Fall Career Fairs Combine, Go Virtual

Three of Carnegie Mellon University’s annual career fairs combined this fall into one, bringing together 168 employers and over 3,500 graduate and undergraduate students virtually from around the world.

As higher education adapts in response to the ongoing pandemic, schools have been faced with the challenge of providing high quality of education and career development. Career fairs involve a high concentration of individuals and focus on face-to-face networking, making these events ill-suited for social distancing.

With that in mind organizers for the Technical Opportunities Conference (TOC), Encompass and Converge Silicon Valley fair joined forces.

Drawing students from engineering, computer science, and the other sciences, the TOC has been Carnegie Mellon’s largest career fair for more than 40 years. The student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) regularly helps plan the event, represented this year by TOC Co-chairs Tanvi Bhargava and Meghana Keeta, both students in electrical and computer engineering.

"Overall, I think it’s nice to have students more involved in planning because you get their perspective firsthand and how they react to all of these changes, especially during a strange year like this," Bhargava said.

The TOC organizers joined staff from the Career and Professional Development Center (CPDC) who are responsible for planning Encompass, the biannual career fair for all majors featuring employers spanning a full range of industries. The virtual fair planning committee was rounded out by staff from CMU Silicon Valley , whose annual Converge Silicon Valley fair attracts graduate-level students from technical degree programs toward careers in mobility, security, data science, software engineering, product management, product design, development and entrepreneurship.

The planning committee chose CareerEco to host the event, a platform intended to transmit the physical aspects of the networking event experience into the virtual environment.

"People feel like they come across better in person, so now that things are online, they feel like it’s harder to make an impact on someone, harder to make a connection with a recruiter and really convey who they are virtually," Keeta said. "A big part of our planning was trying to figure out how to ensure that human connection wasn’t lost."

Changes for students meant changes for employers, who had to rethink how they handle networking and recruiting. Employers could access student resumes and information prior to the beginning of the event, enabling greater planning and targeted networking than would have been possible under normal conditions. Fair "booths" also included greater functionality and capacity than any physical space. Each booth served as a chat room for employers to post jobs and information, or where up to eight recruiters could chat with students via text or video.

This fall’s Virtual Career Fair provided an otherwise-impossible networking opportunity for thousands of students affected by the pandemic, and the new methods and tools adopted under these extraordinary circumstances will inform how networking is conducted in the future.

"As we review our events for the spring semester, the experience of this combined event has helped us in our planning process," said Jeff Jeffries, director of employer relations for the CPDC. "Most importantly, we would like to recalibrate the expectations of a virtual career event for both the students and employers, and to maximize the platforms and technology we have available to us."

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