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To take part in the virtual career fairs, students may sign up for group sessions with employers, as well as one-on-one meetings.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Every fall, hundreds of stressed Penn students shuffle along in a hurry, dressed in formal wear from countless coffee chats, info sessions, and interviews for recruiting for top consulting, finance, and investment banking jobs.

Now, the high-pressure environment has shifted to the comfort of a bedroom, another sign of how the pandemic is changing longstanding traditions on campus.

In anticipation for virtual fall recruitment, the recruitment platform Handshake has expanded in recent months to accommodate the entirely virtual process where students can sign up for virtual events and attend career fairs, Career Services Executive Director Barbara Hewitt said. While some students said they find it more difficult to build connections with in-person connections with employers, others said virtual recruitment alleviated the stress of on-campus recruitment and what they described as Penn's toxic, competitive recruitment culture. 

Penn will hold eight career fairs throughout the semester, beginning on Sept. 10 for finance, insurance, and real estate. Additional career fairs will be held for non-profit and government; communications and marketing; engineering, and nursing. 

During the career fairs, students will have the opportunity on Handshake to sign up for group sessions with employers as well as 10-minute one-on-one meetings during which students can discuss their resume with employers, Hewitt said.

College junior Eli Moraru is participating in job recruitment to find a consulting internship for next summer. Moraru said attending virtual information sessions and coffee chats is very time consuming and, in some occasions, he has had to skip class in order to attend recruitment events.

Moraru added that the online format makes it difficult for students to create personal relationships with employers, something that he said would be easier in person.

“It’s been very difficult to actually build connections with people at these companies and get those one-on-one calls,” Moraru said. “For every five emails you send out to talk to someone, maybe one will get back to you, versus if you shake someone’s hand and get their business card, they’re much more likely to respond and do a networking call with you afterwards.”

For Wharton junior Grace Zhou, however, who participated in virtual recruitment last spring to find a banking internship for summer 2021, virtual recruitment took away some of the stresses that she felt when attending information sessions in person.

“On campus information sessions were very stressful because they played into Penn’s toxic culture of seeing other people recruiting and feeling like you’re not doing enough,” Zhou said. 

While Zhou was able to attend information sessions and career fairs in person at the beginning of spring 2020, she said she had to conduct interviews virtually after Penn sent students home due to the coronavirus outbreak in March.

She also acknowledged the new challenges of virtual recruitment and interviewing online, however, such as dealing with the time difference and internet connection.

“There are other considerations like, ‘Is my wifi stable?’ ‘Am I in a place where there isn’t going to be a lot of noise?’ and ‘Can I present myself well over a camera?’”

Hewitt said that she is looking forward to the virtual fairs, as Career Services has considered hosting career fairs online in the past, particularly for employers who live far away from Penn. 

“I think we’re obviously forced into this, and I don’t know if we would have done it this way if we didn’t have to,” Hewitt said. “But, these could be useful tools for the future even when we are able to be in person.”

Employers began hosting virtual information sessions the week of Aug. 31 for Penn students to learn about their company and hiring process. Since then, Hewitt said that it seems like participants have not had any difficulty interacting online. 

Hewitt recommended that students update their Handshake profile before beginning the recruitment process, as some employers will have set GPA or major requirements. 

“I think students all understand that this is something new and we’re all trying new ways of doing things,” Hewitt said. “Everybody seems eager to hop in and try it and make the most of this situation that we’re finding ourselves in.”