Career fairs used to be a great place for entry-level candidates to discover new companies and get some informal one-on-one time with hiring managers. Then, the pandemic happened, and this form of recruiting became too risky. But career fairs didn’t go away altogether. Like many other types of events, they went virtual.
“A lot of companies were holding virtual hiring events pre-COVID, and they were starting to gain momentum,” says Chris Salzman, who runs virtual career fairs for CareerBuilder. “Naturally they’ve had a big uptick due to the pandemic, as companies pivot and leverage virtual hiring solutions.”
How it works
While technology makes career fairs possible, it also changes how they’re facilitated. At a traditional career fair, candidates can walk in and meet with a variety of companies, stopping by booths to learn about the employer. With virtual fairs, however, events are often company-specific, and candidates must register in advance to book time to chat with a recruiter.
“If a hospital is hiring for nurses and medical assistants, for example, they would put on a virtual event and broadcast it to public, advertising the positions they’re hiring for and giving candidates a marketplace where they can sign up for event,” says Salzman. “Then the candidates would log into an online forum on the day of event to meet with recruiters.”
Another difference is in the prescreening. Most events aren’t open for “walk-ins.” Candidates are scheduled for predetermined time slots. They’ll get reminders about their appointments and have to confirm attendance. Once they log in, they’ll wait in the virtual lobby.
“There might be 15 recruiters with an organization hiring for various roles,” says Salzman. “If the candidate is not a good fit for their needs but could be a fit for one of their colleagues, they may send them back to the lobby to wait to talk to another recruiter.”
How to stand out
To improve your chances of getting a slot, Salzman says candidates should spend time perfecting their résumé so they are chosen. “Your résumé should be up to date, one page, concise, and relevant to the position,” he says. “Make sure it highlights all of the relevant skills that would make you a good fit for specific role.”
Initial meetings with recruiters are often done by text. If companies are meeting with a lot of people, chat can help speed up the process. Salzman says candidates should be prepared to communicate effectively. While you may be tempted to use short answers, take time to convey enough information, just like you would if you were meeting in person or with a phone interview.
“Grammar and syntax are key,” he says. “Candidates should use proper communication skills even though they’re texting. Use multiple sentences or a paragraph. When explaining your skills, have one or two really good on-the-job stories that exemplify the skills set you are discussing. Explain to the employer why you’re a good fit. This is your opportunity to shine. Giving a long chat answer will not be a reason you won’t be selected for the job.”
Just as you would in a regular interview, research the companies and industry want to join. “Don’t just walk into virtual career fairs not knowing anything about the employer,” says Salzman. “When you understand the organization you’re meeting with and the positions they’re hiring for, you can start to weave that information into your dialogue.”
In some cases, recruiters may transition you from a chat-based interview to phone or video, so be prepared. And depending on the industry, you may even get an offer on the spot, says Salzman.
After your meeting, follow up like you would with a traditional interview. “Understand what the next steps are before you leave the event,” says Salzman. “Get a timeline from the recruiter, so you know when you can expect to hear back. And some type of follow up is recommended, such as an email thanking them and recapping your conversation.”
The benefits of being virtual
One benefit of virtual career fairs is that candidates and employers save time. “Most candidates blindly walk into events and sometimes get to talk with someone at a booth,” says Salzman. “If they make a connection, they have to come back for a meeting with hiring manager. With virtual career fairs, you know you’re going to get time with a recruiter.”
Candidates can also sign up for multiple virtual career fairs in a single day. “With traditional career fairs, you could only do one or two a day,” says Salzman.
For employers, virtual career fairs provide an efficient way to communicate with a large audience. “We recently facilitated two events to recruit nurses and had over 800 registrants,” says Salzman. “Half showed up, and we execute over 250 chats. Virtual career fairs can work well with positions that require a specific skill set. You can talk to many people who are certified to do the job.”
Like many new ways of doing business that started or accelerated during the pandemic, Salzman expects virtual hiring methods to stick around. “They’re a way to continue hiring when things are a bit in disarray,” he says. “I don’t think virtual career fairs will be a flash in the pan. I think they’ll be an important tool for talent acquisition moving forward.”