Career services not deterred by changes

2020 fall career fairs

  • Engineering, Sept. 15-16
  • People to People, Sept. 29
  • Business, Industry and Technology, Sept. 30
  • Agriculture and Life Sciences, Oct. 13-14

A month brought quite the change for Mike Gaul and the career services staff in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). The CALS director of career services saw numerous jobs and internships lost from April to May as the pandemic hit agriculture hard.

"In a week's time I had three major companies call and tell me they hated doing it, but they had to cancel an internship program," Gaul said.

Instead of seeing it as an obstacle, career services staff found other ways to help students through virtual one-on-one meetings.

"I give students credit," Gaul said. "Rather than wallow in their pity, they got after it. Most of the students who had things rescinded ended up with an internship because they got after it."

Since February, the national unemployment rate went from 3.5% to nearly double digits, which has career services directors telling students to start early and be persistent.

"I send out communication about three times a week in an attempt to stay top-of-mind for students but not overwhelm them," Ivy College of Business career coordinator Brooke Long said.

Moving online

After the university made the move to virtual instruction in March, career services staff began planning what fall career fairs would look like. The career services council -- made up of directors from each college -- decided to move fairs online for the first time and was able to contract with CareerEco to host the events.

The quick decision was key as most colleges and universities were trying to do the same thing, Gaul said.

"You can only imagine how many schools were reaching out to (CareerEco) to put on these virtual events," he said.

The Business, Industry and Technology, Agriculture and Life Sciences and People to People career fairs will all use CareerEco. The Engineering Career Fair took place Sept. 15-16, using the CyHire system.

First up

The Engineering Career Fair saw 400 employers and 6,000 students participate. Going virtual did not limit interaction, with more than 15,000 chats between students and employers.

Employers had positive feedback, and engineering career services assistant director Kellie Mullaney said it gave them ideas for improvement in the future.

"You want to help your students and employers prepare as much as possible ahead of time," Mullaney said. "We hosted multiple preparation and practice events for both students and employers. I think this helped them to feel much more confident and prepared going into the career fair."

Different preparation

Unlike in-person fairs, students must sign up for the virtual events in advance through CareerEco, which has advantages. Students are able to:

  • Upload their resume
  • Check an interest box that sends their resume to an employer before the event
  • Access all job postings made by visiting companies
  • See a list of all employers attending

Students can schedule appointments with employers, and all interactions are done through a chatroom in a group or one-on-one setting, depending on the employer's preference.

"You still have to get dressed up because there is video interaction, and it is very similar to in-person where you have to bring your 'A' game and be ready to sell yourself," Gaul said.

About a month from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences event -- the largest in the nation -- more than 400 students already signed up. With the online format, the college expanded the career fair to two days for the first time.

The Ivy College of Business produced videos to walk students through the technology and will host a mock virtual career fair.


Career services estimates 60% of capacity for businesses taking part in fairs versus fall 2019, but the decline is driven more by economic factors than the transition online, Gaul said.

Some companies did push back on the online format, but Gaul said physical distancing requirements and the inability to offer equal access to students provided little choice.

"All of us in career services would prefer to be face-to-face," he said. "We all recognize the value of that."

 Job search

Both Long and Gaul said jobs and internships still are available. Gaul credits companies for finding ways to make their internships work during a pandemic and being willing to learn the technology to take part.

"We are seeing a consistent flow of jobs into CyHire," Long said. "Employers have indicated to us that they are adapting and changing to continue to offer competitive internship experiences for students."

She said students must be adaptable, too.

"I tell students to really think big picture and long-term about how an opportunity could benefit them," Long said. "It is a matter of stacking the cards they are given as much in their favor as possible."