Bradley University’s Smith Career Center hosted its first virtual Fall Job & Internship Fair on Sept. 22. The fair focused on one-on-one sessions and group sessions between students and employers.
“We heard from a number of students that they felt more comfortable in the virtual environment,” Smith Career Center executive director Jon Neidy said. “It wasn’t as anxiety-ridden for them because there was a little bit of safe distance, I think that was nice for the students specifically.”
The career center used a program called Handshake to run the event. Handshake was also used to run the Part Time Job Expo in August which served as a test for how to run the larger job fair more smoothly.
Neidy said the platform operates like a Google Meet or Zoom call, but one-on-one sessions are limited to 10 minutes and group sessions are limited to 30 minutes. In group sessions, the employers control the conversation.
There were 791 students registered to attend the fair and 114 employers registered. Employers ranged from global businesses like Caterpillar to smaller, local businesses like Camp of Champions.
According to a report from Handshake, the national average attendance rate of students who sign up for virtual job fairs is around 60 percent, whereas around 90 percent of Bradley students who registered attended the fair.
“So our students, once they committed, really did show up,” Neidy said.
In addition to having a great turn out, the virtual fair gave students time to do more research and plan out what companies they wanted to talk to rather than moving from table to table.
“Unlike an in-person fair, where students can kinda wander around and look at where lines are and look at things and make decisions about who they want to visit, they had to preselect the [employers] they wanted to engage with,” Neidy said.
Senior management information systems business analytics major Leah Jacobson has been to the job fair all four years she has been at Bradley, so she knew this year was going to be a little different than her past experiences.
“Not being able to go to any employer and just say ‘Hi’ if I thought I was interested was a different experience,” Jacobson said in an email interview.
Jacobson said during one of her one-on-one meetings, the employer did not show up.
“So I sat there for 10 minutes, hoping she would come on, considering it is a company I am extremely interested in,” Jacobson said.
She said she saw a few organizational shortfalls of this year’s fair compared to past years.
“There was not a lot of information given for the job fair this year that I could easily find and usually spreadsheets of companies who want to hire specific majors are out everywhere, but there were none this year,” Jacobson said.
Neidy said most Handshake mishaps happened due to user error and not the program and that the staff effort put forth to ensure fewer problems was more than past fairs.
“Many of our staff members put in a lot of time that they typically would not give to planning a fair just to make sure that it worked well for our students, so they were very committed to the experience,” Neidy said.