Lessons Learned from Planning a Job Fair with a Volunteer Army

I’ve spent the last five months planning a job fair using primarily a committee of volunteers.  While event planning is done every day by event planners, and marketing folks, this was ultimately a 500 person event spanning 3 hours, plus another 2 for setup.  I have had small roles in larger conference planning for prior companies, but have never had this as primary responsibility.  I learned a lot in the process.

1.  Be organized – The number one lesson to planning a successful event is organization.  This seems obvious, but can be challenging when dealing with volunteers.  Often times, documentation from prior years resides in people’s heads rather than on paper.  Take the time to lay out what you need to accomplish, with goals, rough timelines and fill in the rest as you go along.

2.  Use all of your resources – I had a primary committee who worked on job fair planning, but I was not shy in reaching out to other committees that had a shared interest, or could help us.  This event is a core benefit for sponsors so it made sense to really engage and integrate a sponsorship committee liaison.  We had several conversations with communications about what they will do and how we needed to target our audiences.  Additionally, there were reasons we had to rely on our main office for support.  It was a collaborative effort, but make sure you don’t lose sight of the end goal.  You can’t single-handedly accomplish a successful event on this scale without taking people up on their offers, and asking for the assistance you.

3.  Try new things – I felt my role as leader of the event planning team was to generate new ideas and expand our reach to make this the most successful we could.  This meant being willing to identify new exhibitor prospects from county lists of honored companies, reaching out to small growing organizations who might not previously engaged with the organization, and incorporating more social media marketing.   Each of these ideas were successful in varying degrees, but we wouldn’t have known that without testing the ideas.

4.  Have a backup plan – Whenever new ideas are introduced it is imperative to start thinking in terms of backup plans.  For us this meant being creative about where support service organizations would be positioned within the job fair; inviting wait listed companies to attend the event to network, but encouraging them to check-in to see if any tables opened up (2 did and were immediately filled as a result of this contingency).

5.  Over communicate – It is imperative to make sure you are over-communicating.  There isn’t the luxury of patiently waiting for something to happen.  Lay the information out for everyone involved to see and know and meticulous track your progress along the way.  This allows you to adjust as ideas positively or negatively impact your target outcome.

6.  Shameless promotion – As the leader of the planning committee it is important for you to be seen promoting your event.  Even if your network is small, your committee and those involved need to see you putting the event out there.  This will encourage them to follow in your footsteps. This should be done at all stages and for all audiences of the event.

7.  You can’t please everyone – All you can do is make sure everyone is well informed about what’s happening and you are doing your best to make sure both exhibitors and attendees are as prepared as they can be.  You can not control exhibitors participation – from providing details for job seekers so they can research in advance; presenting their company with engaging displays, table decorations or give aways; or actively engaging job seekers.  You can merely provide the tools for their success, but at the end of the day there is only so much you can control.

I had a really good experience.  I had a great team who helped guide me through the process, and staid on top of their own tasks.  We had 190 recruiters and 300 job seekers, with few hiccups and very positive feedback.

Do we have to “sexify” tech?

Last night I attended the keynote address for Social Media Week DC “smwdc” where Linda Abraham, founder and CMO of comScore; Steve Case, formerly CEO AOL; and Aneesh Chopra, formerly CTO of America and currently candidate for Lt. Governor in Virginia, all spoke.  While everyone had something interesting to say, there were clearly a few different spins taken.After the event, I met up with a friend and her colleague, a technical project manager and a social media/marketing manager, and we had some really interesting conversations about what we had heard.  This post is about what stuck with me, how that differed from them and the subsequent conversation.

One of the first things that Ms. Abraham mentioned is that startups require scrappiness.  This made a lot of sense to me if you look at being scrappy as willing to use all the resources at your disposal and aggressively pursue your goals.  There also might have been a little personal affinity for the word, given that it has been used to describe me (in the context of martial arts training).  Interestingly the initial impression of my colleagues was that it was the wrong word.  The negative connotation was overpowering the message.  

Ms. Abraham spoke about women using technology differently, and really driving social media use and e-commerce.  Men, however, are primarily running these companies or providing the necessary seed capital.  This has led her to the next logical question of women in tech.  Her biggest insight was that women just don’t throw their hat in the ring the way men do.  They tend to focus on their actual skills rather than their potential.  The discussion after the event leaned toward Ms. Abraham having been a more uninspired speaker than Mr. Case or Mr. Chopra.  It was a common opinion that we as a group (my colleagues and me not the entire audience of DC tech meetup) didn’t often think about women in tech, or being a woman in tech. After explaining my involvement with Women in Technology, the DC non-profit professional group with the goal of advancing women in tech from the classroom to the boardroom, it was easier to talk about it.  There was some chat about how most of the women who talk about the issue are on the dowdy side.  Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg were called out specifically as two fresh faces on the forefront of the conversation about women in technology.  It was noted that Yahoo might be a little dowdy in nature, a company not really seen right now as on the cutting edge.

So the question then became “Do we really need to ‘sexify’ tech?”  This was a little bit counter intuitive and I think concerning for the three of us.  There was some concern that we might be falling back into the “binder full of women” type scenario.  This isn’t the first time this has come up.  The European Union released a video in June 2012 called “Science: It’s a girl thing” that highlights women in short skirts and stilletos surrounding by images of lab equipment, formulas, etc.  This was immediately attacked as an affront to women.  It was also immediately parodied by Dartmouth graduate students in one of their science programs.  Three pacific northwest tech women, known as LadyCoders, created a kickstarter project to teach women how to be more successful in technical organizations and roles.  They identified “unconscious biases that marginalize and undervalue the female perspective” as the true issue.  Critics attacked them stating the women were “antifeminist and bowing to a corrupt system rather than working to blow it up. (Seattle Met 012313)”

The one positive is that everyone is talking about this.  With enough people talking, we can generate some critical support and find a disruptive way to increase the pool of technologist, and therefore increase the pool of women in technology.

