April 12, 2012 — More than 500 University of Virginia students participated last week in the University's first virtual career fair.
U.Va.'s program was part of a larger online fair, in which 22 Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference schools and 61 employers participated. Most of the participating employers were hiring for technical or financial positions.
The career fair, held April 3-5, included three components – group chats, individual chats and video chats. Students entered a particular business' group chat first and from there could chat with a recruiter individually. If the student and employer had enough interest in one another, a video or voice conversation could be enabled.
While virtual career fairs have existed for a few years, most schools have only recently obtained access to the technology necessary to participate, according to Barbara Hampton, associate director of employer services in the Office of University Career Services.
The fair gave students the opportunity to speak to many employers who do not usually visit U.Va., she said, including companies that do not have the budget to travel to traditional career fairs.
Going online will help connect more students to more companies, and in turn will give students an advantage when it comes to applying to jobs with these businesses, Hampton said. Virtual career fair interactions "can maybe get a student further along in the application process than just filling out an application on their website," she said.
Bethany Westemeir, recruiting coordinator at Plexus, a Wisconsin-based electronics manufacturer, echoed Hampton's sentiments. "The virtual career fair has a diverse group of students and alumni that are very qualified for the positions we are looking for," she said. "It is nice to speak with them, since there is no way we would ever be able to attend a career fair on campus."
The only con for Westemeir is the absence of face-to-face interaction. Yet, she said the video chat component makes up for it.
Kyle Sledge, fourth-year economics major in the College of Arts & Sciences, who is looking for a job in financial services, was one of 531 U.Va. students and alumni who registered for the fair. He spoke with a major bank at the virtual career fair and secured a follow-up interview.
He called the event "a novel idea," adding, "Hopefully, it will grow over the next couple of years."
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, hiring for the Class of 2012 is up more than 10 percent over last year. U.Va.'s graduating class has been using all of University Career Services' job-seeking resources, Hampton said; in addition to the virtual career fair, the office hosts traditional career fairs and on-Grounds interviewing, and maintains an alumni networking and mentoring community and an online job search engine.
– by Lisa Littman