How to give students virtual career and experiential learning opportunities during COVID-19

Expert Insight

How to give students virtual career and experiential learning opportunities during COVID-19

6.6M

People filed for unemployment benefits the week of March 23
People filed for unemployment benefits the week of March 23

29%

Drop in the number of new job listings posted on ZipRecruiter between mid-February and mid-March compared to the same period last year
Drop in the number of new job listings posted on ZipRecruiter between mid-February and mid-March compared to the same period last year

Over the last few weeks, university students have dealt with a lot of uncertainty and change. Many have transitioned to a remote learning environment and made emergency plans to move home or find alternative arrangements. All while anxiously watching how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting the economy and, in turn, their future.

Current trends don’t give them reason to be optimistic. In the U.S., preliminary results from a National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) member poll shows that more than 26% of surveyed employers will no longer recruit on campus this spring, while approximately 13% have eliminated all university recruiting for the semester. Similarly, within a two-week period there was a 20-percentage point drop in the number of surveyed employers who planned to continue with internships as planned. These patterns are replicated across the globe, with the U.K. losing 22% of advertised job vacancies in the past six weeks.

With all this uncertainty, it is important for career center staff to provide guidance and support to graduating and current students. EAB has identified 5 ways colleges and universities can help students navigate virtual career development and experiential learning activities amidst the new and evolving challenges created by COVID-19.

1. Make it easy for students to communicate with employers about current opportunities

Given the changes to employee and intern recruiting and hiring, many students currently in the recruiting pipeline are unsure of how to connect with hiring managers. To make this process easier, career services staff should develop email templates students can adapt to communicate with prospective employers. The Career Center at the University of Virginia has posted easy to use templates to help students:

  • Inquire about the status of a job or internship
  • Ask about the status of an interview
  • Request options for remote work for accepted opportunities

This eases the burden on students and helps them communicate sensitively and effectively.

2. Ensure students, especially those graduating, can quickly find self-serve resources

Self-Serve Examples

Boise State University and University of Virginia: Self-guided FAQs with resources based on specific issues

University of South Florida, St. Petersburg: New pages on their website with links to all relevant information

In a remote world, where students can’t drop-in to ask a career advisor a question, self-serve resources are more important than ever. To make sure students don’t spend too much time searching career center websites, staff should create easily accessible FAQs on their homepage. These should include staff contact information and links to existing self-serve resources related to career planning, resume and cover letting writing, interview preparation, and graduate school applications.

While self-serve resources are helpful for students who know what they are looking for, they don’t always help answer one-off, general questions a student might have. To help solve for this problem, Wayne State University has created a virtual front-desk for students to email, call, or video chat with. This ensures that students with more general career services or job-related questions are supported appropriately.

3. Shift job fairs online

Where possible, career services should attempt to move in-person job fairs to a virtual environment. Staff can connect with virtual recruiting platforms such as Brazen, Highre, CareerEco, Prospects, or iVent to help make this process easier. Many institutions, like MIT and Morgan State University, have already moved upcoming in-person job fairs online. While others, like Michigan State University, have created a series of virtual career fairs for students to participate in.

4. Help students explore virtual and project-based experiential learning activities

With the current crisis, students should be as flexible as possible about the type and nature of experiential opportunities they participate in.

To that end, career center staff should advise their students to explore remote and project-based internships. Such opportunities can give students with family and personal commitments, such as providing elder and childcare, the necessary flexibility to balance their many competing priorities.

There are many platforms institutions can work with to help students find both paid and unpaid remote opportunities including Handshake, Parker Dewey, Riipen, and Virtual Internships.

5. Encourage students to build new skills and continue learning

As employers continue to re-evaluate their hiring plans, students can use the current disruption to upskill and add to their resumes. Career services staff and alumni can encourage students to:

  • Take a free online course available through providers like Coursera, edX, Udacity, and Codecademy
  • Develop an independent project to work on during the summer
  • Volunteer remotely with local organizations

Such a plan ensures that students are still using their summer productively and continuing to build new and marketable skills.

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