Student participation increased by over 200 students despite the Coronavirus pandemic and severe winter weather.
The Rawls Career Management Center (CMC) in the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business held its spring career fair on February 16 and 17. This marked the second consecutive semester the career fair was entirely virtual due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but now there was also the severe winter weather that enveloped the entire state of Texas. Rather than see student turnout drop due to these circumstances, the CMC actually saw the opposite effect.
According to Barry Broughton, senior director of the CMC, 742 unique students participated over the two-day career fair. This is up from last semester's 516 unique student count, which occurred over a four-day span.
"I would say, overall, this semester's [virtual career fair] was set up to be more successful," said Broughton. "Last semester was the first time we ever hosted a virtual career fair. There was a lot of hesitancy with students and employers. I think they all thought this was just a temporary situation. Now everyone's more used to virtual communication, and it worked a lot better."
The lengthy blackouts in many of the larger Texas metropolitan areas impacted several employers' availability during the fair. However, the CMC was able to keep an RSVP log thanks to Handshake, the CMC's digital recruitment platform. This gave employers the ability to have a list of student appointment information, including emails.
"We pre-warned students and employers before the fair" said Broughton. "We told them not to panic if there was a power outage and no one was on the other side of the camera. We told employers that they needed to reach out and follow up with every student who signed up for a session with them."
The end result was a more flexible schedule for student-to-employer interactions. With in-person career fairs, the students and employers typically interact during the designated time of the fair. Now, students and employers could actually hold those interactions outside of the two-day timeframe of the career fair.
"There's an extreme benefit to the one-to-one tracking that is contained within [Handshake]," said Broughton. "There's a live view, and we can click and see which sessions are going on and which employers and students are in them. It's live, and we can see if anyone was a no-show."
For Broughton, it became obvious early on that there were a lot of employers who were struggling with power loss and couldn't attend their scheduled sessions.
"About two hours in I started realizing there were enough employers who weren't able to participate. I began thinking we're going to have to do something. Wednesday seemed to be worse with more blackouts."
It was then that Broughton and the CMC decided a third day for the fair would be appreciated by both students and employers. The newly added third day of the Rawls Virtual Career Fair will be held on Wednesday, March 3.
The ease of adding or modifying the timeframe of a career fair has been a surprise benefit of virtual career fairs. When held in person, the career fair would take place at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center and the CMC would reserve a 3-day window for the fair: one day to set up, one day for the actual career fair, and one day to clean up.
"We would have had to push [this extra day] out several months from now and hope to find an open window."
Now, the CMC can utilize Handshake's ability to duplicate a career fair's information to quickly add a new date.
"After duplicating the event," said Broughton, "it was just a matter of changing wording, dates, and things like that. It probably took an hour-and-a-half to double and triple check."
When in-person career fairs are a possibility, the CMC still sees virtual fairs as having a vital role to play. This is especially true given the recent severe winter weather.
"There isn't a finalized plan yet, but there will be a version of both in-person and virtual fairs that happen each semester," said Broughton. "The virtual fair would typically be one-to-two weeks after the in-person one. Having that as a backup after the in-person fair gives us a safety net. If bad weather hits and we have to cancel in-person, everyone can jump to virtual."
Students who would like to participate in the third day of the Rawls Virtual Career Fair on March 3 are encouraged to sign up through Handshake.