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CareerLab hosts first virtual career fair on Handshake

Sixty employers participated, offering group and 1:1 sessions to students over video calls

Twelve hundred students pre-registered for Brown's Big Virtual Fall Career Fair, which was hosted by the CareerLab on  Handshake Wednesday afternoon.

Different from past years, the career fair this fall was hosted completely remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of dressing in formal attire with a few copies of resumes in hand and heading to the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center — which is now being used as one of the University’s testing centers — students who participated in the career fair needed to pre-register for the event through Handshake. To gain access to employers, students signed up for the employer sessions they were interested in to join group sessions and intimate, 1:1 sessions. 

Sixty employers participated in the career fair, hosting a total of 114 group sessions and 1500 available 1:1 sessions. Under half of those sessions were actually filled. The virtual career fair was relatively smaller in scale compared to previous years, which have seen more than 1500 students and 100+ employers participating, according to data provided by CareerLab Director Matthew Donato and Associate Director of Recruiting Emily Nolan.

"A smaller fair may not be a bad thing for our first virtual fair," Donato said. "Some employers are easily adapting to the online fair model; … (but) we are not seeing every single employer that would typically come in person." The recruiters that come to career fairs often have a more structured recruiting process and staff, some coming with the intention of hiring a class of students. 

The company attendance of the virtual career fair is “not representative of all recruiters that hire Brown students," he added. 

Still, some new recruiters that had not attended previous Brown career fairs were able to join virtually due to convenience and low costs. "This is our first year participating," Devon Bedford, a recruiting partner for A Place for Mom, wrote in an email to The Herald. "All A Place for Mom’s campus events will be held virtually, which allows us to meet more students and keep the process moving quickly. It’s been a very positive experience thus far." 

As for redesigning how the virtual career fair runs this year, special attention was directed towards replicating an in-person experience for both recruiters and students. "Career fairs are really good opportunities for students to make connections, to learn about job opportunities, employers and to ask questions that you don't normally find on Google search," Donato said.  

Group sessions try to replicate the experience of approaching a table at a real fair, while 1:1 sessions resemble students approaching recruiters on the side to ask more personal questions, Donato said. "Though in this case (students) also have to plan it out a little bit more" when choosing which employers they wanted to get to know better before the event due to the pre-registration process, he added. 

"I think the virtual career fair is a lot more efficient," said Connie Lin '22. "I don’t think it’s productive to stand in a line waiting to speak with the recruiter (at an in-person fair) just to have them repeat their company objective."

The group sessions were generally more information-based, with one or two recruiters giving a presentation of the company through Handshake. Totaling about 20 to 40 students in a single session, students asked questions through the chat window, but their audio and video functions were disabled unless they used the "raise hand" function to ask individual questions. Students could also hop in and out of the meeting freely without interrupting the session. 

Some recruiters said they felt that the Handshake platform and the student engagement went as expected and the process was very smooth. 

"The students are being cognizant of the time restraint and have prepared questions ahead of time,” Erin Schyljuk, senior human resources business partner at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, wrote in an email to The Herald. “I really enjoy the chat box option as it allows me to drop my business email at the end of a conversation in case the student does want to do any follow-up." 

Technical difficulties and a gap between the recruiter and students' expectations of the session format created some difficulties for recruiters and students alike. In one of the group sessions she attended, Meta Bountouraki ’22 found it hard to participate and understand the presentation since the speaker did not know how to use the Handshake video function and could not share her screen. 

Nolan also said that a student told her about an instance where the student had attended an information session expecting to have more interpersonal interaction with a recruiter, but instead received a link to a Youtube video of the company. 

"The biggest challenge is always tech!" wrote Manjot Chhabra, recruiter for Govern for America, in an email to The Herald. "We’re always prepared to contact students and find time outside of the career fair to finish a conversation that was shortened or use an external video service in the middle of a session," she added.

Compared to group sessions, 1:1 sessions offered students more direct conversation with recruiters. "I registered six (1:1) meetings and every interviewer arrived on time," said Yuming Fu GS. "They (are) all friendly (and) answered my questions and provided all the information they can give." 

In order to engage students in a better way, some recruiters such as Bain & Company switched to using Zoom for the coffee chats "so the recruiter/employee is able to see the students and not just talk at their screen," Lin said.  

Companies like Bain & Company, as well as Amazon and Bloomberg are not cutting any part of the recruiting process. "We plan to have in-person internships during the summer (next year), but we are prepared to have remote internships if needed," Yamiley Joseph, a recruiter from Bloomberg, said during the company’s group session. 

"We made a conscious decision early on not to scale down our recruitment plans in light of the pandemic, and it's certainly been the right choice," she wrote in an email to The Herald.

"One of the benefits of virtual recruitment that we’ve seen so far is its global reach. Schedules are more flexible and events are more accessible," Joseph added.

In preparation for the upcoming virtual October Career Fair and November Engineering Career Fair, Donato and Nolan stressed that student feedback will help them understand how they can better prepare for future virtual events. 

"We've never done an October fair," Donato said, "it would be nice for students to also have access to smaller fairs with different types of employers, or even to have some more popular employers to come more than once. … It's (important) to see how we can get creative and make these fairs really value-added for our students."


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