Matchmaking at career fairs: finding the right talents

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It took Saral Baweja just 20 minutes to realise he had found what he was looking for. At first the Indian master’s student was still a little nervous, but soon he began to relax. “As soon as we started talking about chemistry, the atmosphere was extremely constructive and pleasant”, the 25-year-old remembers. The monthly newsletter from the DAAD’s New Delhi office had drawn his attention to the matchmaking event: at a careers fair in the Indian capital in early 2017 he then met Evamarie Hey-Hawkins, a professor from Germany who works at the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry at Leipzig University. A lively discussion between the two quickly ensued. They remained in contact and together developed a research project. Since July 2018 Saral Bajewa has been a doctoral student in Hey-Hawkins’ working group, writing his thesis on a subject related to homogenous catalysis.

Pre-arranged meetings via online tool

The DAAD’s matchmaking events are designed to foster systematic networking. Taking part is always free for the participants. At careers fairs, selected candidates are given the chance to meet with German recruiters for intensive talks. Prior to the event, both can use an online tool to get in touch with each other and explore whether their interests match.  “It helps if you have a very clear idea of exactly who you are looking for or what kind of cooperation you are seeking”, says Evamarie Hey-Hawkins. The professor of chemistry has already used this format twice: besides the fair in India, she also attended a dual Romanian/Serbian event organised by “Research in Germany” in Bucharest und Belgrade. “Using information made available by the online tool, people can select who they wish to talk to”, explains Hey-Hawkins. “That’s why it is important to give as much detail as possible about what one expects and is hoping to achieve so that good matches can be found.”

The discussions, which each last just 20 minutes, take place in rapid succession. PhD students, postdocs and university representatives are available for the individual chats, as are members of international institutions. Both teachers and representatives of universities and non-university research organisations take part in the fairs to recruit researchers. Matchmaking events therefore provide an opportunity to meet lots of different people and to forge contacts in a highly effective manner. Hey-Hawkins sums up what she particularly values: “Because the fairs also feature presentations of funding opportunities, everything is available in just the one place, so if applicable you can immediately start making concrete plans.”

Direct comparison of applicants is helpful

The greatest advantage of these matchmaking events is obvious: when searching for talented researchers, tutors can meet their applicants directly and in person. “Because the chats take place one after another, it is possible to make direct comparisons”, stresses Hey-Hawkins. “That is much better than doing a video interview.” Her doctoral student Liridona Useini from Macedonia agrees: “These face-to-face interviews are exciting and at the same time very interesting”, she recalls. “You learn a lot about current research topics during the various conversations and have the chance to present yourself and your skills.”

Useini has also been doing her PhD at the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry in Leipzig since October 2018. The young chemist had already applied to join Professor Hey-Hawkins’ working group beforehand, and the matchmaking event in Belgrade then provided an opportunity for a face-to-face meeting. “This kind of personal meeting is a real door-opener”, enthuses the 28-year-old. Before the event, Useini and her fellow student Saral Baweja had thoroughly researched the person they would be talking to, and their work. “Matchmaking is not a one-way street”, emphasises Baweja. “Both sides need to be interested.” While talking to members of the German delegation, he explains, he discovered that many students were poorly prepared and knew little about the research done by the people they were meeting or the university. He sees this as a wasted opportunity. “The idea of bringing applicants together with academics from their own research field in order to find areas of common interest is unique”, says Baweja. “After all, it is not at all easy to convince a professor who lives and works on another continent of your ideas and projects in an e-mail.”

The effort that goes into matchmaking is worthwhile

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Understandably, most applicants are nervous at first. “It’s a good idea to start by asking them about themselves and their background before going into further detail”, advises Professor Hey-Hawkins. During the conversation, topics such as their career and life plans, goals and their expectations of Germany, the research facilities or the location will all come to light. “And of course they also have a chance to ask me questions”, stresses the professor. It is not always clear to her why a candidate wants to talk to her and what their interests are. This is why she advises applicants to find out as much as they possibly can about the person they will be talking to in advance. In some cases, this leads to some unexpected possibilities: “I have had many good conversations with applicants whose fields of research were not relevant to my work but did turn out to be a good match for one of my colleagues.”

A successful matchmaking process involves a certain amount of effort on both sides. The online tool provided by “Research in Germany” needs to be fed as much detail as possible about one’s institution and faculty, applications have to be evaluated and information about the applicants’ universities and countries need to be researched before individuals can be selected for one-on-one chats. “It helped that the more general information can also be filled in by other colleagues”, reports Hey-Hawkins. Besides her own working group, the professor was supported by her university’s international office and by her faculty office, which contributed information and brochures about the international courses taught in English and more generally about doing a PhD in Germany.

Enriching experience for both sides

Evamarie Hey-Hawkins achieved her goal at both matchmaking events: “What I wanted was to promote Leipzig University – particularly of course my faculty, my institute and my working group, while at the same time recruiting excellent researchers”, explains the professor. She was very satisfied with most of the conversations in India, Romania and Serbia. “For the candidates, matchmaking events are an excellent way of learning how to best present themselves”, she notes. “Even if they do not ultimately lead to any specific job offer.” With all her experience, the professor can tell fairly quickly if the person she is talking to will be a good fit for her team. Whether the candidate is open-minded and tolerant, passionate about chemistry and interdisciplinary research, and is prepared to assume responsibility – these are among the criteria that will have an important bearing on her decision. “If I then discover during the conversation that all of these qualities are coupled with outstanding technical expertise, I couldn’t be happier.”

Author: Gunda Achterhold