How To: Navigate the Virtual Student Employment Process

From job fairs and application processes, through interviews, hiring and onboarding, the world of student hiring has evolved into a virtual domain by necessity. Some institutions have been ahead of the curve, using virtual job fairs to match graduating students with potential employers, and much about those models transfer to virtual student hiring within the on-campus sphere, including the student union. The University of Southern California has been hosting virtual job fairs for students and alumni since 2016. Chances are, you’ve historically been posting job openings online so that process need not change, however interviews, building tours, onboarding and teambuilding, those components look very different now. Another initial aspect integral to the process is the student: are they receiving the virtual preparation to build resumes, do they have the available technology to compete, can they express creativity in an evolving employment domain where a traditional portfolio is not so traditional, and finally, have they developed the ability to communicate virtually as they explore employment? 

A Prepared Student Candidate 

Now is the time to prioritize student mental health over alignment between candidate and position, remembering that anxiety is often heightened during a crisis due to added roles that are taken on when staying at home. If you’re conducting one-on-ones virtually, consider virtual meet-ups that allow students to chat, check-in, and even interact informally by sharing appropriate memes, comics, images, or humorous short videos that, while possibly entirely irrelevant, can build community and set an uplifting tone. Using assets your campus may have include alumni and peer mentoring programs and access to online resume tools like vmock that use artificial intelligence to give feedback, offer tips on best practices, and rank their resume. Encourage students to strengthen their LinkedIn page as well. 

The Initial Interviews 

With tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Teams, having candidates participate in interviews and give presentations should not be that difficult. Both supervisors and candidates should take the necessary precautions to avoid being interrupted or distracted by other technologies like text messages, notifications, phone calls. Designating the order in which supervisors ask questions is also beneficial. Consider getting creative to lighten up the process, like buying the candidate a virtual lunch (pizza delivery?) since you’re not able take them out for a meal. 

The New Employment Landscape 

If there is one way to describe the fall campus environment and associated enrollments and budgets, it would be uncertainty, so the last thing you want to do is hire someone and then be forced to let them go. Explain to them that virtual or hybrid student employment opportunities and remote-work arrangements might increase when they would not have been considered before. Let them know that in some cases, start dates for employment and internships might be postponed or changed, and that they may be converted into solely remote work scenarios. 

Since there is no precedent for the current situation, there’s no reason not to consider this as an opportune time to try new things, forge new paths, and consider collaboration with external stakeholders in the community. Make an effort to gauge the special needs of new stakeholders and see how they may match with the virtual skills of your student employees. If it doesn’t already exist, this is an ideal time to establish a virtual student leadership institute like the popular one at Ithaca College. 

Resource Tip 

BOOK: Going Digital in Student Leadership: New Directions for Student Leadership, (2017) Edited by Josie Ahlquist and Lisa Endersby. 

JOURNAL: New Directions for Student Leadership, Special Issue: “Going Digital in Student Leadership” 

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