What I learned from taking Assessment Tests

As a general matter, I’ve always been a little hesitant to be boxed into a corner by personality of assessments. My volunteer work with Women in Technology has allowed me access to the Predictive Index and the 360Reach.  I was promoting these to other men and women so decided I should take these myself.  This entry is about my personal experience and what I learned.

1.  Simple and quick:  The Predictive Index is a simple test where you answer two questions: one involves selecting attributes that you would use to describe yourself and one involves selecting attributes that you believe others would use to describe you.  If I recall correctly, you select about 10 attributes each.  There is also a 20 minute explanation exercise you have with an experienced PI interpreter. The 360Reach requires that you do a self-assessment, followed by solicitation of feedback from employees, clients, customers, mentors, family, etc.  There is a similar premise that you are selecting attributes that best describe yourself (or attributes are selected for you from those you have included).  It is a little more difficult in that you are only allowed to choose x number of attributes, as few as 3 and as many as 10 for each of the different questions.  There are also a couple of creative “projective” questions in the 360Reach that you are required to have your recipients respond to.  For me, these included “If you were a household appliance, what type of appliance would you be?” and “If you were a breakfast cereal, what cereal would you be?”

2.  Accurate: For fairly simple methodologies from an end-user perspective, it is incredibly accurate compared to how I live life.  For example, I chose to leave a good position at a large organization in 2011, in pursuit of a smaller, more agile environment. The PI determined that I’m “strongly venturesome in taking risks and focusing on the future.”  I would argue that this coincides with someone who is willing to leave a position, looking for greener pastures, without the next opportunity lined up.  The 360Reach assessment categorized my number one brand persona as “rock.”  “Rocks are always there for you.  You can always count on them.  Reliability is a core attribute of theirs.”  This matches my circle of friends.  While I don’t consider myself close to lots and lots of people, those I do consider close are ones that I would always be there to support.

3.  Perspective is everything:  This lesson was probably the most interesting to me.  The PI assessment is completed solely by you.  I would think that you could bias the questions so that the align better, or you are more critical of how others perceive you, or even more critical of yourself.  As I understand it from Teri Kinsella, who did my PI interpretation the test ends up balancing out in the end.  Of those people who admitted trying to game the system, their results still more accurately reflected their true personality.

With the 360Reach, the first person to complete it was a family member, who defined me as a leader.  In most cases, those results are going to be more skewed towards your success.  The second person to complete it had a very different perspective of me, who defined me more as a project manager.  This made sense as I tried to compile a good balance of friends, family, mentors, colleagues and employees.  This group of people knows me from different jobs, volunteer opportunities, or even just family or friend situations.  My context to them is different, therefore the it makes sense to see two different POVs.  The importance and impact of differing perspectives was also obvious in one set of feedback from someone who did not identify themselves as my employee that felt “I tend to motivate by intimidation” versus the person who clearly identified themselves as having worked for me that  felt “Dagny showed amazing patience when I had the pleasure of working for her.  It was under her that I was able to quickly develop my skills through a combination of trial by fire and the confidence that came with knowing that I could make mistakes along the way, as long as I didn’t make the same one twice.  She fostered a great working environment that was both challenging and fun.  She has an uncanny ability to hone in on what motivates an employee, and uses that to get the best out them.”  Interestingly, the initial comment was removed prior to the end of the assessment period and not included in the final report.  While that might have been a heat of the moment response, it’s something to be conscious about.  Each person has their unique perspective and motivations.

If you are interested in learning more about Predictive Index assessment, you can visit this PI definition or visit the PI Worldwide website.  To learn more about the 360 Reach, the Reach site is best.

Women hold more college degrees, but still elusive in tech

I continue to ponder the issue of women in technology as I plan the WIT job fair.  Several things have happened recently that have added to this mystery.

1.  I searched Meetup.com for female tech groups in DC and found 5 out of several hundred that specifically target women.

2.  I was recently networking with a female computer engineer who said that she was one of a few women in her program and was also one of the few that wanted a life outside of computer science.  She socialized while her fellow classmates did the extra credit or personal programming projects on weekends.

3. I asked my husband, who has 20+ years of software development experience how many female techies he knows and he said that he has known 2 in his entire career.  When I shared the statistic that approximately 1/3 of techies in DC are women, he asked if that included technical project managers, database administrators or technical writers.  These are all questions for which I do not know the answer.

4.  I have been reading the “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women” by Hannah Rosen.  There are definitely some interesting perspectives in this book that have me thinking if these are the reasons there are not more women in tech. (statistics and speculations come from the book.)

  • Women earn more than 60% of all bachelor’s degrees
  • Of women 65 and over, women make up 23% of degrees in science and engineering while those 25 to 39 account for 45.9%

There begins to be speculation about why girls are more successful at graduating from college.  One theory is that boys and girls are wired differently and boys as a general rule prefer systems and movement while learning.  Girls are most successful because of their self-discipline and delayed gratification.  Boys are more likely to spend their time playing video games, rather than doing schoolwork.

Now I feel like all I’m left with is questions.

Does this mean that girls focusing on school and going off in college getting degrees, while boys are playing with video games, and leaning towards computer skills and programming?

Are women who get science and engineering degrees getting them specialties other than computer science and programming?

Are women dissuaded by the perceived culture of techies sustaining on pizza and beer in a dark office cave?

I know that I’m not the first one to raise the question, but these are the questions that come to mind as I focus on my most immediate projects.