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  • TaraThurber

University Career Fairs Go Virtual

Between campus shutdowns, stay-at-home orders, and cancelled in-person events, the standard university experience has dramatically changed during the COVID era. What’s more, the healthy job market that existed last Winter is no longer a light at the end of the tunnel for recent and soon-to-be college graduates. In an effort to help students succeed during and after college, university career service centers have gone virtual.

“Monmouth [University] career services has moved all programming to a virtual environment,” said Will Hill, the Assistant Dean of Career Services at MU. “All of our staff members are working virtually for the remainder of semester. The good news is that all services are easily transferrable to the digital environment.”

Social distancing guidelines were initially a death sentence for one-on-one career service sessions. However, career service professionals like Hill have found ways to continue scheduling appointments for resume writing, career counseling, job workshops, and webinars for students and alumni on the job hunt.

“Attendance has been great for our online workshops, webinars, and guest speakers,” said Hill.

Students at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City are marching to a similar tune.

“All our [career] services are virtual. Right now, I am on a virtual help desk for students interested in our career fair,” said Enzo Fonzo, Director of Career Engagement St. Peter's. “We’ve had to figure out ways to engage with students, faculty, and employers as creatively as possible.”

Fonzo is able to get back into his campus office just a few days a week. The majority of his time is spent engaging virtually.

“We join Zoom classrooms with faculty to talk about career services. We do online workshops for resume writing. Our outreach is even more aggressive than it was before,” explained Enzo. “It’s a challenge and opportunity for us. We’re a small campus and we like to see students one-on-one. So, we’re making a lot of effort from the virtual side.”

While the effort is present, the jobs that were once open to college grads are not as available as they were just one year ago.

“It’s more competitive now because the job market is in a flux,” said Enzo.

Both Hill and Enzo agree that having success finding a job could depend on the specific industry and how much it was affected by the pandemic.

“Students should be flexible. Industries like health care and cyber security are hiring and our students are finding ways to work,” said Enzo. “Students need to be persistent. They need to use the career centers, whatever they have at their disposal, and get creative.”

While the competition is fierce, employers are hiring. More than 600,000 jobs were added in September and the unemployment rate fell to less than 8%, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What’s more, Enzo and Hill were spot-on saying that certain businesses are still thriving during the pandemic… Industries like fitness, transportation, technology, and health care are some of the most likely places to find work.

Since the Summer, Hill has been hard at work trying to connect hiring managers, companies, and job seeking students. His efforts will come to fruition in the form of MU’s second-ever virtual career fair.

“The industry has responded with software to be able to conduct virtual job fairs. With the exception of actually shaking the person’s hand, the student can do everything they were able to do in-person—see the recruiter, talk to them. These job fair platforms mimic WebEx or Zoom and allow students to share resumes or chat with recruiters,” explained Hill.

Monmouth career services use a software called Jobs Connected while St. Peter’s career consultants use another called Handshake.

Both Enzo, Hill, and career service staff across the country are finding creative ways to conduct their jobs virtually and they are urging students to seek employment creatively as well. Challenge and opportunity often go hand-in-hand—it seems this situation is no different.

Students, alumni, and job seekers as a whole should “stay positive,” said Hill. “It’s a numbers game. Get applications out there. Practice your digital presence on LinkedIn. And practice interviewing online.”