Western Michigan University held three virtual job fairs in February this year. The pandemic has not only caused many WMU events to be held in this format, but the number of jobs and internships available to college students has decreased significantly.
The career fair held in 2018 showcased about 150 different employers while 2020 and 2021 each held around 80.
Employer Engagement Assistant Amanda Jeppesen explained how in the fall, companies were unsure of the economic impact of the pandemic, which would make the number of jobs available lower than previous years. Networking was still an option for these companies, though.
“Companies coming to talk about future hiring is not uncommon at a job fair,” Jeppesen said. “The highest percentage of people that are coming employer wise, are coming to hire, but there’s always a small percentage of people that are coming to build their pipeline.”
If students encounter those who are not currently hiring at the job fair, they are encouraged to talk about what the company is hiring for down the road. Employers can communicate what their future requirements may be so students are better prepared for that job or internship.
“It’s just a really hard cycle because there are less opportunities than there were in the past, but the same amount or even more students looking,” Junior Samantha Morehead said.
With the career fairs being held virtual, this puts both challenges and advantages in the events. As a student and career fair event planner, Morehead has been able to see the career fair from both sides.
“Virtually is a different format and a learning curve for everyone, there’s advantages and disadvantages to both sides,” Morehead said. “I went to the career fairs in person as a sophomore looking for a job in the area I want to go into. I actually got an offer through the career fair but unfortunately, the internship was canceled due to COVID.”
The virtual format also allows for more time to speak with employers and the ability to come prepared with notes, Senior Alaina Gork said.
“I feel like it almost helped my chances because I could connect one-on-one and really have them take the time and talk with me in that moment,” Gork said. “Usually in an in-person career fair you have to wait in line and you may not get the time that you want.”
Muaaz Khalid, a student member of the career engagement team, also said he experienced major differences between the in-person and virtual formats
“As a student, I want to know what the employer is thinking, and you can get a lot from the looks you get when you talk to someone (in-person), like where they are coming from and what the follow-up questions are,” Khalid said. “Online, I don’t get that feeling and I feel the employer could be distracted by other students.”
Khalid also said that the virtual format allows for one employer message more than one student at a time. This is potentially distracting and a student may not know if they are getting the full attention of the employer.
WMU’s last job fair, government and non-profit, will be Feb. 18. Students can access the job fair at Handshake and Easy Virtual Fair.