Recruitment Masterclass: Reflecting on the Virtual University Event & Career Fair Experience
22 April 2021
Los Angeles, CA
Alex Ramirez, Beyond Limits Recruiter
After being promoted to University Recruiter, the prospect of traveling to network with students was very exciting; then COVID struck, halting all of the new and fulfilling duties this position promised. Companies, schools, and the entire world were all forced to adjust everything that had come before the pandemic – the fun meet-and-greets, community gatherings, and other (formerly) commonplace events were put on hold and traded in for more of a “virtual reality.”
Virtual career fairs and university events became common, necessary placeholders over the past year. What do they actually entail? They are digital events that are similar to webinars. They occur at a specific time in a selected virtual space so that companies, recruiters, job seekers, and students can gather via chat, teleconference, webcast, and other similar platforms to discuss and exchange information about jobs or other potential career moves under consideration.
Growing Pains of a Remote-controlled World
Pre-COVID expectations around university recruitment events involved setting up interactive booths, engaging with hundreds of students both one-on-one and in groups, physically passing out merch, and shaking hands in polite greetings. Of course, the reality of what 2020 doled out for the entire world was quite the opposite. Going from such an inherently immersive in-person experience and meeting students en masse, in small groups, or via one-on-ones – to no face-to-face interaction whatsoever – was an interesting and sudden transition, to say the least.
Every school adopted its own method for organizing virtual university recruitment events, whether held over Zoom or other third-party vendors, such as Brazen. In the beginning, adapting to the new methods of connecting was a learning curve on both sides. Doing everything from home came with its quirks, from the internet timing out at inopportune moments to unexpected puppy-noise interruptions and unanticipated package delivery doorbells – at first, this “new normal” wasn’t exactly entirely normal, per se. However, the freedom to jump up and stretch out at random or fill up a water bottle from a private source were indeed very nice caveats.
Getting Into the Swing of Things
Once a moderately consistent cadence was established, the process did start to smooth out and other tangible benefits of this new approach began presenting themselves. Virtual career fairs generally lasted about 4-5 hours out of a business day and, during that time, we would try to get to one-on-one sessions with as many students as possible. A lot of times, those sessions were a really great way to engage with students on a more personal level, providing a direct line of help for those that needed a little extra guidance or had more complex questions.
As more and more of these events continued taking place over time, it was a great learning opportunity to see what worked best – and what didn’t – from one experience to the next. Watching the process evolve to fit the needs of students during this trying time in their academic careers was pretty inspiring. Everyone was doing the best they could to make an effort and ensure these students would experience at least a little normalcy amid their unique educational experiences.
Other benefits for companies, recruiters, and hiring managers also presented themselves including a reduction in time-spent and out-of-pocket expense associated with attending a traditional, in-person event. Employers were also able to more easily connect with prospective employees from anywhere in the globe, broadening the scope of international potential from a more diverse pool of candidates that may come from a wider variety of disciplines.
A Few Tips from a Recruiter to a Candidate
If you are feeling a little in the dark about an upcoming meeting, here are some tips to make the interaction go off without a hitch:
- Do your due diligence. Researching the company beforehand will save you a few extra minutes in the “any questions for us?” portion of the conversation. With that extra time, you may have more of an opportunity to cover over more of your own back story and ask those questions about the company you wanted answers for but couldn’t find easily. Dig into the company’s website, research the CEO, review latest press releases, read articles by their subject matter experts, scroll through social feeds, etc. The more research you do, the better impression you’ll likely make on recruiters. Having a pre-prepared list of questions at the ready is also a very good idea, it will yield a seamless flow in the conversation.
- Speak up in group settings. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – especially when in a group! You’ll be the one that stands out in the pack. Plus, other folks participating in the call might have similar questions they may be holding back. Getting the conversation going could help everyone feel more compelled to participate. When it comes to one-on-one conversations, keep it short and sweet; you have to be cautious of time. It’s not uncommon for conversations with students to simply cut out mid-conversation because time was up. In that scenario, there was no graceful exit with a sub-par closing. Important topics to cover include degree and focus, new grad/intern qualifications, and other relevant experiences – whether academic or professional.
- Check your tech! You want to come off as well prepared as possible for the meeting. Checking that everything you need to work is in fact working will provide a polished vibe and effortless back-and-forth. Dealing with tech issues on time constraints will lead to a strained and disjointed conversation. Items to check include your camera, microphone, and internet connection. It’s can also be helpful to use headphones for improved sound quality, connection, etc. Also, take the time to figure out a spot with good lighting and a background that isn’t distracting. The focus should be on you not a pile of dirty laundry on an unmade bed. One other item of note, if you can turn your camera on – whether in a group or individual setting – it really does go a long way. In the group setting, it helps recruiters feel more comfortable, from an engagement perspective. The same goes for one-on-one meetings; a camera is much easier (and more personable) than giving off the impression of juggling multiple conversations at once.
- Enthusiasm! It cannot be emphasized enough that this characteristic goes a really long way in almost any scenario. Put that passion and drive on display in the conversation; it will make a lasting impression. Recruiters working from home can often start to become a little jaded tired from talking to numerous students saying the same thing all day. Set yourself apart! Come in engaged and bring some flair to the conversation. Have an upbeat ‘about me’ pitch ready and maybe do some practice runs in front of your camera to get a better idea of how you come off. If it helps, a good practice is to record yourself and review the footage to determine areas of improvement. One other point for new grads to consider, don’t feel hopeless if companies that you engage with aren’t hiring. Continue the conversation, keep it lighthearted, and talk about your interests, experiences, future goals, etc. You never know when the company may start hiring again. That good impression you gave may resonate down the line, jogging the recruiter’s memory of you and placing you at the front of the line for a relevant job referral.
- Plan for/expect to follow up. Allot enough time to request contact info so you can reach out the next day with a thank you and/or follow-up. Not everyone will think to bookend the conversation this way; it will remind the recruiter of you and leave a lasting impression.
The Future of Virtual University Events
Virtual career fairs and university events certainly served their purpose over this past year and can most definitely be replicated as necessary. If we were to keep one factor that should be carried over from these events, it would be the intimate one-on-one time allotted with each student.
However, while virtual events were decent alternatives that succeeded at what we needed them for over the past year, I think anyone “in the know” would voice a preference for the real deal. The process of hosting group sessions did not prove as fruitful a venture. These often felt a bit forced; when faced with the intimidating eyes and ears of their peers, students were not as willing to engage or ask questions as they normally would in person. When the floor finally opened for students to make their voices heard, quite the opposite would occur and the room was often left adrift in that awkward silence you see in movies or shows, crickets chirping away in the background.
Luckily, as we move into this spring of 2021, a return to some form of what we used to know looks like it may be on the horizon as the pandemic seemingly starts to loosen its grip on the globe. That first on-campus, in-person event is an exciting prospect – and you can bet Beyond Limits will be one of the first booths set up that day. Come see us – we can’t wait to meet you!
WANT TO CHECK OUT OUR CURRENT OPENINGS AT BEYOND LIMITS? CHECK OUT THE CAREER PAGE HERE.