The Notre Dame Center for Career Development hosted its first virtual career fair last month, bringing together over 2,600 students and 242 employers in an event they had been anticipating since Notre Dame went online last spring. Although the Center for Career Development evaluated dozens of technology platforms and various formats for events and partnerships, they never considered canceling the fair.
“Career fairs, whether in-person or virtual, provide a valuable experience for students,” said Ryan Willerton, associate vice president for career and professional development. “It’s one of the most effective ways to truly learn about career paths and network with alumni and recruiters."
The week-long fair featured 10 virtual events for students to meet with employers and attend industry panels and networking events. Events included Engineering Industry Day, a Careers in Corporate Finance Panel and opportunities for Arts and Letters, Business Analytics and student-athletes to network. They were held either on Handshake or through Zoom.
“I liked the format because you could actually have conversations with people and research their background ahead of time,” one student wrote on a post-fair survey.
One event, the Diversity and Inclusion Networking Event, drew 100 organizations and 355 students.
“This event, open to all students, provided an opportunity for students to meet with employers committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace,” Willerton said.
Despite some technical issues surrounding connectivity, both students and employers found this new format to have its benefits. In feedback received in the post-fair survey, employers commented that the flexible format made attending the fair easier and more cost-efficient than in-person fairs.
“Virtual events provide our small team the flexibility of attending more events than we could otherwise when considering physical travel costs in terms of time, budget, staffing, etc.,” wrote one employer who attended the fair.
Students also highlighted the ease, efficiency and flexibility of the online format. They reported that with no lines and better organization, the fair was much less stressful than years past, but in-person options would be a strong addition when possible.
“I think an in-person career fair would be best, and then an online fair would be a great supplement for companies that can’t normally come,” wrote one student.
Other students preferred the virtual format: “It is easier to ensure you talk to the companies you want to and you are guaranteed a short window of time,” wrote one student in the follow-up survey. “Much less stressful and more organized than an in-person fair.”
Bentley Jos, a senior psychology major, was involved in the career fair from the employer’s side. He worked with his future employer, General Mills, to share his virtual internship experience from last summer.
“I thought General Mills did a good job of handling the virtual format and I thought that the students who attended the events did a great job of asking the right questions and letting the company know more about them,” he said. “I think that both the employer and the students did very well to convey what they bring to the table.”
This year’s virtual fair received higher satisfaction ratings than last year’s in-person fair, but Willerton already has plans for refining the process even more. Areas of focus include addressing audio/visual technical challenges, improving the process of sharing student resumes during one-on-one sessions, opening employer schedules to meet with more students and increasing student engagement with all employers.
Most students in attendance were sophomores and juniors, while employers ranged from Fortune 100 companies to local nonprofits. Many alumni were also in attendance. The attendance rate was about the same as a typical year for both students and employers.
“Given that 2020 is a very different economic situation, these registration numbers further validate what we already know,” Willerton said. “Employers truly see the talent and value Notre Dame students can offer their organizations.”
Career fairs serve as a venue for students to learn how to network and tor esearch potential opportunities, but the Center for Career Development
is also working to make these opportunities available outside of this event. Last summer, they coordinated over 70 Zoom information sessions for students to meet with alumni, parents and employers to learn about different industries and career paths.
“Networking has always been, and continues to be, the most effective way to find jobs and internships,” Willerton said.
The Center for Career Development is currently creating career development opportunities for the extended winter break and is planning for the virtual winter career fair in February.