How to Navigate Virtual Career Fairs

(Lori Bultman and Alexx Pons/U.S. Air Force photo illustration)

As businesses slowly open back up and some employees return to the office, hiring practices are mostly remaining online. Today, many employers find virtual hiring fairs to be a cost-effective and valuable way to recruit talent.

What Is a Virtual Career Fair?

A traditional career fair is where employers promote the company and recruit for new talent. There are often tables for employers to promote their business, discuss career opportunities and take applications from interested job candidates. The event may also have seminars and workshops to help job applicants connect with employers.

A virtual career fair is the same event, just not in person. Here, the entire process -- from meeting employers, walking the sponsor or exhibit hall, participating in workshops and applying for open jobs -- is conducted online, leveraging webcasts, email, chat rooms, forums and teleconference systems to discuss the companies and any open positions. Some fairs are conducted using platforms such as Zoom or GoToWebinar, while others use more informal online systems.

There are many variations to how the career fair is run: Some are hosted by large recruiting companies and feature many employers; others are done by the employer themselves. In many cases, applicants upload their resume in advance or when the employer decides whom to interview.

How to Get the Most from a Virtual Career Fair

A virtual event offers you many advantages that aren't present in person. For instance, as this Forbes article notes, "If you're otherwise not well-connected to a particular employer, don't know someone who can make a recommendation on your behalf or pass along your resume to a hiring manager, a virtual career fair allows you to 'meet' a member of the recruiting team and make a positive impression. You may even be able to turn a virtual chat into an email conversation or phone-screen interview if you handle the situation well."

Lisa Rosser, CEO and founder of The Value of a Veteran, hosts virtual career fairs to connect employers with veteran job candidates. She advises applicants to:

  • Research participating employers in advance. Just like an in-person career fair, know which companies you're interested in and what open positions they currently have.
  • Join the virtual information session early while the recruiters are "fresh" and ready to speak with you.
  • Have a strong internet connection. While you can participate in a virtual event from any device (smartphone, tablet or computer) that has internet access, we recommend you have dependable access and eliminate distracting background noise. This helps ensure you don't drop the connection and can stay focused.
  • Have a resume to upload, if needed. Include basic info about yourself, your skills and your interests. Keep your resume in a format that makes it easy for you to cut and paste into chats you might have online with recruiters about a specific job.

Rosser also tells applicants, "If it is the kind of fair where you have to scroll to see all the employer booths, know that some vendors and certain employers pay a premium to be listed first. Scroll to the end of the list and work your way back to meet with the companies that are patiently waiting for the attendees to make their way through the list. This means no waiting!"

Nick Garner, a veteran employment program manager at a large company, offers this additional tip for navigating virtual career fairs: "Be prepared to answer two questions immediately -- 'What type of role are you interested in?' and, 'Where would you like to be located?' Having these answers will help jump-start the conversation."

And just as you would in a virtual job interview (done by phone or video), ensure you have practiced your elevator pitch, have a professional and approachable mindset, and are free from distractions so you can stay present and focused.

This is still a career event, even if you're participating from your kitchen table.

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