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UND Career Expos go virtual for Fall 2020

Fall Career Expos draw more than 100 employers and many hundreds of students to engage online

It’s going to take more than a pandemic to keep employers from seeking UND’s best and brightest as future employees.

Over the past week, hundreds of information sessions and one-on-one conversations echoed through the virtual “convention hall” of Handshake as UND’s many fall semester career fairs and expos took place.

More than 100 companies and organizations met with hundreds more students over four separate events covering Engineering & Technology; Aerospace; Health, Business, Liberal Arts & Education; and Accountancy.

Though not the Alerus Center-sized experience found in February, UND Career Services organizers were pleased to see careful planning and communication pay off.

Mary Feller, a career coach and mentor coordinator, recalled an instance years ago where inclement weather shut down the entire in-person event. There wasn’t a backup plan that could work, logistically, which left Career Services staff scrambling to connect students to recruiters.

“This time, we were able to plan in advance and still be able to connect those employers to students, and we have something that works,” Feller said. “I think students were excited about it.

“Students are used to doing things virtually; and most of the time, for a lot of these employers, their first interview is going to be over the phone or in a Zoom-like setting.”

UND’s Department of Accountancy, hosting its own career fair in coordination with the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration’s Pancratz Career Development Center for the first time, came into fall with a working game plan as well, having hosted virtual student-employer interactions over the summer.

The UND Accounting Career & Internship Fair alone counted 275 student registrants – solid marks for a single discipline.

Kathy Lund, director of the Pancratz Center, worked with Professor and Department of Accountancy Chair Kate Campbell to meet with firms throughout the summer, preparing for virtual recruiting in September.

“We were excited to see that compared to last year’s in-person fair, we had the same number of accounting employers participate and a slight increase in the number of students registered for this virtual event,” Lund said.

Connections start with a Handshake

Leading up to the events, Career Services staff had to get students and employers alike up to speed on how to participate and what to expect.

Jennifer Proulx, Career Expo coordinator, said her team hosted a number of information sessions for students to familiarize themselves with Handshake – the University’s platform for campus recruiting. Handshake served as the landing page for all four events.

In the words of career coach Feller, things had to be a little more thoughtfully planned than printing a handful of resumes and showing up to see recruiters. Students needed to have their Handshake profiles up-to-date on their experiences and qualifications before registering for sessions with individual companies through the site.

“They had to take the time to register for the events to fit their own schedules, and ensure they had the right technology,” said Feller. “They needed to have their profiles updated to even be looked at by recruiters, so I think it was more planning on the student’s part than years past.”

Proulx said the biggest difference for the virtual expos, as far as planning, was the amount of outreach required to get companies on board with the idea of attending the event remotely.

“We needed companies to do a few different things this time around, in that they couldn’t just register and show up to participate,” said Proulx. “It was different having to convince them that it was still possible.”

Their efforts brought 107 companies to the expos this past week, not counting Accountancy’s separate event, which hosted 32 companies and firms.

Students and employers both used the Handshake platform to navigate this fall’s Career Expos. Through the site, students could look through sessions being offered by each company and create their own schedule. Web screenshot.

Effective strategies paying off

When compared to February, the pandemic certainly made an impact on the employer numbers, Proulx said. But it’s still evident that the hiring market exists for UND’s graduates.

The decision to move to Handshake as an employer platform, and to spearhead the platform for the North Dakota University System, turned out to be a good one.

“We have seen quite a few companies – that we haven’t necessarily partnered with in the past – that are attending because it can be done virtually, through Handshake,” Proulx said.

“Being the first school in the state to implement Handshake has put us, as a University, a step ahead with national recruiting,” Feller said. More than 700 schools in the country use Handshake, and Feller reasoned that it’s likely familiar to most full-time recruiters.

“We were strategic in purchasing a product that we knew could put UND in the spotlight, in North Dakota.”

Seamless and well-prepared event

This graphic shows many of the companies and organizations involved in UND Accountancy’s career fair.

Between the Department of Accountancy and the Pancratz Center, Campbell said it was a joy to see faculty, staff, students, alumni and employers work together to find ways to continue making personal connections through a virtual career fair.

“This year, we brought the career fair into the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration,” Campbell said. “Although the pandemic brought unique challenges as we organized it for the first time, we prioritized maintaining the relationship-focused character of the event.”

For one recruiter at the Accounting Career & Internship Fair, the virtual setting went over better than expected. Carrie McTaggart, who works for accounting firm Eide Bailly, said that the day of the fair was seamless, and that UND staffers had both students and recruiters well-prepared.

“The one-on-one sessions were great for having meaningful conversations with students and answering questions,” McTaggart said. “This year was definitely different when it came to campus recruiting, but a successful career fair made our efforts much easier.

“Thank you, UND team, for all the hard work you put into the career fair to ensure success!”