Before the pandemic, people looking for work often went to mammoth job and career fairs in nearby convention centers. These days, like just about everything else, job fairs have gone virtual. Given today’s high unemployment rate and painful COVID-19 layoffs, they’re valuable for laid-off job seekers.
Attending a virtual job fair is a relatively easy way to connect with recruiters, hiring managers and career experts. They’re being offered by an increasing number of job-board websites like Flexjobs.com, industry groups and membership associations from AARP to the North American Veterinary Community (NAVC). Some companies also host their own virtual job fairs. You can search “virtual job fairs” on LinkedIn for a list of upcoming events featured on the site.
The truth about virtual job fairs
But landing a job at a virtual job fair is a long shot. Employers typically are using the fairs to gather résumés that might lead to future phone, and perhaps in-person, interviews.
Another caveat: Virtual job fairs are a mixed bag in terms of navigation and content. Some are sleek events offering on-the-spot Zoom
interviews and lively discussions. Others are just repositories of perfunctory information about employers plus referrals to website job boards. Sadly, you won’t have those casual, face-to-face, break-the-ice conversations with recruiters and other job seekers you can get at in-person job fairs.
AARP is the giant of virtual job fairs for job seekers over 50; it’s been hosting them since 2014. (Full disclosure: I’ve served as an expert for AARP in its live chat rooms). AARP’s next Virtual Career Fair, scheduled for September, will feature employers that have signed its Employer Pledge, saying they value experienced workers. Attendees can also meet up in networking chat rooms.
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“People need support right now and when you lose a job for the first time in your 50s or 60s, you’re unemployed, and your world is turned upside down. So, having the support of others is really important,” said Susan Weinstock, AARP vice president of financial resilience programming.
For advice on how job hunters can get the most out of virtual job fairs, I interviewed several insiders. And I’ve thrown in my own tips.
Virtual job fair logistics
First, the logistics: Registration is typically free. You’ll probably be prompted to fill out a profile and upload a photo and a basic résumé.
When you receive your confirmation, you’ll get a link to check your computer to make sure you’re set to get into the fair when the digital doors open.
If you can’t make the live date, by registering, you’ll generally have 30 days to visit the site, view the jobs listed by employers and watch webinars.
Virtual job fair technology
Now, about the technology: After registering, you’ll likely receive a confirmation email with instructions to see if your computer meets the system requirements. Test the technology before the event, said Manolita Moore, vice president of exhibit sales and operations at NAVC.
Generally speaking, a Mac or PC desktop, laptop, smartphone or a tablet is fine. And if you hit a tech glitch, don’t panic. Most virtual fair operators have tech assistants on hand to help if you’re having trouble.
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While some virtual career fairs have video chat built into their platform, many rely on text. So, to avoid typos or misspellings, type slowly and read your question or answer over carefully before hitting send. Avoid emoticons.
“Make sure you’re set up in a place where you’re relaxed and it’s free of distractions, so you can focus,” Moore said. Use headphones for the sharpest audio and to prevent any feedback or echoes. Small wired or Bluetooth ear buds work great.
Check your camera view when you sign on to make sure your face is well lit from the front. Pro tip: I use two desk lamps, but you might consider adding a ring light.
“Maintain eye contact and practice active listening,” said Christine Cruzvergara, vice president of higher education and student success at Handshake, a digital job-search platform whose products let over 500,000 employers host virtual recruiting and events.“For many of us, staring in a camera doesn’t feel natural — because it isn’t.”
As a reminder about where to look, place a sticker next to your camera at the top and center of your screen. Skip the playful Zoom background of a beach or the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s distracting. Plus, your actual office background can provide positive subliminal information about you and your personality that can work in your favor and help you stand out as a candidate.
Making a great impression at a virtual job fair
And now, how to put your best self forward:
“Preparation is key,” said Moore. “Do a dry run. Log in ahead of time and check out the kind of jobs and the roster of companies participating.”
When you know which employers will be represented, go to their websites and social media pages and do online searches to find out any recent news about them. This will help you ask smarter questions and show your diligence.
“It’s not just about knowing about the position you’re applying for and the company you’re interested in, but having ideas on the larger industry you’re entering,” said Cruzvergara.
She said you should be able to speak credibly about emerging trends or pressing issues facing that industry — using industry jargon, if you can — and ask thoughtful questions about how the company will contribute to that conversation.
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Create several versions of your résumé to match jobs you might want to apply for or to highlight keywords and phrases used in job posts.
Also, “review your LinkedIn profile before the event and update it if need be,” Weinstock said. “Employers are going to use LinkedIn to look at you.”
Helpful advance preparation
One way to get psyched for the meet-and-greet virtual event is to pull out your old performance reviews.
Said Weinstock: “These will remind you of accomplishments you’ve probably forgotten. Make a bulleted list of them and put that in front of you. It can calm your nerves because you’re not thinking on the fly when a recruiter or hiring manager asks about your past challenges and how you solved them.”
A clever idea: post sticky notes on your desktop to prompt you of three key selling points about yourself. If a chat conversation gets rolling with a recruiter or employer representative, these will help you stay focused.
“Be ready with your elevator pitch,” Weinstock said. “Think of a one-minute ‘This is me and this is what I do.’”
And stress the soft skills that you bring, she added “Older workers have these wonderful soft skills. They are problem-solvers. They are calm under pressure. They are empathetic. They have a great ability to listen and make decisions. You can’t train for that. Emphasize those skills.”
Look the part
Recruiters might ask if you can launch into a video interview, usually Zoom or Skype, on the spot. So, you’ll want to be dressed as you would be if you were meeting in someone’s office.
“Don’t just dress the part, also bring the same energy and enthusiasm to the virtual interview that you would to an in-person interaction, “said Cruzvergara.
And, she added, “remember to smile and nod occasionally, as you would during an in-person conversation. And limit any distractions around you so you’re not tempted to look away from your computer screen.”
After the virtual job fair, send “Thank You” emails to recruiters and hiring managers you talked to, along with your résumé. Mention something from your conversation as a prompt or reminder of who you are.
One last thing about virtual job fairs: “Be open to new opportunities when you look at the job openings,” Weinstock said. “Given the economy we’re living in now, you need to think of the skill set that you have and see how that can be applied outside your normal field. Think creatively to how you can apply your skills in a new way.”