Looming, tudor-styled fraternity mansions are ubiquitous on campus, dotting Cascadilla and Fall Creek gorges. But some of Cornell’s most exclusive brotherhoods are its pre-professional fraternities, whose highly selective recruitment methods have undergone significant changes while shifting to Zoom.
This year, as video statements and breakout rooms replaced “coffee chats,” brotherhood events and rounds of in-person interviews, pre-professional fraternities have reduced the importance of surface-level mannerisms, such as eye contact and hand gestures, to evaluate potential new members. Most organizations in the Professional Fraternity Council — the governing body for the 15 professional fraternities on campus — are in the thick of the spring recruitment process.
The initial rounds of rush for several pre-professional fraternities are now conducted through HireVue, an interview service that asks applicants to respond to a question and record their answers — essentially talking to no one.
Karina Mogha ’23, who took part in the early rounds of recruitment for several groups, shared her frustrations with the shortcomings of the virtual process. She said she felt dehumanized over the small screen, struggling to feel authentic and personable.
“[Delta Sigma Pi] had a HireVue interview, and you can only record yourself once. It’s so unnatural and you’re obviously uncomfortable, you’re talking to a camera not a human being,” Mogha said. “I feel like it’s so much better when it’s in person and they can get a sense of who you are.”
Fedor Merkulov ’23, who has been rushing professional fraternities for the last three semesters, gained acceptance a week ago into Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity.
This time around, Merkulov felt much more comfortable while interviewing from his own bedroom: “I could wear a suit from the waist up and slippers below the screen,” he said.
He thought the natural constraints of Zoom reduced the pressures of projecting what he explained as a “veil of professionalism” typical of past rush seasons. Even as some have argued that these arbitrary standards of professionalism in the workplace favor privileged applicants while leaving behind people of color, first-generation and low-income students, many groups place added weight on these attributes when it comes time to make final cuts.
The switch to a setting he saw as condensed — and less cutthroat — was welcomed by both current and potential new fraternity members. Virtual rush prompted groups like government and policy pre-professional society Pi Lambda Sigma to “pivot to a more substantial rubric” for evaluating applicants, decreasing the importance of superficial impressions that are often formulated in limited in-person interactions, according to co-president Samantha Puzzi ’22.
“In the way we set up our interviews now, we are able to rotate people through breakout rooms so they can be interviewed by multiple different groups,” Puzzi said. “Instead of talking to two interviewers, they usually end up talking to six or eight, so I think it makes the process a little bit more fair because they get more people to evaluate them.”
Gracie Lu ’21, vice president of spring recruitment for pre-law fraternity Kappa Alpha Pi, said virtual recruitment made identifying students who can think “off the cuff” during impromptu questioning — and who display other typical markers of professional etiquette — more challenging.
“It is much nicer to see someone speak in person,” Lu said. “When you’re presenting yourself and debating, the way you’re articulating yourself is very important. It’s not just in terms of speaking. The way you stand, the tone of your voice are also what we generally consider.”
Although social opportunities that typify the recruitment experience were missing, Lu said the broad latitude to participate in online events appealed to students and members who would have otherwise been too busy with other on-campus activities to attend. Puzzi also said the flexibility of Zoom afforded more applicants the chance to apply — knocking down an entry barrier that often discouraged potential applicants in the past.
While it was hard to make lasting connections through his computer camera, virtual rush felt less grueling for Merkulov, reflecting on the stress-inducing rounds of performance reviews and project tasks part and parcel of past in-person recruitment cycles.
“I found that people are a little more chill,” Merkulov said. “You don’t have to act like everything is like some cold professional negotiation.”