely frustrating.”
A difficult situation
Some colleges at Cal Poly have a more prestigious reputation.
“Cal Poly historically is the school of choice for engineering, architecture, business (and agriculture),” Rinaldi said.
That attracts recruiters.
Another factor is the companies that are recruiting.
Large companies that hire hundreds of employees every year and local companies are the two employers that normally recruit at a university, Rinaldi said.
These large companies favor technical industries because the relevant positions are clear-cut and objective, and they come in bulk. This makes a trip to San Luis Obispo very lucrative for companies such as Boeing or Microsoft, who typically continue dialogue with many students for several positions, Rinaldi said.
Non-technical industries appealing to liberal arts students typically hire for a single, open position as it becomes available. Instead of searching for employees, job candidates come to them, which makes a journey to San Luis Obispo further out of the way.
The Graduate Status Report, compiled annually by Career Services, shows CLA graduates working for many different companies, while engineering companies tend to have hired multiple graduates.
“When recruiters come (to fairs), say from Google, we know that they have a ton of positions liberal arts students could fill,” Rinaldi said. “The catch is their recruiters are field-focused. They’ll send technical recruiters — they won’t send HR generalists. It drives us crazy.”
Working against the current
Career Services has been fighting to bring more diverse job opportunities, but it’s a difficult task.
“We have to get creative,” said Zoe Sullivan, a graduate intern for Career Services.
In the past, Career Services attempted to design a government and education job fair for CLA students, organized by Rinaldi and an intern dedicated to the project. Despite the effort, a small number of employers — approximately 30 — were met by an even smaller number of students.
It was disheartening, Rinaldi said
Since then, Career Services is approaching the problem differently. They are working to increase opportunities within its own systems, which include MustangJOBS, career fairs, networking events and employer visits.
A job developer was hired this year, and is responsible for creating opportunities in the arts, humanities and sciences.
Because of budgetary limitations, Career Services’ recruiting staff can barely handle the recruiters already searching for Cal Poly students, Rinaldi said, and the job developer is directly addressing this problem. The position was made possible by funds from the Student Success Fee and from money Career Services raised on its own.
Martin Shibata, director of Career Services and the driving force behind their new effort, acknowledged the need for funding in tackling the problem, he said.
“We are committed to doing something better for CLA and COSAM,” he said. “If you want to tell Student Success Fee money to give us more, we’ll take more.”
Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong is fully invested in helping students in non-technical majors, Rinaldi said.
“I’ve been at Cal Poly for 17 years, and this is the most interested in career success our administration has been,” Rinaldi said.
The state’s squeezing of public education budgets, however, has restricted the administration’s ability to effectively fund Career Services, she added.
A two-sided problem
While Career Services and the administration work on top-down strategies for improving career opportunities for CLA and COSAM, students have other bottom-up avenues for success.
These routes are often under-used by students. Career Services has numerous methods of advertising itself, particularly to freshmen, but many students don’t realize what they have to offer.
“It kills us to hear a senior student say they didn’t know they had a career counselor,” Rinaldi said. “I don’t know how that’s possible, but they really don’t.”
That was evident at the government and education job fair.
“Students didn’t come,” Rinaldi said. “We had eight social science students.”
Career Services offers an array of services to students who are willing to engage, including MustangJOBS, employer panels, résumé building workshops and interview tips.
All these services can be found on the Career Services’ website.
Rinaldi recommends CLA and COSAM students struggling with job-hunting to grow their networks and “be really intentional about the kind of position or role (they) want to play … and get into what (they) really want to do.”