The 19th century British statesman Benjamin Disraeli is credited with the observation that, “There is no education like adversity.” In the 2020 internship cycle, we certainly saw our share of adversity, both for students seeking internships and for employers wishing to host internships. Happily, internship opportunities rebounded strongly in the recently completed 2021 cycle. So, as we overcame that adversity, what did we learn that we can carry forward?

One area we learned about is virtual recruiting. With restrictions on face-to-face gatherings and business travel, Illinois State University was not able to host traditional internship fairs, and industry partners were not able to attend. The solution was to leverage technology and host online, virtual internship fairs. Ultimately students and internship partners were able to connect virtually.

From this unavoidable experience we learned some things. First, virtual events can provide an opportunity for IT students to connect with internship employers who might not have attended an in-person event for any number of reasons, such as scheduling conflicts, personnel availability, etc. Virtual events can also provide an opportunity for geographically distant employers to connect with talented IT students. Second, providing some flexible options for reaching students may increase the pool of opportunities available to our students. To leverage these opportunities, we are launching a series of online recruiting events to augment the traditional in-person fall fair. These events will feature one company at a time.

The suggested format of the event is this: 1) the recruiting organization lists their job opening(s) with ISU Career Services, 2) the organization works with our student clubs to pick a day and time for their virtual event, 3) the student clubs advertise the event, manage a sign-up, and collect resumes which are provided to the recruiting organization. During the event, the recruiting organization spends about 15 minutes introducing the organization and its opportunities, then the student clubs manage breakout rooms for each individual recruiter to meet with students one-on-one. We do ask that all students in attendance have an opportunity to talk to a recruiter. Organizations may opt to have as many recruiters available as they’d like, but we recommend one recruiter for every 10 students signed up. During the one-on-one time, organizations may opt to keep someone in the main room to answer general questions or conduct some sort of exercise.

In the first of what we hope will be many events, School of IT students recently hosted a virtual recruiting event for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The event was well attended by students and provided an opportunity for students to connect with FBI computer scientist Justin Harris and forensic examiner Allison Smith. Smith is a School of IT alum (Cybersecurity ‘20) and former FBI intern. Harris observed that, while he missed face-to-face interaction, he also saw some advantages. Not travelling to the event allowed him to fully devote his available time to interacting with students. He also advised that he felt the breakout session for individual discussion provided privacy that made conversation more relaxed, compared to other events that were strictly group interaction.

Even as we return to hosting traditional face-to-face internship recruiting events, we see opportunities to also leverage virtual recruiting events to provide increased internship opportunities to IT students. Our students also have participated in employer-hosted virtual recruiting events recently including those offered by Archer Daniels Midland and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. These events provide students access to opportunities that would otherwise not be available. We are happy to work with recruiters to help our students access all opportunities to be considered for internship and fulltime IT positions.