Seven months ago, when the VCU School of Business last hosted a business career fair, the atrium and most rooms in Snead Hall were packed. Five hundred business students waited in lines, eager to shake hands with representatives from about 100 companies.
It was a far different scene on September 15, when VCU Business Career Services hosted its first-ever virtual career fair. Snead Hall remains shuttered to students as a result of COVID-19, but the university’s job posting platform, Handshake, was exploding with activity. By the end of the day, 327 students had participated in 892 one-on-one meetings and more than 100 group sessions with recruiters from 59 companies, including CGI, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Dominion Energy, CoStar Group and Altria.
“These companies want to hire our students”
“One of the biggest hurdles we had to overcome this fall was all the bad news students had seen about the economy losing jobs,” says Julia Wingfield, Associate Director of Business Career Services. “This event confirmed what our office has seen throughout this pandemic – that companies want to hire our business students. We have had more than 200 active postings at any given time for career, full-time and internship positions in IS, marketing, management, economics, finance and accounting.”
Of the student attendees, 51% were seniors and 33% were juniors. “This was my first career fair, and it was exactly what I expected it to be,” says Graham Tracy, a junior majoring in Financial Technology. “Business Career Services helped me prepare by reviewing my resume, walking me through how to register on Handshake and preparing me for what to expect during the group sessions as well as the one-on-ones.”
Tracy secured a total of four virtual engagements – group sessions with Acuity Insurance and Northwestern Mutual as well as one-on-one meetings with Northwestern Mutual and Genworth. “Some of the group sessions were smaller than I anticipated, so I was able to introduce myself and ask questions,” he says. He was particularly enthused to learn of the financial development programs offered by Genworth and Northwestern and, within days of the career fair, secured a promising interview for one. “I’m glad I was able to attend the career fair and start building connections to prepare myself for life post graduation.”
Advantages of a virtual career fair
The virtual career fair offered many advantages to both employers and students. Students were able to sign up for sessions tailored specifically to their own demographics and knew in advance exactly who they would be encountering.
“At an in-person career fair, students are sometimes in the dark about the opportunities available to them. They also don’t necessarily know who the recruiter is – whether the person they are speaking to is a human resource representative or a VCU alumnus who actually works in the department they are pursuing,” explains Wingfield. “When a prospective student walks up at an in-person event, employers don’t know their year, major or GPA. With a virtual format, all of those parameters could be shared in advance.”
Within Handshake, employers were able to post the full-time jobs and internships they sought to fill and to specify the desired student demographic (major/GPA) for each position. “Rather than send a limited number of recruiters to Richmond, the virtual format also allowed representatives from a variety of departments to participate. So instead of giving a two-to-three-minute ‘plug,’ they were able to have in-depth discussions about specific positions and company culture,” says Wingfield.
Behind-the-scenes work pays off
The successful event was the culmination of months of preparation by Business Career Services. “Our team has had years and years to figure out what works and what doesn’t work,” explains Wingfield. “We were able to successfully transition that to a virtual setting.”
Business Career Services spent much of the summer preparing two new tools that launched this fall, in advance of the career fair:
“We spent the last year determining, ‘What is the ideal resume for VCU business students?’ The majority of our students work part- or full-time and so many of them are heavily involved in student organizations. We want their resumes to highlight these strengths. With Vmock, students can upload their resume at any hour and the platform will assess certain components like format and the use of action verbs. It also will emphasize students’ skills in communication, leadership or initiative to help them make a top-notch resume they can share with employers.”
“The BizCareer website was a logical next step for Handshake,” Wingfield explains. “It’s available exclusively for VCU business students and allows them to search for jobs that meet their precise criteria. Instead of scrolling through hundreds of search results that include part-time and seasonal jobs, it uses RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds to pull only full-time or internship positions. Students know the second an employer posts a job that meets their criteria and, when application deadlines have passed, those jobs drop off.”
“What our students, employers and alumni need now is completely different from what they needed in February,” concludes Wingfield. “We are now prepared to engage however they need it – virtually or by telephone, day or night. We are actively sending out communications to students and employers to let them know what we are doing and asking how we can best support them. Success means keeping employers engaged with our talented students and helping students prepare to confidently engage with employers at the correct hiring level.”