Instead of wearing a blazer and slacks, Farzeen Syeda wore a T-shirt and shorts to the 2020 virtual UT Austin Engineering Expo.
“I remember being really stressed and flustered during the real life Expo (last year) because it was hard to present myself in such a clustered, noisy environment,” chemical engineering sophomore Syeda said. “This year it was nice to be professional, but casual.”
The Engineering Expo, held by the Student Engineering Council, usually attracts more than 300 employers and 6,000 students each year. 234 employers — including 3M and ConocoPhillips — attended the virtual expo this year, providing students with co-op and internship opportunities.
Despite the pandemic, some students said expositions have provided them with opportunities to build relationships with future employers.
“Expos are really about building social connections with recruiters,” Syeda said. “At first I was worried I would just be a name in a chat room, but over video chat I really connected with recruiters and it felt the same as (a) real life expo.”
Syeda said the Expo website had a list of company chatrooms students could join if they were interested in the position offered. The average chat room had 60 students who waited in a queue to introduce themselves to recruiters, Syeda said. If a recruiter thought a student was qualified, they would schedule a video chat to potentially offer them an interview for an internship or co-op position.
“It’s a gamble because you don’t know how many people are in (a chat) room until you sign up, and you can only be in two chat rooms at once, so you don’t have a lot of options,” Syeda said. “I spent 30 minutes doing nothing, literally just waiting until it was my turn to say something.”
Zaynab Noormohamed, an international relations and global studies freshman, said the fall McCombs Career Expo also relied on chat rooms and video calls to connect students with the 116 employers.
“It was incredibly efficient,” Noormohamed said. “I literally talked with one company after the other. I don’t think I would’ve been able to expose myself to as many companies in an in-person expo.”
Noormohamed said the second day of the McCombs Expo was postponed to Oct. 2 after they experienced technical difficulties during day one, such as unstable video calls and faulty links to company chat rooms.
Overall, Noormohamed and Syeda said the expos were successful for them. Syeda chatted with 12 companies and was offered internship interviews for two. Noormohamed said building connections with future employers helped her find opportunities to expand on her entrepreneurship minor.
Other organizations like Alpha Epsilon Delta, a pre-health honor society, have also adjusted their career exploration programs because of COVID-19.
Benjamin Popokh, a biology and neuroscience junior and Alpha Epsilon Delta’s health professions outreach coordinator, runs the shadowing program where their 266 active members have the opportunity to shadow a doctor in their field of interest.
“Shadowing is vital because it allows members to see the daily operation of a particular field,” Popokh said. “It’s an eye-opening opportunity to see the humanity behind the profession and determine whether that profession is for you.”
Popokh said the program has received more applicants than usual because students have greater flexibility in who they choose to shadow and how, whether that be in-person or virtually.
Popokh said finding new ways to job hunt is just one more adjustment to life during COVID-19.
“Even though we’re in a pandemic, time still goes on, requirements haven’t changed. We still need to build our resumes and gain skills to help our careers,” Noormohamed said. “Virtual (or) in-person, experience is experience.”