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Kelly Hardy Takes the Reins to Produce the First Virtual Meet the Firms Event

By Lea Hart

When it became clear that COVID-19 would mean significant changes to recruiting opportunities this fall for students in Poole College of Management’s Jenkins Master of Accounting program, Kelly Hardy took action. 

Hardy, associate director of student programs and career services for the Jenkins Master of Accounting (MAC) Program, had just a few months to transition the MAC program’s annual Meet the Firms and Corporate & Governmental Expo events to a virtual format.

An essential part of the recruiting process for the MAC program, Meet the Firms is a four-night event where graduate students and internship candidates network and discuss careers in public accounting with firm representatives. The Corporate & Governmental Expo is a similar event for students to discuss industry careers in accounting.

“Last year, we had a 97 percent job placement rate, and the year before was 100 percent,” Hardy said. “Students need to have that job security – to know that, once the program is complete, they are going to be marketable and able to get a job.”

Students need to have that job security – to know that, once the program is complete, they are going to be marketable and able to get a job.

Typically, these events take place in large ballrooms in the Talley Student Union, with close to 200 people participating on any given evening, Hardy said. Employers highlight their organizations, present on different career options, and have meaningful one-to-one networking opportunities with students.

It’s a process Hardy is familiar with from both sides. Her first experience at NC State was as a campus recruiter with PwC, which later led to an opportunity to come to work with the MAC program’s career services department. There, she worked with students to prepare them for the recruiting process and managed client relationships with firms and businesses that recruited from NC State.

She left NC State for a while, calling it one of the most difficult professional decisions she’s made due to her love of her job and working with students and employers. Hardy had an interest in expanding her professional experience by learning more about the variety of HR functions. She worked for a mid-sized CPA firm as an HR generalist, receiving her PHR certification, but missed the students and being on campus.

Two years ago, she had the opportunity to return to NC State and to the MAC program. Her old role had been expanded to include not just career services and recruiter relationships, but also student programs – and Hardy jumped at the opportunity.

The pandemic meant this year’s event would need to move to a Zoom format. Hardy and her team took on the brunt of the work, handling planning for virtual break-out rooms, presentations and everything else they could manage for the employers, rather than asking the employers to do it themselves. This allowed for employers to stay focused on the students, Hardy said.

Kelly did a great job at determining the needs of all the stakeholders in designing the most effective recruiting event for everyone involved.

“We knew the fall firm recruiting process was going to be both different and stressful for everyone involved,” said Scott Showalter, MAC Program Director. “Kelly did a great job at determining the needs of all the stakeholders in designing the most effective recruiting event for everyone involved.”

Typically, when Meet the Firms ends in September, the team begins planning for the next year, Hardy said. This meant much of the planning had been done following the 2019 event. When the decision was made in July to pivot to the online format, she said the attendees were already in place, it was a matter of changing the format. A team of recruiting professionals with whom the MAC program has worked for years, gave advice and feedback on what they believed would work and offered suggestions as Hardy and her team worked to put together a plan.

Though face-to-face is still the preferred option, Hardy said everyone walked away feeling they’d put together the best possible event given the current circumstances, allowing students and employers to connect at a personal level.

“All the players in the recruiting effort were moving forward without a playbook,” Showalter said. “Kelly was able to see a way forward and demonstrate to the firms and students she had this covered.”

In the end, Hardy said she is most proud of the team within the MAC program. Though none of them were Zoom experts, they came together to learn quickly and execute. Everyone was trained to maneuver breakout rooms.

“The team came together, and it was all hands on deck,” she said. “It really was seamless – it was easy for employers to log in, present, go into break-out rooms, and network with our students.”

Students are currently in the process of receiving offers – a sign that the event was a success, Hardy said. The results will be the true testament to the work that Hardy and the team put in.

“At the end of the day, I’ll be excited and really proud when I know that all of our students are placed,” Hardy said.

This story is part of the “Resilient Pack: Employees Going the Extra Mile During COVID-19″ series that celebrate NC State employees doing “extraordinary ordinary” things in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

This post was originally published in Poole College of Management News.