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Students search for a prospective employer at the 'Work Connections... Be the One... Get Hired' Job Fair in Toronto, Ontario April 9, 2015. Human resources executive Karen Gadberry still places great store in the enduring tradition of college and university career fairs.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

While so much recruitment is conducted online these days (it’s efficient, if not very personal), human resources executive Karen Gadberry still places great store in an enduring tradition: the college and university career fair.

Her entertainment and hospitality firm was among more than 100 employers vying for talent at the University of British Columbia’s recent Spring Career Fair, held in the last week of February. “There’s no substitute for face-to-face interactions,” says Ms. Gadberry, vice-president of people and culture with Pursuit, a unit of Viad Corp.

The company was on campus hoping to fill 20 positions in Vancouver for its FlyOver Canada attraction – an immersive ride that simulates a cross-country flight on the back of a bird through special effects such as sight, sound, motion, mist and scents.

The competition was stiff. Students who participated in the two-day fair had access to opportunities across a range of sectors. Exhibitors included the Vancouver Police Department, Canada Revenue Agency, PepsiCo Foods Canada, First Nations Health Authority, Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, geotechnical firm Menard Canada Inc., B.C. Pension Corp., Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and a slew of technology companies. UBC’s career fairs typically draw 3,000 students.

Carleton University expects a similar student turnout, and 50 employers, on March 10 and 11, as it stages its last career fair of the academic year before the graduating class disperses.

The chance to converse with employers at such events is invaluable to students, especially if they don't know all the possibilities open to them, say recent UBC graduates Crystal Kwong and Mishal Tahir.

"I know, with some companies, you can only apply online," says Ms. Tahir, who majored in international relations and now works as a senior program assistant in operations and administration at UBC's Sauder School of Business.

“You may not [initially] get the dream job from that career fair, but you learn a lot about what you like and what you don’t like when you are searching for a job and what’s a good fit ... and it’s only a good fit when both people agree it’s a good fit,” Ms. Tahir said in an interview. The one-on-one access at career fairs, and the opportunity to ask questions, gives recruiters and candidates a much better sense of each other.

Ms. Kwong, a computer science grad, was recruited by RedMane Technology LLC at UBC's fall career fair. Her new job as a software developer started in January and she was back on campus in February as part of the company's recruitment team, "to get more people like me to come join the company."

Ms. Kwong knows how nerve-wracking it is for graduating students who have not yet found work – “it’s panic time.” She relates that she did not go to last fall’s career fair with high expectations, but quickly found “that there were so many companies that I never even knew about” that were hiring.

Carleton is currently conducting "prepare for the fair" sessions to help students decide which employers they want to approach and how best to present themselves. UBC provided "warm up booths" at its February fair to make the process less intimidating for candidates.

"Students often underestimate the skills and talents they bring. We encourage them to draw from the full range of experiences they've had, including both paid and unpaid work, the responsibilities they've managed in their personal lives, and what they've gained from their academic experiences," notes Karla Gouthro, manager of career development at UBC.

The co-operative education degree programs at Carleton, which intersperse academic terms with work placements, give undergraduates the opportunity to explore potential career paths before they “get out there in the real world,” Katie LeBlanc, manager of co-operative education, said in an interview.

It's not always a straight and narrow path, she added. "We've had neuroscience students working with a learning centre that is dealing with young people who are on the autism spectrum. So they are not doing neuroscience lab work, but they are learning about some of the practical aspects of their degree program."

Given the level of employer involvement in Carleton's co-op programs and the high degree of interest in campus career fairs and other networking opportunities, career services manager Rocio Alvarez is optimistic about the current prospects for students. "This is a very good time for youth employment," she said.

Viad, a global hospitality and tourist attractions company, offers both summer gigs and long-term career prospects to interested graduates, Ms. Gadberry said. Like any large corporation, the firm needs marketers, accountants, technology specialists, business managers. “We have people who started at entry level who are now vice-presidents of the company.”

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