Carnegie Mellon University: CPDC Reimagines Career Fairs

Carnegie Mellon University’s Encompass career fair looked a little different this fall — in a good way. The Career and Professional Development Center (CPDC) crafted a unique experience: a hybrid approach that offered both in-person and virtual formats to connect students and employers. The now-standard virtual offerings were accompanied by in-person sessions that allowed students and employers to meet face-to-face.

This new hybrid format was, by all measures, a success.

The virtual offerings allowed more companies than ever to participate; over 60% more than the previous highest-participation Encompass in 2019.

And student attendance was up as well, with over 2,500 students attending either a virtual or in-person session.

“It was refreshing to connect with people in person like this,” said Hazel Cline, a sophomore studying mechanical engineering. “Even wearing masks and not having as many facial cues, you get a better sense of connection with the person in front of you. It’s more engaging than a Zoom session.”

CPDC Director Kevin Monahan said he understands the need to adapt quickly to the changing employment landscape. While the CPDC pivoted quickly to offer all-virtual opportunities for employers and students last year, Monahan was excited about piloting the hybrid event.

With strict adherence to university and city guidelines around social distancing and masking, the CPDC brought back the positive aspects of in-person career fairs while mitigating several common pain points of traditional events, Monahan said.

“One of the issues with our in-person events, which are very well attended, is that students can wait in lines for up to 45 minutes to speak with one recruiter. It limits the number of organizations they can talk to,” Monahan said. The new hybrid format allowed students to know who they would be speaking with prior to the fair. They could sign up in advance to meet with specific companies and recruiters that matched their interests and job search.

The creative thinking and planning required to ensure a safe in-person experience also created an environment more conducive to making high-quality connections among students and recruiters.

“Employers were able to look at the sign-ups beforehand so that they knew the particular student coming in, and they were prepared to have a really engaging conversation with that student,” said Jeff Jeffries, Director of Employer Relations at the CPDC.

The benefits of the new in-person registration procedure also extended to virtual sessions, where employers could tap a wider range of their own employees and alumni to meet with students.

Jeffries added that for the first time, every employer who met with students said they were interviewing or in the process of scheduling next steps with individuals — a proof point for the hybrid approach.

The rest of the fall career fairs will be virtual, but the CPDC is excited to build on the success of the hybrid option with career fairs starting in the spring.

In addition to career fairs, the CPDC offers resources for students for networking, interviews and all the stages of the job-search process.

Xiqiao Guo, a junior studying computer science, found one resource particularly helpful prior to attending Encompass — meeting with a CPDC career consultant for advice.

“The individual advice sessions helped me prepare for what to expect,” Guo said. “Going through the session made me feel relieved, and like I am confident and moving forward in making personal connections during fairs.”