By: Jeffrey Low
With the effects of COVID-19 being felt across every aspect of higher education, student affairs departments must do their best to remain flexible and maintain their services for students and community partners. This means adapting to provide academic, personal and professional support in these challenging and uncertain times.
Supporting students and faculty in the transition to online learning was the first phase. With the arrival of the summer months — a time when employment is a priority for many post-secondary students — student affairs professionals who provide career and employment services need to shift their attention to advising job-seeking students on how to search for opportunities in a digital environment.
With Statistics Canada announcing that the country lost more than two million jobs in April, it’s important that student affairs departments do everything in their means to connect students with open positions, and employer partners with skilled candidates. If this means expanding services, exploring new methods of service delivery and ultimately making student affairs departments across the country more flexible, then all the better.
On May 7, the Student Success Centre (SSC) at McMaster University hosted 359 students and 57 employers at its annual Online Volunteer and Job Fair. To address students’ need for opportunities to gain experience in a challenging time, the SSC focused on highlighting flexible opportunities from organizations that can support students as they onboard in a virtual environment.
“One of our ‘show-up’ actions is to think outside the box to provide students and partners with the tools to continue to learn, build experience and access opportunities in a digital environment,” shares Gisela Oliveira, associate director of career and development at the SSC. “When shifting away from in-person events and toward virtual experiences, it’s important to focus on interactive elements that can make the experience feel more engaging, personal and thoughtful.”
The SSC has developed a list of practical strategies based on their experience planning virtual career fairs. Here are eight tips to help any institution or department plan a successful virtual career fair.
- Choose a platform that is user friendly and allows for booth customization (i.e. videos) and provides survey functionality.
- Set a budget for your event that includes marketing and promotion costs. When planning marketing and promotion, be sure to position the virtual nature of the event as a positive, not a negative. For example, employers and job seekers can connect in real time from all over the world.
- Provide participating employers with best practices on how to navigate the platform smoothly, effectively share information and promote their organization’s positions and values. For example, employers should make the most of this opportunity to share success stories from alumni, videos that demonstrate organization values and work life, social media accounts and so on.
- Highlight specific opportunities that employers are currently recruiting for, as this encourages student participation. Job seekers will want to know job titles, descriptions and as many details as possible.
- Target employers that value diversity, equity and inclusion by including an option for organizations to share a mission or vision statement. These organizational values can have a great influence on job seekers’ career decisions, as today’s students want to work somewhere that aligns with their beliefs.
- Support students before the career fair with tip sheets, online workshops or AMAs.
- Include a virtual career advising booth where students can get career guidance at the event.
- After the event, develop a survey for both participating employers and job seekers to measure the fair’s success. As these virtual events become more and more common across higher education, it’s important to note where you can make improvements.
COVID-19 will continue to change the landscape of higher education in the months to come. This means the services that students have access to must continue to adapt, reflect student needs and support students as they overcome new barriers.
While these changes have an immediate impact on student success during this pandemic, the ability to host virtual events and provide online services could have a positive impact on recruitment efforts for organizations and schools — even outside of COVID-19.