Embracing Online Working: Three Ways UCD Careers Network Discovered Hidden Opportunities

It is without a doubt that the start of the coming academic year will look very different from previous years. However, through implementing not only virtual substitutes, but also better ways of working online, UCD Careers Network will continue to positively impact students’ university experience.

By Megan O’Neill, Team Lead, UCD Careers Network

Since the closure of all universities in Ireland in mid-March, UCD Careers Network has like other units on campus been propelled into a new way of working. Without much notice or time to prepare, processes and operations had to be quickly adapted. We were charting unknown territory, but one thing that was certain was that we would continue to provide the same level of service to enhance students’ university experience and promote their professional development. However, in the process of ensuring we maintained this level of service to students, we also discovered some new ways of doing things that in some cases actually worked better.

One of the many ways UCD Careers Network supports students in ‘joining the dots’ between their time at university and their future careers is by organising events where students have the opportunity to engage and network with employers on campus. As one could imagine, the university closures and restrictions on physical gatherings presented new challenges for organising these events. However, with these challenges came opportunities to learn and innovate. Below are three approaches UCD Careers Network took that enabled us to not only overcome these challenges, but also discover new opportunities.

1. Better utilise current resources

The abruptness of the campus closures meant that there was very little time to plan in advance in extensive detail how the events would continue amidst the restrictions. Without time on our side to immediately procure new resources for virtual events, this meant taking stock of existing resources and utilising these to their full capacity. As UCD Careers Network is already active on social media for student outreach and engagement, this was a resource that was at our disposal and already has a thriving and engaged community of student followers. Although social media wasn’t typically used to connect students to employers in the past, Instagram live videos proved to be an effective medium for students to engage with employers.

One example of how Instagram live was utilised was for the Social Impact Careers Week that took place from 30 March to 3 April 2020. With only two weeks to convert the event to a virtual format, the Social Impact Careers Week was a huge success. Each session attracted an average of 90 viewers, with the majority of polled students reporting they gained useful career insights from the speakers. One benefit of the Instagram live videos was that students had the opportunity to ask employers questions in real time. Another benefit we discovered was that students who missed the initial session were able to watch the recording at a later time.

2. Innovate and try new approaches

The restrictions on physical events necessitated exploring new methods to allow students and employers to engage and network. While virtual events and webinars were an obvious solution, we also used this opportunity to explore other forms of media that would enable these meaningful interactions. We looked at ways to diversify our employer offerings as opposed to simply “going virtual.” As podcasts are currently hugely popular, we decided this would be a great way for employers to connect with students as well as provide them with insider knowledge on topics related to careers and employability. The new UCD Careers Network podcast, Careers Calling, will launch 8 October 2020 and you’ll be able to listen to the episodes on the UCD Careers Network website.

A further new approach UCD Careers Network has taken with employer-led events was implementing the Zoom Webinar and Meeting tools. Instead of just “going online,” we’re encouraging employers to design their events to be as interactive and engaging as possible. As the Zoom tools offer various features, such as breakout rooms, screen sharing, polling, Q&A, and reporting and analytics, the tools allow presenters to use some creativity when designing their virtual employer events.

3. See potential in necessary changes

Since the social distancing measures and restrictions on large gatherings went into effect, one of the biggest challenges faced by UCD Careers Network was reinventing our six annual Recruitment Fairs. The Recruitment Fairs bring together hundreds of employers from diverse sectors and provide students the opportunity to meet employers and explore opportunities. While we will miss the hustle and bustle of students and employers this year in O’Reilly Hall, there are various silver linings and opportunities that come from virtual recruitment fairs.

One benefit of virtual fairs is that employers are able to better target students through conducting a profile search, which makes the experience more efficient for both employers and students. Students are also able to have private video calls with employers in the platform without other students crowding around. Another benefit for students is that it is easier to follow up with employers after the event, since they will be able to continue conversations within the platform.

This year’s UCD Virtual Recruitment Fairs will indeed be a different experience than past fairs. However, there are numerous advantages for both students and employers in attending a virtual recruitment fair. If UCD staff or faculty are interested in attending this year’s UCD Virtual Recruitment Fairs, please contact Careers Network for information on registering.

Through better utilising current resources, trying new approaches and seeing potential in necessary changes, Careers Network not only implemented substitutes to enable online working, but also discovered some opportunities along the way. While the six months since the university closures have included challenges, there have also been some key lessons and learnings. It is without a doubt that the start of the coming academic year will look very different from previous years. However, through implementing not only virtual substitutes, but also better ways of working online, UCD Careers Network will continue to positively impact students’ university experience.