“If you just slap the word ‘virtual’ on a career fair and think you’re done, it’s a disservice to your students and employers.”

Farouk Dey, Johns Hopkins University

Ready to think about the fall yet? Because it’s coming—fast. 

Given the unprecedented and dire economic landscape students are being thrust into, it’s imperative that career centers act decisively to facilitate meaningful virtual interactions between students and employers that yield real opportunities—now. 

This means doing more than trying to faithfully replicate in-person worlds online. It means thinking through a fundamentally new and different approach to how the network of early talent connects virtually around a common outcome. 

It’s not enough to pay lip service to the new mode of work and connection by simply calling something “virtual.” We all need to adopt a “forever changed” mindset moving forward. 

“We need to stay in the mindset that we are forever changed.  Video calls were previously a bonus option. Virtual fairs and events open up the option for many types of engagement, particularly ones that could focus on international and underrepresented communities.”

Christopher Maldonado, Syracuse University

That’s why Handshake is building the next generation of virtual fairs for our network to use this fall. In the coming weeks, we’ll be introducing a new way to bring the early talent recruiting network to life; read on for more information about our research to date and what we’ve uncovered about the true value of the career fair. 

(Join us on May 6th at 10am PT/1pm ET for a behind-the-scenes look at our research and development on virtual fairs to date. Register here.)

Redefining how we connect the network

“We understand that replicating the exact fair experience is not possible.

Lee Hameroff, Assistant Director of Assessment and Technology, University of Connecticut

After hearing from the universities, employers, and students in our network about the desire for a better fair option, a strategic group of product leaders at Handshake mobilized to research what’s needed—and what’s missing—from the current environment. 

Two questions were at the heart of our research:

  • How do we help employers and students differentiate themselves and build relationships where in-person interactions are limited? 
  • How can we help universities redefine and optimize how they facilitate connections in the early talent network?

What did we hear from our network? The majority of our employer partners tell us they want a “one-stop-shop” for virtual events and recruiting, and consider virtual fairs to be a meaningful alternative to in-person career fairs. And while the eagerness to adopt virtual fairs is shared by universities, both parties find the current options for virtual fairs to be lacking. 

From students we uncovered a sense that fairs weren’t always working all that well before. Universities already know about the basic limitations of a large, in-person gathering—long lines, limited space, repetitive interactions—but when we spoke to students in our network we heard more personal feedback.  At best, career fairs often feel like a necessary burden to students—at worst, they can feel alienating. With lots of competition to be noticed, students remarked it felt hard to be “seen.” Because we also know that career fairs aren’t just for seniors seeking jobs; there’s an important component of discovery for students earlier in their career journey who still want to make connections. 

“We’ve known that there have been improvements to be made to fairs for years. We’re excited to see how Handshake can make the experience for students even better, with more connections and intimate networking opportunities. We need this ASAP!”

Jason Aldrich Ed.D., Asst. Dean, Strategic Partnerships, Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University 

Universities have a chance to lead the network in a better direction. In-person fairs have always had a travel and logistics component that limits the number of employers a school can engage for a single event. Further, we know that if the event experience universities provide isn’t accretive to employer brand and recruitment efforts, then they run the risk of losing their critical role as connectors in the network—especially if employers go around the career center to reach students. And if students don’t feel seen or see the value, they will be reluctant to show up and engage. 

New mediums demand that value be generated in a different way, and not just by attempting to digitize a flawed analog experience. The new value that we can provide—impossible to create without the special network of universities, employers, and students within Handshake—is at the forefront of our efforts. 

Uncovering the value at the heart of a career fair

Based on our research with higher education partners, we’ve uncovered three central values of a career fair: 

Student opportunity, education, and exploration

A recent poll we conducted with our partners showed that 52.8% of career center partners felt student education and exploration was the greatest value of the campus career fair. And, given how students at every stage of their career search might leverage a fair event as a way to make more casual, exploratory connections, we consider this value a central focus in our design. 

Clearly, fairs provide great value by helping students learn about companies, opportunities, and options with a low commitment threshold. Employers are able to promote their brand next to potential competitors or other leading brands, while career centers benefit from the ability to provide many options to students at once, while also helping out smaller employers who might need an extra brand boost.

Recruiting

In the same poll, 33.5% of career center partners said that recruiting was the greatest value of the campus career fair. This might be the opportunity for employers to screen candidates, or for students to move to the next stage in the process by showing their personality alongside their qualifications. In addition to the tangible benefits for employers and students, career centers also rely on the ability to easily prove their value to campus stakeholders based on hiring outcomes from a single fair event.

Revenue

Though only 10.4% of poll respondents said revenue was the greatest value of a career fair, we know this will remain a factor as university budgets inevitably tighten in the coming months (or years). 

That’s our commitment to you: in the coming weeks and months we will be developing an alternative to the current virtual fair options—not by replicating what came before, but by innovating the next generation of large-scale engagement in a single system for employers, universities, and students at all stages of their career journey.

One last reminder: join us on May 6th at 10am PT/1pm ET for a behind-the-scenes look at our research and development on virtual fairs to date. Register here.