Fewer companies coming to conference for business students

The number of companies that attend the Business Opportunities Conference has steadily declined over the past few years. (credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor) The number of companies that attend the Business Opportunities Conference has steadily declined over the past few years. (credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor)

Students in the Tepper School of Business were disappointed to see that only 30 companies would be attending this year’s Business Opportunities Conference (BOC). This marks the fourth year in a row where employer attendance at the BOC has decreased from that of the previous year.

The BOC is an annual career fair at Carnegie Mellon where students network with recruiters for business internships and full-time positions. The BOC is run by the BOC committee, an undergraduate student organization. In addition to the BOC, the Carnegie Institute of Technology sponsors the Technical Opportunities Conference (TOC), a career fair for technical positions, while the Career and Professional Development Center (CPDC) hosts fall and spring Employment Opportunities Conferences (EOC), which are general career fairs.

This year’s BOC sees in particular the loss of “energy companies” from previous years. Companies like DC Energy, Direct Energy, and Tricon Energy all attended the BOC last year, but they will not return for the conference this time around. Major investment banks and consulting firms like JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Ernst & Young, and Accenture will also be absent.

Although these companies are still offering positions through TartanTrak, students at the BOC will miss out on networking opportunities. “Networking with recruiters really improves your chances of getting a job, so I’m disappointed that almost none of the companies I’m interested in are coming to the BOC,” said Michael Wang, a senior business administration major.

The co-chairs of this year’s BOC committee, seniors Brendan Casey and Olubunmi Dairo, could not be reached for comment.

The BOC’s decline stands in contrast to the growth in Carnegie Mellon’s other career fairs and career opportunities. “Last academic year employer attendance at the Spring EOC was up 13 percent and we anticipate an increase in this October’s Fall EOC. Job postings were up 51 percent and the number of on-campus interviews was up 72 percent,” said Wesley Thorne, associate director of employer relations and college liaison to Tepper for the CPDC, in an email.

The number of companies attending the TOC also grew from 240 in 2011 to 290 in this year’s conference.

Jennifer Frick, assistant director and career consultant in the CPDC for Tepper undergraduates, speculates that the career fair is still feeling the aftershocks of the 2008 financial crisis. “The decrease in BOC registrations likely reflects the decreased hiring in the financial services industry,” Frick said in an email. “2007 was one of our best years in terms of financial services recruiting, but with the problems in the financial sector after 2008, we have seen less hiring, especially from investment banks.”

Brandon Ngiam, a senior mathematical sciences major and member of the 2009 BOC committee, believes that the small number of students in Tepper does not make attending the BOC a worthwhile investment for businesses.

“Companies want to focus their recruiting efforts at large numbers of students, and because Tepper is smaller than other schools, that’s why the BOC is so much smaller than the TOC and EOC,” Ngiam said. “Enrollment at Tepper has also been decreasing, so that might explain why fewer companies are attending each year.” In 2008, undergraduate business enrollment was 428, while in 2011, it was only 354.

There might also be a self-perpetuating cycle contributing to the decline of the BOC and the growth of the other career fairs: Business students attend other career fairs due to the lack of companies at the BOC, while companies stop attending the BOC because they can recruit business students at other career fairs.
For example, Nikki Mistry, a senior business administration major, plans to go to the BOC, TOC, and the EOC to look for consulting positions. “Many of the firms I’m interested [in] are going to be at the TOC and EOC, but not the BOC,” Mistry said. “The TOC recruiters might not specifically be hiring for consulting, but I at least can pass along my résumé to them.”

Meanwhile, many consulting firms see that students like Mistry are attending the EOC and reason that attending the BOC is redundant. “We would see many of the same students at the BOC that we see at Carnegie Mellon’s other career fairs, like the EOC,” said Devin Carter, a recruiter for the consulting firm ZS Associates. “Since there is so much overlap, we don’t see the need to attend the BOC to recruit Carnegie Mellon students.”

It is unclear what next year’s BOC committee can do to reverse this trend. Ngiam suggests reducing the entrance fee. “It’s already a big commitment to fly out to Pittsburgh and attend the BOC, and we may not be providing companies with enough students and potential hires to justify the current entrance fee.” For-profit companies pay $500 for the basic package to host a booth at the BOC.

Mistry thinks that the BOC should involve the Tepper administration or the career center. “A big difference between the BOC and the other career fairs is that the BOC is completely student-run, and I think that if the Tepper administration helped run the committee, we would see a lot more companies coming.”

For now, to all the discouraged business students worried about their careers, Frick emphasized, “Remember that the job fairs are just one step in the recruiting process for many companies. Especially for BOC, many of the companies are returning later for on-campus interviews, case competitions, and other events such as information sessions that further allow them to connect with students.”