Pittsburg State University’s office of career services held “Meet the Firms Day” September 14, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The event, which was targeted to students studying majors within the Kelce College of Business, was a career fair that provided students the opportunity to meet and network with potential employers.
Unlike previous years when the event would be held in a large area such as the Ball Room in the student center, this year, the event was held virtually.
“It went virtual this year, so we utilized Handshake as the platform,” said Mindy Cloninger, director of career services. “So, the students signed up for specific time slots with the list of companies available and had then had an opportunity to meet with them over Zoom links.”
Handshake is the company that powers Gorillas4Hire, PSU’s online job posting board.
According to Cloninger, there were several aspects of the fair being virtual that were quite different compared to the traditional in-person setting.
“One (aspect) is that… it was very specifically structured and scheduled,” Cloninger said. “Students would have to schedule in advance firms they wanted to talk to. Then when they met with them one-on-one, which is a little different than a regular career fair, where another student may be at the table as well or a faulty person may get involved in that conversation with the employer and students… you’re not just kind of wondering around the Ballroom… and somebody would just come by and you go over and talk to someone you don’t necessarily expect to talk to.”
The meetings with the various companies were scheduled in 10-minute windows, as defined by Handshake.
“So, it’s very much a one-on-one experience for the students,” Cloninger said. “There were some group opportunities and that’s something, obviously we’re learning all of this. So, the group opportunities are something we’re learning about and are working to expand those. So, several students can meet with an employer at one time and get a little bit more information.”
The meetings with firms were not monitored by Career Services, but they had a student breakroom on Zoom where students could enter the room if they experienced technical difficulties and needed help troubleshooting.
“We did have a representative from Handshake to help us troubleshoot, so that was above and beyond customer service, so I was very impressed and pleased to have them,” Cloninger said.
Cloninger said the “Meet the Firms” event is a smaller scale career fair event as it is targeted to specific majors, and that they expected the numbers to decline a little bit with the transition to a virtual format. However, Cloninger said the event went well, and that they were satisfied with the numbers of attendees.
Seventeen firms registered and approximately 53 students were involved with the event. According to Cloninger, previous years saw approximately 20 to 24 firms register, so they were “very happy with the numbers.”
“Overall, we were incredible pleased with how it all flowed and that everybody got where they were supposed to be,” Cloninger said. “With a new format we figured our numbers would dip a little bit, but we were super happy with the employer response and the student response.”
Bethany Blatchford, junior in accounting, registered for the event and thought the event went very well.
“It was amazing, it was flawless,” Blatchford said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better at this point, trying to work with it with COVID… I actually was able to get my foot in the door with quite a few places.”
Blatchford believes it is still important to have these types of events, event being held virtually.
“It’s beneficial for everybody,” Blatchford said. “I mean our classes are beneficial, but the whole reason attending a four-year college we’re trying to get connections and get our foot in the door, otherwise once we graduate it’s going to be a little bit harder, so I definitely think events like these are really important, even if it has to be virtual.”
The Office of Career Services began researching virtual career fairs immediately in March and April, when the threat of COVID-19 began to lead to many large face-to-face gatherings being canceled and shut down. According to Cloninger, it is because they believe career fairs are “incredibly important for students to have that opportunity to have access to employers without having to reach out on their own.”
“It’s an important benefit the university provides for our students; to provide ready access to employers,” Cloninger said. “So, to not offer that to our students would be a huge disservice to our students. We knew it was critical that our students have the opportunity to interact with employers… So, we made our decisions and researched companies to help us with that. We met with other directors from Board of Regents and compared notes… we all went to virtual fairs.”
The Fall Career Expo, planed for October 22, is a larger career fair for all majors, will also be held online.
Cloninger said that all services offered by the office of career services are still available in a virtual format, and that they will also be able to assist students that need tips or help preparing for a virtual career fair.
“(Meet the Firms) was kind of like a trial run for a larger (career fair), so we know more how to help students prepare and for employers to prepare,” Cloninger said.