Despite navigating the unknown, the Rawls Career Management Center successfully held its first-ever all virtual career fair
Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Fall 2020 marked the first entirely virtual career fair for the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business. The usual one-day event filled with bustling crowds and firm handshakes was replaced with a four-day series that spanned two weeks. Instead of face-to-face conversations, students and employers met in one-to-one and group video sessions through the Rawls Career Management Center's (CMC) online job platform, Handshake.
While each daily session occurred over a 5-hour span, employers could allocate their time as they saw fit between one-to-one or group sessions. One-to-one sessions were 10 minutes long and similar to the in-person conversations of past career fairs. Group sessions were 30 minutes long, capped at 50 students, and akin to information sessions.
Barry Broughton, director of the CMC, was pleased with the amount of student interaction during the Rawls Virtual Career Fair. According to the post-career fair data, 516 students attended a total of 4,237 employer sessions throughout the four-day virtual career fair. This equates to each student participating in around 8 individual or group sessions with employers.
"That average number is right in line with what we see in a normal career fair," said Broughton.
While the amount of student-employer interactions may have been consistent from past career fairs, how those interactions were done and what they looked like were different.
For students like Sarah Still, a junior finance major, the virtual environment allowed for richer, more personalized interactions with employers.
"At in-person career fairs, you can get overwhelmed with all the people," she said. "With the one-on-one sessions, you really got to interact with recruiters and didn't have any distractions."
In past career fairs, students and employers were in professional attire. This year?
"Many employers attended in business-casual attire," said Broughton. "The feedback we received from recruiters was that a majority of the students showed up in professional attire and treated the virtual meetings as if they were still face-to-face."
Of course, like most virtual communications, there were technical issues that needed to be resolved. One of the bigger issues Broughton said the CMC overcame was during the Energy Commerce department's Meet the Industry recruiting event before the career fair. Some companies couldn't use Handshake's video feature due to a firewall issue. Thankfully, Handshake was very quick to resolve the issue and even added a button on the employer schedule maker before the Rawls Virtual Career Fair. This button let employers check their system for compatibility issues prior to meeting with students.
116 employers registered to participate in the Rawls Virtual Career Fair, and some were new additions from previous fairs.
"We were able to secure some companies who wouldn't normally travel to campus for in-person events," said Broughton. "For example, Amazon, the FBI, and the United States Secret Service were all excellent opportunities for students this semester."
So far, the initial employer feedback Broughton and the CMC received has been positive.
"Even a couple of people who had technical issues," said Broughton, were the ones that reached out and said, 'You know, we had a snafu, but it turned out great. We loved it. Thank you so much. We'll be back.'"
From a student's perspective, Still also found the Rawls Virtual Career Fair to be an overall positive experience.
"It was a great experience for me, and I really liked having it online," she said. "It was really personal getting to meet the employers online and getting to have the one-on-one sessions with them and connecting with them without everybody. I think that's something that's really cool and a positive thing about being online in a virtual setting."
Going forward, Broughton said the career fair in the spring will be entirely virtual. He's also looking into continuing the virtual component in future career fairs.
"I'm very excited about what I see in terms of participation," said Broughton. "I feel confident we can schedule another successful virtual event in the spring. I hope to see a continued confidence in the virtual process by students. Employers are eager to hire, and job opportunities are excellent right now."
Broughton's confidence is rooted in the attitude and quality of work done by the CMC staff.
"I'm just fortunate to have such an amazing team in the CMC," said Broughton. "The thing I love about this staff is we embrace change. That's just the culture we've built. Change is inevitable, and we're going to adapt and overcome, no matter what. I'm so proud of what they've accomplished, and their attitudes and positivity have made us successful. We're ready for any challenges that are presented to us."