Career fairs can help you land a great job in biotech

BioNetwork virtual career fairs are helping people find life sciences jobs. The career fairs, paired with a unique certificate program helped one person land their dream job.

Posted Updated
David Arkin
This article was written for our sponsor, N.C. Biotechnology Center
There are several avenues people take to find a job in the life sciences sector, from networking and taking classes to connecting with a recruiter.

One of the most effective strategies though might be attending a career fair.

Career fairs offer access to many companies in one location and enable personal connections with local hiring managers. They’re becoming an increasingly useful tool that job seekers are utilizing to navigate the employment market.

Vernon Shoaf, senior director for the NC Community College System’s BioNetwork program knows first-hand the value career fairs add for both those seeking a job and companies searching to hire the best talent available.

Shoaf has been working with BioNetwork since 2004 and currently leads the Learning Solution Center, which provides training resources across the state. His work spans web development, video production, e-learning, and digital marketing. A big part of his focus is creating community college opportunities to match students with companies that are hiring.

Career Fairs

One of the best ways for students to meet employers is by attending career fairs, Shoaf said.

The BioNetwork career fairs are conducted with a variety of life sciences companies in North Carolina and have helped open doors for countless students.

The virtual format of these events allows for increased accessibility for both job seekers and employers. While being virtual was originally borne of necessity from the pandemic, there was such positive feedback about the accessibility, they decided to continue the platform in this manner.

Shoaf said the goal of career fairs is to help students and those looking to make a career transition into the biopharma industry. There is no cost for the career fair for students or job seekers.

The results are impressive. Here are stats from a BioNetwork career fair from April 2022:

  • 128 students from nine community colleges and six universities attended
  • 22 biopharma companies attended
  • 5 job placement agencies attended
  • 543 unique chat sessions for more than 100 job openings were conducted
"We’ve been so pleased to develop a strong relationship with industry representatives throughout the year as they’ve been able to give us more feedback on how we can help make our career fairs better for the company and the students," Shoaf said.

Learn more about their career fair opportunities at
How a career fair helped a job seeker

Laura Pineda, who lives in the Triangle and now works at Merck in north Durham as an operations technician, remembers how difficult the job hunting process was.

"When I started looking for a job, it was really hard because I was applying to too many companies and nobody called me back," she said.

It was a frustrating and puzzling time for Pineda because she had experience, education, and credentials, but she wasn’t attracting the attention of employers.

She decided to give a BioNetwork career fair a shot. She couldn’t be happier that she did. It’s at one BioNetwork career fair that she met a representative from Merck, her current employer.

What is Pineda’s advice for a successful career fair experience? Do your homework and proactively look for good matches in terms of what you want and a fit with the corporate culture.

"Know who is going to be there and make sure you talk to the [top 10] companies that you want to get to know," she said.

That strategy worked well for her. Merck was one of her top companies and today she is happily employed there as an operations technician. She’s currently eligible for a promotion.

"I’m so lucky to work with such an amazing team," she said. "They make me feel so comfortable and they teach me a lot. I feel like they are really happy with the work I am doing."

BioWork certificate program

A unique program job seekers can learn about through BioNetwork is BioWork. Offered at 11 community colleges throughout the state, BioWork is a program that provides the foundational skills that process technicians need to enter careers in biotechnology, pharmaceutical, or chemical manufacturing. Process technicians are a key role and help with the production of chemical and pharmaceutical products.

"Additionally, our career development support program helps students understand that they do have a skill set that is transferable across industries and it helps them primarily with their confidence," Shoaf said. "We mentor them through the process. We spend a lot of time reviewing their resumes and giving them feedback on how to make it better."

While much of the program focuses on technical training, participants learn how to write resumes, apply, and interview for entry-level process technician jobs at North Carolina life sciences manufacturing companies. The instructors want participants to land their dream job.

"I was so nervous before, as the companies were asking me questions that I was not ready to answer," Pineda explained. "But after taking my biotech classes, I was much more prepared. It helped me become more confident. I was feeling nervous, but my teacher really encouraged me."

"BioWork helps prepare students to interact with company recruiters and hiring managers at a career fair by better understanding unique aspects of the companies that are attending the career fair," Shoaf explained.

Shoaf said that BioNetwork’s ultimate goal is to help increase job placement rates in the biopharma industry. With success stories such as Pineda’s, the BioNetwork appears to be achieving its goal.

This article was written for our sponsor, N.C. Biotechnology Center