UVA participates in its first nation-wide virtual career fair 



Last week, UVA participated in CareerEco’s virtual career fair, which allowed students and alumni access to over 60 empoyers nationwide. 

The career fair is a rite of passage for college seniors. Put on your new suit, print out 30 copies of your resume, and walk from booth to booth with your best smile, praying that someone will offer you an interview.

But this quintessential college experience may not last. This year, universities nationwide are participating in a virtual career fair, giving students and alumni the opportunity to meet and chat with dozens of employers from the comfort of their own computers.

Last week, UVA was one of 22 SEC and ACC schools to offer CareerEco’s virtual career fair to students. More than 60 employers, from Abercrombie & Fitch to INVISTA, met juniors and seniors in chat rooms and over video chat, reviewed resumes, and set up future interviews.

“It’s a greener way to recruit,” said Gayle Oliver-Plath, founder and CEO of CareerEco, who said connecting with students online allows employers to save gas and traveling expenses, and paper, poster board, and other items necessary for traditional fairs.

Senior engineering student Nicolle Anderson said she attended a career fair earlier this year, but found some recruiters couldn’t answer her specific questions.

“They just told me to look at the website,” she said.

According to Oliver-Plath, the flexibility and convenience of the online fair lets companies share the recruiting responsibilities with multiple stakeholders.

Subject matter experts, even CEOs who can’t travel to schools, can now “carve out a portion of their day” to speak with students, she said.

Anderson is one of the lucky few who already has a job lined up after graduation, but said had she known about the virtual career fair beforehand and had the opportunity to speak with someone other than a recruiter, she might have participated.

Oliver-Plath described CareerEco as a way to “match the needs of this generation.”

But is this method of recruiting really an effective way to expedite the job search process, or is it just another facet of the millenial generation’s declining ability to communicate and interact without technology?

Junior Jonathon Tanks, also an engineering student, said he prefers the experience of a traditional career fair, with little interest in meeting employers online.

“I like to meet people,” he said.

He agreed that students who struggle with personal interactions, or even those whose careers would be more technologically oriented, could benefit from the new opportunity. But as someone whose career will be personal and client-based, he said he values the ability to interact face-to-face.

“There’s a lot more to communication than just what you say,” Tanks said, noting the importance of socializing with co-workers and interacting in the workplace.

Barbara Hampton, associate director for employer services at UVA, said the University has no intention of replacing traditional fairs with virtual ones.

“We’re using it as a supplemental tool,” she said.

Oliver-Plath said the virtual career fair is about giving people new options. “It’s not designed to replace what works well,” she said.

Hampton has encouraged students to take advantage of the chats, but warned them to not “depend on the virtual environment.” She noted that, while the virtual fair is an excellent way to make connections and ask preliminary questions, it cannot replace an interview. She said employers will use the virtual chats to screen and test basic written verbal skills, but students should expect any steps further in the process to be in person.

“We still believe in face-to-face interviews,” said Matthew Frazer at Virginia Staffing Choice.

As president of a local staffing and executive search firm, Frazer deals first-hand with both clients and potential employees every day, and values basic social skills.

“You can tell more about a candidate when they’re in front of you,” Frazer said.

He agreed that, from a student’s perspective and an employer’s, participating in a virtual career fair “makes perfect sense.”