BGSU Career Center achieves record-breaking employer engagement, job opportunities amid pandemic
By Pete Fairbairn
The Bowling Green State University Career Center anticipated that some employers may not be able to offer immediate career opportunities due to budget cuts, layoffs, and other factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response, the team came up with a new way to more fully leverage the capabilities of Handshake — the University’s recruitment platform.
Always striving to engage, educate and empower students and alumni to achieve their individual career and life goals, beginning in March 2020, the Career Center decided to follow a new and more proactive approach. This not only pushed back negative expectations within the pandemic economy but managed to achieve record levels of employer engagement and job opportunities.
How Handshake works
In 2018, BGSU switched from the previous CRM to Handshake — the nation’s preeminent job recruitment platform. At that time, most of the University’s employer partners migrated over to Handshake, and the center has continued to add new employers by the thousands each year, thus expanding the platform’s reach for our community.
Handshake provides opportunities for BGSU students and alumni to complete a profile, upload their resume, register to attend internship and job fairs, connect with employers and apply for positions. These experiential learning, part-time and full-time positions are posted by companies seeking to hire our Falcons, who in turn find an ever-growing list of exciting options.
“The Handshake platform has been invaluable in helping me find opportunities that I didn’t know existed,” BGSU junior finance major Giovonni Colantonio said. “I secured several interviews at major companies such as Nationwide and Honda by searching through the large database of opportunities on Handshake.”
In the past, the process most typically involved companies requesting to be added to the BGSU database, and that approach yielded well over 5,000 new companies in the 2018-19 academic year. But, according to Career Center Director Danielle Dimoff, it soon became clear as the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold that companies weren’t going to spend their time trying to connect with new schools.
Flipping the script
Dimoff and her team decided to reverse the usual process by identifying and reaching out to desirable employers from among the hundreds of thousands that participate in Handshake.
“So, we flipped the script and reversed the process,” Dimoff said. “Instead of waiting for the companies to find us on the platform, we sought them out after carefully vetting each prospective new employer.”
While it is pretty much an automatic approval process when a school requests to connect with an employer, it is another matter when a company submits the request. BGSU always researches any company seeking to recruit students and alumni through Handshake to ensure they meet the University’s recruiting criteria.
“When we are seeking out new employer partnerships, it is important to make sure the company has a high trust score and no flags in the system,” said Andrea Gutierrez, assistant director. “We follow a process to confirm they are a reputable company before connecting in Handshake. This includes reviewing their mission and opportunities, as well as verifying profile information such as contacts, location, social media and website address.”
So, “flipping the script” wasn’t just a matter of inviting any and all companies to connect — it involved the same rigorous vetting process. While many schools have tried, BGSU stands as one of the few to do so successfully in a sustained and organized manner. The primary reason is the sheer volume of work involved in researching thousands of potential partners.
Where to begin
With hundreds of thousands of companies spread across the country and the globe within the Handshake employer database, the Career Center team faced the question of where to start its new outreach process. Their solution was to leverage the University’s alumni heatmap to target locations where higher concentrations of Falcons have chosen to live and work.
“The alumni heatmap allowed us to identify areas with a sizable number of Falcons, including higher numbers of alumni employers,” Dimoff said. “We started with Ohio since there are over 100,000 alumni located across the state. Based on the mile radius filters we set, we also pulled some companies from surrounding states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania. We then focused on Illinois and New York as well.”
The campaign has involved all hands on deck as the entire center staff has worked to review the long list of companies not currently in the BGSU employer database. In addition, University Advancement was able to pitch in to jump-start the process.
Each day, staff members review an assigned list of companies in Handshake, and when a company meets our criteria, it is approved by the staff member. At that point, BGSU has access to the employer’s future position postings, and students and alumni have all the information needed to make a connection. Approved companies also have access to student and alumni profiles if they opted to make them public, and are invited to register to attend our virtual events.
Record-breaking success during unprecedented times
The Career Center’s campaign to increase job opportunities for students and alumni has achieved record-breaking levels of success, which is especially remarkable in the face of the daunting headwinds of a global pandemic. For the 2019–20 academic year, BGSU connected with 19,244 new companies, nearly quadrupling the prior-year’s performance.
At the same time, the center reviewed 42,265 new position postings, for an average of an additional 163 each workday. This is by far the highest number of new position postings on record for the University in a single academic year. And it would be hard to overstate the benefits that our students and alumni are reaping at a particularly difficult time.
“This initiative has had a tremendous impact on our work,” said Dakel Patterson, assistant director. “We are able to be more intentional about seeking new employers across all majors to ensure there are a high number of position postings to apply to in Handshake. At the same time, this has helped to increase and diversify the types of employers in attendance at our career-related events.”
The center in not letting up and is on pace to shatter last year’s record. While 74 new companies were added on average each workday for 2019-20, the average between Aug. 1 and Dec. 25 came in at 126 — a 70% increase. During the same five-month period, more than 24,000 new position postings were added, representing a 40% increase in the team’s daily pace.
According to Dimoff, the center will continue to focus on growing BGSU’s employer database to increase the number of experiential learning, part-time, and full-time positions for every career. The Handshake initiative is just the latest in a series of innovations that continue to give the center a pivotal role in the University’s outstanding career placement record: 97% of BGSU’s graduates report they're employed, in graduate school or starting a business within six months of graduation.
Dimoff encourages students and alumni to make sure their Handshake profile information is up-to-date and to take full advantage of the many resources available on the platform to support their searches.
“Our employer portfolio expansion initiative demonstrates to students and alumni that opportunities, especially internships and full-time positions, are still available during this unprecedented time,” Dimoff said. “The Career Center team is committed to helping them connect with employers in their field of interest and achieve the kind of career success that is a BGSU hallmark."