Ins and Outs of Webchats

I’ve discovered that there have been problems* signing up for webchats recently but hopefully they’re now fixed (many thanks to one of my subscribers who pointed that out – managed to get it changed), so here are some further instructions on what to do, and some behind the scenes insights into what really goes on in a webchat.

Before the Webchat

If you want to sign up for a webchat, you first choose your chat from the links on the Webchats events page. It will ask you to log in using your university username and password, and if you haven’t used the chat facility before, it will then ask you to choose a nickname. This doesn’t have to be your real name (mine reflects my fondness for childhood literary characters, which I won’t share with you here, in case you come across me elsewhere on the interweb, waxing lyrical about decidedly non-careers stuff). However, the nickname you choose is displayed whenever you ask a question, and it does stay with you for future chats, so bear that in mind when you’re choosing a name.

Oooh, I’ve just re-read our instructions which you can access once you’ve signed up, and spotted the advice to choose a nickname that will “make you look more professional to employers participating in the chat”. Well, that’s my reputation with employers blown – maybe we should give you this advice on the website before you sign up? (I’ll get that changed – along with a couple of other quirks of the current system, to allow you to access the instructions before the day of the chat. [Update – and lo, Andrew, our web-wizard, fixed it for you to see the instructions whenever you go to the webchat page – hooray!])

All the excitement of a live Webchat
(including what’s really happening back at the Careers Service).

On the day of the chat, you’ll get access to a web page which will look like this (without the explanatory text call-out boxes – click on the image for a larger clearer view) :


Once a chat is live, you write your question/comment in the box at the bottom of the screen and press submit. This will then generally go via a Moderator to the most appropriate “Expert” (we use that term loosely – sometimes it’s just people like me). The Expert will type an answer, and your question and the Expert’s response will appear together in the main chat window (that is, if the Expert remembers the right buttons she has to hit – otherwise it all gets a bit out of sequence, but she’s learning, slowly).

When you ask a question, the bar at the top of the page will change – it will show the number of questions you have asked which are still waiting for an answer. This reassures you that your questions have been logged. What it doesn’t tell you is how panicked the Expert is by your question, as she shouts along the corridor, frantically trying to find someone else who might know the answer, while scouring the internet, typing as fast as she can and swearing (sometimes using surprisingly vivid imagery) that she’ll never agree to do one of these webchats again.

According to my crib sheet, “The Expert also has the facility to send a private message to you. This is only visible to you and the Expert. You can respond to this private message by clicking on the Expert’s name.” In my role as Expert, I haven’t used this facility. It’s generally been used by the Moderator, to placate questioners who want to know why the Expert hasn’t answered their question yet. The Moderator’s role is critical and is generally filled by the most imperturbable members of our employer relations or information teams. Their role is to :

  • keep the questioners (you) happy by letting you know what’s going on
  • filter out inappropriate questions (including those regarding the Expert’s mental capacity, parentage etc)
  • chivvy along the Expert with useful comments like “Well, I don’t know – you’re supposed to be the Expert”
  • pretend to be a student if things are going slowly, and ask questions to which the Expert has pre-prepared answers (what do you mean, “That’s cheating” – what are we supposed to do if you don’t turn up? We ask the questions you should have asked, of course)
  • to reassure the Expert at the end of a long gruelling webchat with comments like “well, it wasn’t as good as the one we did last week with X, but we got through it”

After the webchat, the questions and answers are collated into a transcript and published for anyone to read later (you can see a list of previous chats with transcripts along with our upcoming webchats).

So you can see, you’ve got the easy part. Just turn up incognito, throw fiendish questions at a quivering Expert and watch us them squirm – what’s not to like?


*The problems were all to do with the university’s “upgrade” to our website. I’m sure there must have been a good reason for this upgrade but all I’ve seen so far are problems with the interactive part of our web services, including continuing difficulties loading the postgrad pages (I’ll get that changed) and an inability to display RSS feeds from this blog (I’ll get that changed). It’s called progress.