Making the most out of a virtual career fair

September 21, 2020

To attract the leaders and best, 30-plus organizations — like DTE Energy, the Department of State, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles — are coming to UM-Dearborn’s virtual fall career fairs. Here are tips on making a great impression from a distance.

Graphic showing how students can gain experience through virtual career fairs
Graphic showing how students can gain experience through virtual career fairs
Graphic by Violet Dashi

Months away from finishing his degree, graduating senior Omar Oouda already has a full-time position lined up at a top Fortune 500 company.

When talking about how he landed the position, Oouda gives credit to opportunities at UM-Dearborn. “I expanded my network by going to different campus career events.” The cybersecurity major says he first obtained a Co-op experience at Denso International by attending the UM-Dearborn spring career fair, and later attracted the attention of Ford Motor Company by doing two internships — whom he also connected with at Ford Day on campus.

“It’s all about getting your name out there and talking to as many employers as you can to learn about the company culture,” Oouda says. 

This fall the campus career fairs will look a little different from the ones Oouda attended — they’re virtual — but Ford Day, College of Business career fairs and the Fall Career Fair are still bringing employers directly, but virtually, to UM-Dearborn students and alumni.

“Employers are looking for the right people to join their teams,” says Career Services Associate Director, Britta Roan. “The pandemic may have shifted how companies do things, but it hasn’t changed their need for qualified talent.” Roan says company postings are for internships, co-ops and full-time employment.

Together Roan, Career Services Assistant Director Mai Qazzaz and Talent Gateway Executive Director Laurie Sutch — campus’ career readiness experts — talked tips on how to make an impression and land that job from your home computer.

Use being virtual to your advantage.

Learning something new can be challenging. But there are benefits to the virtual environment, says Talent Gateway Director Laurie Sutch. For example, you can write yourself reminders — and use them. “Write your talking points, strengths or other important information on Post-It notes. Then put them at eye level on your computer so you can see those reminders while speaking to a potential employer.”

Another bonus? With many employers planning to stay virtual for the foreseeable future, you can expand your search. Before students may have had to limit their opportunities to locally based ones for expense reasons. “When location is no longer a major factor, it allows for you to check out more organizations when finding the right fit for you.”

Get that resume ready, reviewed and uploaded.

Writing and updating a resume and cover letter can be one of the most daunting steps in career fair prep. But that’s why there are UM-Dearborn staff to assist in the process. Take a cover letter workshop or get your resume reviewed before sending these professional docs over to employers.

Once you’re happy with how the cover letter and resume highlight your talents, sign into UM-Dearborn's Symplicity Career Connections and update the profile section to add your resume. Employers at the Fall Career Fair will have access to it and it’s something to check off on the career prep to-do list. For students seeking the (M)Talent designation: Career prep steps are Talent Gateway challenges you can complete.

Know where you want to go.

Once registered for a campus career fair, check out the employers profiles and open positions. Do this before the event and make note of your go-to companies. Doing this will give you a game plan if there is a virtual wait to get one-on-one time with a company representative. You can choose to wait in multiple lines at a time. However, you won’t be able to attend all employer booths — so get in line for your top picks first. This video explains how it works. 

Practice your elevator pitch.

To keep the lines moving, and to meet as many students as possible, employers are giving a limited amount of one-on-one time per person: typically 5-10 minutes. To make every minute count, have an elevator pitch ready, says Career Services Assistant Director Mai Qazzaz. That means introducing yourself and why you’d be a good fit for the company or position in 60 seconds or less — the length of a short elevator ride.

When practicing this prior to the fairs, don’t rush. “If you feel like you’re beginning to trip over your words, take a deep breath and start over again,” Qazzaz says. “You know your experiences and abilities more than anyone else. You are the expert on you.”

Set yourself up for success and check your tech.

Home is a comfortable space — but leave the pajama pants in the drawer until the interviews are done. “Dress professionally from head to toe to get mentally prepared,” Sutch says. “When you are done, your pjs will be waiting for you.” 

For a physical space, find a (mostly) quiet room in the house and set up your computer/laptop. Before deciding on a location, look to see what’s behind you in the camera; if it looks cluttered or unprofessional, consider changing location or straightening the area. Also check the computer’s microphone, Internet connection, and do a trial run with a friend or with a Career Services staff member

Oouda, the senior who’s starting his post-college career at Ford, said he’s glad he reached out to Career Services for help — above all, it’s increased his confidence. “Putting yourself out there can be tough, but it will expand your network and the opportunities that you have. It will also help you see your value and what you want in a company’s culture as you get closer to graduation.”

Students and alumni are invited to participate in Ford Day (Sept. 24), College of Business career fairs (now-Sept. 28) and the Fall Career Fair 2020 (Oct. 8).

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