Virtual Internship and Job Fair forges connections to employers throughout St. Louis region

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Attendees at the Fall Internship and Job Fair met with company representatives virtually through the Career Fair Plus app. Around 500 UMSL students and alumni connected with representatives of 89 companies during the daylong event. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The morning of the University of Missouri–St. Louis Fall Internship and Job Fair came with a little nervousness for attendees – even those who were fully prepared with polished resumes and rehearsed elevator pitches.

This year, UMSL students and alumni logged in from mobile devices in their kitchens and living rooms. With a deep breath, they smiled and offered a warm “hello” as company recruiters appeared on their screens.

Career Services organized the Internship and Job Fair, which attracted around 500 students and alumni searching for internships and full-time positions. The event typically takes place in the Mark Twain Building, but precautions to stem the spread of COVID-19 caused this year’s event to be held virtually on Friday.

Fall 2020 Internship and Job Fair

Audra Bickline, a representative of Enterprise Bank & Trust, speaks with a finance major about internship opportunities during the Fall Internship & Job Fair. (Screenshot courtesy of Career Services)

Attendees met with potential employers via the Career Fair Plus platform, which was used by most universities within the University of Missouri System.

Through the mobile app, students were able to create a profile that included information such as their major, graduation year, LinkedIn information and whether they were seeking an internship or full-time employment. They could also upload their resume and a photo of themselves.

“The technology was based on skip-the-line apps that restaurants use,” said Emily Rapko McEneny, associate director of Career Services. “It started more for skipping ahead in the line at in-person fairs and having VIP access to employers. The technology for virtual fairs is still evolving. They’re still in the earlier stages in terms of what data to collect when creating a profile.”

After registering, students could search for businesses attending the Internship and Job Fair, narrow options based on their field and schedule appointments to meet with recruiters on the day of the event.

Career Services began planning in June, working in conjunction with the University of Missouri–Columbia, University of Missouri–Kansas City and Missouri University of Science and Technology to choose a platform to host career fairs across the universities.

“We had wonderful support from our leadership on moving forward with this platform and modality,” said Teresa Balestreri, director of Career Services. “We wanted this to be as close to an in-person interaction as we could. It’s not an interview. It’s a 10-minute conversation. You have to think of a schedule like a booth in Mark Twain.”

The event was open to only UMSL students and alumni and boasted 1,674 meetings with recruiters. Overall, attendees spent nearly 280 hours connecting with potential employers.

A total of 89 organizations were represented at the fair, which far exceeded the goal of 60. This year, only hiring organizations were invited to attend, as opposed to graduate and professional schools. This reflected a focus on connecting UMSL students with workforce options available in the current economy.

“It’s a tough economy, and we know employers have opportunities even though it’s a very odd job market right now,” Balestreri said. “Employers love UMSL students and graduates. Many companies have identified us as a partner in terms of hiring from us.”

A lot of organizations have already been setting plans in place for summer 2021 internships.

This semester’s Internship and Job Fair combined with departments that traditionally host smaller, targeted events. To give students access to as many employers as possible, Career Services joined with the accounting, information systems and technology and marketing departments as well as the College of Nursing to reach out to employers who attend their annual expos and networking nights.

One organization represented at the fair was Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate firm.

“As much as we’d rather be shaking hands and taking resumes in person, the Career Fair Plus platform has made the new virtual environment really easy to navigate,” said C&W Campus Recruiter Katie Flaschar. “We always meet great C&W entry-level candidates at UMSL, and thanks to this platform, we’re able to give our undivided attention during each time slot.”

Students were encouraged to schedule meetings in advance but could also drop in and meet employers when they spotted an open time slot on the day of the fair, much like stopping at a booth during an in-person event.

Career Services was on hand throughout the day via Zoom to assist with any questions or issues and ensure things progressed smoothly for both employers and students.

Attendees’ experiences at the event were generally positive. Rapko McEneny attributed the success of the virtual platform to students being familiar with the technology due to remote classes and being comfortable at home.

Leading up to the Internship and Job Fair, Career Services offered a range of events to help students prepare to impress potential employers. Resume Mania allowed students to submit their resumes online for review. Staff members reviewed more than 125 resumes ahead of the fair.

Career Services also held three preparation sessions via Zoom, which boasted more participation than in-person sessions in previous years. In addition, staff members offered tips and answered questions in videos posted on Instagram.

Students who registered for the fair received consistent communications reminding them to complete their profiles and schedule appointments, as well as highlighting various companies and preparation materials available.

In order to make a good impression on potential employers, Balestreri stressed that it’s all about branding. Students should make sure to dress professionally and research a company before meeting with a recruiter. They should also ensure their mobile device is securely propped up and their resume is on hand for reference.

She encouraged attendees to be open to opportunities that may not perfectly fit their major.

“We always talk to employers and students about how it’s not just about the major,” Balestreri said. “It’s also about their skill set and how they brand themselves. Ten minutes is actually a lot of time to talk one-on-one with somebody. If they have an engaging conversation for three to five minutes, that’s a win.”

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