University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: University Career Services readies graduating students for remote work

As the spring semester winds down, students begin eyeing their summer with plans to intern, serve their community or even take classes.

For graduating seniors, though, the end of the semester marks a major transition, one where many will conclude their educational careers and begin professional ones. It’s an exciting but sometimes challenging time, and the pandemic has raised new obstacles.

University Career Services has responded to those unique challenges by offering students a variety of resources to help them job hunt, apply and conduct interviews virtually.

“We made sure that we were very strategic and responsive to the changing times,” says UCS associate director Stephenie McIntyre. “We continued to provide students with accurate information around the job market, industry trends and how workplace needs were changing rapidly in response to the pandemic.”

Last March, UCS adapted to meet the new demands brought on by the pandemic, which interrupted companies’ hiring practices just as the Class of 2020 was preparing to graduate and start new jobs. “Many students were still in the middle of or embarking upon their job search,” explains McIntyre. “It was very important for us to get ahead of that with resources to educate students on the nuances of virtual interviewing.”

As Zoom and other forms of video conferencing became the primary means of communication, UCS guided students toward free, professional-looking backgrounds on its website to augment their virtual presence. “Students were working from everywhere, and we wanted them to feel comfortable with turning their camera on, which is an expectation in interviews,” says McIntyre.

McIntyre and her team also began culling resources and information about best practices during virtual interviews. “We created a ‘Virtual Presence’ guide that goes through everything from developing your own personal, authentic brand, where that lives in a virtual space and how to design that strategy — all things related to virtual networking and interviewing,” says McIntyre. “Carolina students have pivoted and adjusted, and they’ve learned a lot.”

Like the students it serves, UCS has pivoted as well. They’ve transitioned their in-person career events into virtual offerings. Senior Grace Decker, who has worked as a career peer for the past three years, saw attendance increase as a result.

“To some extent, meeting in person is nice, but we’ve had a greater influx of students visiting us,” says Decker, who believes that being able to attend a virtual event offers more comfort and convenience.

Where students may have hesitated from seeking out UCS in person, they can easily tune into a Zoom workshop. “Our resources have been fairly consistent, but we’ve made things more accessible for students since everything is now online,” Decker says.

Although virtual interviews have brought about unique challenges, Decker has seen a new degree of excitement from students about the possibility of working or interning remotely. Students have been able to pick up more opportunities that give them exposure and experience without the formality of an internship. “You can work on certain projects, and it’s not really an internship, but you can put this work on your resume,” she says.

Although much has changed — and continues to change — about work, companies still desire certain transferable skills or “workplace competencies,” McIntyre explains. “Those are skills like critical thinking, teamwork, communication, technology, leadership and professionalism.” But if the pandemic has added one thing to that list, it’s resourcefulness.

“If students end up starting a new job or internship remotely, they can’t expect the same kind of hands-on help they might have received in person,” McIntyre says, “There’s going to be a lot of ways that they have to be innovative and independent — sound decision-makers. We have those conversations as we do mock interviews with students and help them trust their own skill sets and experiences.”

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