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Networking continues virtually with annual Hospitality Career Expo despite challenges

By Ethereal Reyes, Mar. 2, 2021

This year’s Hospitality Career Expo, held on Feb. 16, was the first to be held virtually. The Career Center and the Collins College of Hospitality planned the event with special efforts to make it as lively as possible, despite obstacles and fewer firm participants that came with the pandemic.

Last year, the Hospitality Career Expo was held at the Kellogg West Hotel and Conference Center with nearly 175 recruiters from 80 of the nation’s leading hospitality firms and 500 students and alumni looking for recruitment. This year, 31 hospitality firms attended.

“Hospitality is the hardest hit out of any industry in the pandemic,” said Ann Lara, the Career Services Coordinator. “During the 2009 recession, the last time the world crashed, we only had 30 companies come, so my personal goal was to get more companies than that.”

Ethereal Reyes | The Poly Post

According to a 2020 report from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, the accommodation and food services industry in the state declined in employment by 26% from February to September.

Lara recognized the anxiety that comes with searching for a job during these uncertain times but still believes that career-centered events can give students and alumni professional opportunities.

“It’s very hard for companies to forecast what their needs are in the future, but we’re encouraging students to make those relationships with recruiters now,” Lara said. “Even if they may not be hiring, they might be next month, and they won’t have time to post a job and wait 10 days; they just want to open up a file in their computer, see what resumes they have and reach out to those folks so the process can be quick.”

The Hospitality Career Expo was hosted through Handshake, Cal Poly Pomona’s student job portal. Handshake’s virtual meeting offers both video and text chat features.

The event consisted of 30-minute group sessions where recruiters presented their companies with 10-minute one-on-one sessions where students and alumni talked to recruiters privately.

Caelyn Oei, a fourth-year hospitality management student, said that this year’s Hospitality Expo was a positive experience, but that limitations of virtual made the process more challenging.

“You couldn’t see everyone who was in the call because it only showed the person who was speaking,” Oei said. “I wish it had been gallery mode so you could see everyone and interact even if it was just through facial expressions.”

Lara recognized that some students were nervous and doubted themselves more with virtual networking.

“The advice I usually give students is to pretend like they are putting on a costume – like here’s my brave, confident mask,” Lara said. “You put that on for the interview or networking event

and become that character and person that is confident in their speech, work experience, skills, abilities and knowledge.”

Lara is still implementing the expo’s “Best of the Best” tradition virtually, in which recruiters pick two students to be featured on the Wall of Stars webpage.

“There are things that can be worked on, but it was the first time, so it’s a learning experience,” Oei said. “Even though I won’t be here next year, I think having a virtual mode on top of the physical mode will be beneficial for people.”

Tom Munnerlyn, the director of the Career Center, wants students to take advantage of resources offered by the center.

“Hopefully, students can know they are not limited to their major for career events, and that any of the workshops we offer are open to attend,” Munnerlyn said.

Lara is hopeful for the day when more students can experience in-person career events. In the meantime, the Career Center is working hard to make its virtual events and workshops as lively as possible.

“I’ve had to use every function on Zoom that exists, and I didn’t realize how intense it was going to be to try to replicate events online,” said Lara. “With experience, we are becoming better at modifying our events and finding ways to offer them digitally.”

For more information regarding the Career Center, students can visit its website.

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