Recruiting talent to your company looks different than it used to, just like pretty much every other aspect of our businesses.

With visits to campuses not happening and virtual events filling calendars, campus recruiting travel budgets may never return to pre-pandemic levels. Taking lessons learned from the pandemic, companies and universities now have a new model to consider, one that will make it easier to reach students you want to hire.

“In-person career fairs were a big part of connecting recruiters and students,” says Kerri Boivin, director of the University of Michigan Engineering Career Resource Center. “Companies would bring a few representatives to campus to host a Company Day or attend a big career fair with hordes of students vying for attention. Now we know we can do so much better than that.”


Process is everything

Leveraging an online platform that has been very popular with participating companies, Boivin negotiated a university-wide contract and started re-imagining career events based on a virtual experience.

Still offering traditional fall and winter career fairs, now companies can participate in networking events that garner more individual attention. Companies can also attend mini-career fairs and specialized career fairs that feature different majors. 

“We also see broader engagement opportunities: companies can bring anyone with them to a virtual event, so more and more alumni can participate.” One F500 company that usually brings ten employees to campus brought 60 this year. This alum-to-student connection is often a critical one: that trusted advice from a fellow Wolverine can be the way to attract the talented recruits a company hopes to hire. 

Students echo that importance. Liz Howden, a junior studying computer science says, “I love when companies bring alumni to their events. I’ve received a lot of great advice from alumni about which classes to take. Also, meeting with alumni means you instantly have something in common, which is so important when networking and building rapport. It’s great to see a specific career that my education could lead to.”


Career Fair Infographic on Virtual Events in 2020



It’s all about the numbers

Boivin’s team has administered virtual events for the entire Ann Arbor U-M campus, far outside the scope of their role at the College of Engineering. “Our dean knew this would be an important financial investment for our college, and we wanted to make this available to everyone at U-M. It is worth the sacrifice to help all our students.”

Financial constraints have often affected which universities a company visits and how many recruiters they bring with them. Now, the sky’s the limit. This represents an opportunity for both companies and universities to broaden their scope and develop new relationships. 

Ben Tomkovicz is a recruiter and HR administrator at Aptiv who was very happy with his recruiting experience this year at U-M. “It was easier to do virtually, despite missing the college atmosphere and personal connections. We could include more people and it was easier and less expensive to coordinate. Being able to schedule discussions in advance and view resumes ahead of time was very helpful. By nature of scheduling, you could maximize the number of students you spoke with. From that perspective it was fantastic. We could also maximize our work days and schedule recruiting around other meetings.”

It also makes recruiting more accessible to smaller, local or startup companies who may never have had the opportunity to hire U-M students. “We’re reaching out to a variety of new companies and trying new things. This is giving all of us the chance to test new ideas and build new relationships. We’ve even had venture capital firms feature their incubator startups. This type of event gives students the ability to explore wide ranging opportunities they’d never get in a standard career fair,” says Boivin.

Part of reaching out is doing the research: U-M is surveying students to identify where they want to work, what companies they aren’t seeing on campus that they want to see, and how they best want to approach the recruiting process. This data is helping inform how U-M recruiting events are structured. 

As one of the students surveyed, Howden shared, “Since there has been so many virtual events this past year, I’ve been able to attend a lot more events than I could have if they had been in person. I’ve been able to meet with people in different time zones and with companies that may not have been able come to campus in the past. Also, it became really easy to network because typically contact information was shared in a zoom chat and I could connect or follow up right away with the presenter or company. Since we had already met over zoom, it felt natural to continue networking through zoom or through the phone rather than emailing. 


9/11/17 Executives and recruiters from Ford Motor Company visit the business and engineering schools, with a special presentation by CEO Jim Hackett.

Executives and recruiters from Ford Motor Company visit the business and engineering schools in 2017.


It’s also about the brand

“Many companies are great at branding their products and services but less so in branding themselves as employers” says Umesh Patel, Senior Director at the Business Engagement Center. Patel works closely with companies to create partnerships on campus, and part of that is helping a company build their brand to enhance recruiting. “A company’s presence on campus – their brand with students – is increasingly important. Finding ways to connect with specific populations of students, build relationships with them, and leverage word of mouth gives companies an edge in hiring the best and brightest.”

Given the opportunity to pivot to virtual events, some companies have eschewed university career fairs for their own recruiting events. “That’s been a challenge for our students,” says Boivin. “As a leading global institution, our students want to see investment in them. They can work anywhere, do anything. They want to see companies engaged with campus, showing up. They want to hear from alumni working there.” 

Now, with lower barriers to entry, companies can identify the way they want to balance campus presence and corporate recruiting. It all may come back to the brand: visibility, engagement, and appeal matter significantly to students.  Boivin and her colleagues across campus hope to make the most of this opportunity and create programs that work for everyone.


For ways to boost your brand on campus, see our Resources for Companies section or reach out to us at