HMSA pivots to a virtual format for annual career fair

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Health Management Student Association (HMSA) at the USF College of Public Health hosted its 6th annual career fair virtually.

The fair, which is normally a single-day event, was stretched out across a week and held from Feb. 22 to March 1.  

HMSA hosts the fair to connect current graduate students with alumni and other employers. It provides a networking opportunity for students and allows them to learn about possible career paths, internships and job opportunities.

“In order for students and recruiters to have a similar, if not better, experience than an in-person career fair, we had to address a variety of logistical challenges,” said HMSA President Vishal Panchigar, who oversaw the planning of this year’s career fair.

According to Panchigar, rather than hosting all 11 of the health care organizations simultaneously during a two-hour period, each organization was allocated a one-hour time slot for a total of two health care organizations per day.

“In order to prevent students from simultaneously logging on to speak with a recruiter, we requested that students sign up for a 5-minute session. This helped ensure a quality one-on-one interaction between the student and the recruiter, with one of the board members monitoring time and ensuring crowd control,” Panchigar said. “We also provided information about each health care organization to the students beforehand and compiled all the students’ resumes into a standardized format to organize into a resume book that we provided to the recruiters ahead of time.”

Panchigar said that providing this information prior to the sessions gave recruiters a brief understanding of their prospective applicants in advance, allowing for a greater quality interaction between the recruiters and each student.

MHA student Linh Truong (bottom right) speaks with representatives from DAS Health. (Photo courtesy of Panchigar)

“Given the current job market as a result of the pandemic, our initial goal was to host one health care organization per day so students could get a glimpse of the workforce. However, we were able to more than double this goal and host 11 organizations over a six-day period with 120 scheduled slots,” Panchigar said.

The organizations in attendance included Tampa General Hospital, BayCare Health System, Moffitt Cancer Center, Suncoast Community Health Centers, USF Health, the VA Healthcare System, Gastro Florida, Centene, DAS Health, 5 Star Cares and PLG Experience Solutions.

“While I wasn’t looking forward to the virtual, rapid-fire, 5-minute session per student, I found it energizing and engaging,” said Daniel Gregg, chief access officer for USF Health Faculty Practice Plan/USMA. “The facilitators in my session were great at keeping us on time and on track. I appreciated their efforts.”

Gregg said it was important to connect with MHA students to network and provide guidance for their career journey, given the close relationship the USF Health Faculty Practice Plan has with all USF Health’s colleges.

“I absolutely plan to return to future fairs. It’s great to have an opportunity to recruit when my department has open positions, or to connect students with others in my network who parallel their professional interests,” Gregg said.

Daniel Gregg, chief access officer for the USF Health Faculty Practice Plan, speaks with MHA student Ariela Sancho. (Photo courtesy of Panchigar).

“The COVID-19 pandemic not only dramatically altered everyone’s daily routines and lifestyle, but it also negatively impacted the job market and economic activity, locally and globally,” said Panchigar. “It was important to take a proactive approach and ensure continuity of events like this and give students a platform to network and interact with the professional world while maintaining a safe and healthy environment.”

He said coordinating this effort required communicating with the other four student board members within the organization, faculty advisor Dr. Zachary Pruitt, key faculty and staff of the college, student members, alumni and external entities.

“For this career fair to be successful in this new environment, it was important to maintain open communication with all of these stakeholders, to actively listen for feedback, delegate tasks appropriately and support teamwork,” Panchigar said. “It was also important to maintain professionalism by being honest, sticking to your word and supporting others. Recruiters and students were impressed by how smoothly and organized this fair was conducted, and it sets an example for future student leaders to see how they can potentially run career fairs via this format.”

MHA student Erika Domenech Acevedo speaks with a representative from Suncoast Community Health Centers. (Photo courtesy of Panchigar).

“From a personal and professional development standpoint, it was great to see students utilize techniques such as elevator pitches that our student organization presented to members during our professional development seminars last semester and ask very insightful questions to the recruiters,” Panchigar said. “It was also very heartwarming and joyous for me to serve as the president of this student organization, helping other students achieve their dreams of securing a job or internship and to see the recruiters follow up with students for an interview. We started planning this event in October and it was amazing to see it come to fruition and hear the positive feedback from students and the recruiters on the impact this career fair had on them.”

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health