Traditional career fairs have been around a long time. Usually held in college auditoriums, conference centers, and convention venues, these events take place in large rooms set up with tables and booths. In this scenario you, the job seeker, make the rounds, talking with representatives from different companies. Virtual Career Fairs are moving this experience online, simulating this networking environment through various technologies and the Internet.
Attending an event online can benefit both student job seekers and recruiting employers. The convenience and flexibility afforded by the Internet include not having to travel to a physical career fair location. As you research and prepare for your first career or job fair experience, keep in mind that the goals of these events typically include:
- Connecting job seekers with employers that are actively hiring
- Creating a forum for questions from the job seeker, and
- Allowing recruiters to conduct initial screenings of potential applicants.
The primary reason for attending a job fair is to find a new position, but these events can also provide you with good experience in professional networking, communication skills, and research of your career field.
What can you expect from an online event?
Virtual Career Fairs are more than just employment websites. They are designed to help employers and applicants meet each other and have initial discussions about jobs. These events incorporate different interfaces ranging from basic websites to fully immersive virtual worlds. Virtual fairs are also often open to registered participants during a defined timeframe. This could be limited to just one day or take place over several months or longer. Most online fairs allow 24/7 access to the site and posted materials during this timeframe, and often extend access even after the event is closed.
Career fairs, virtual and on ground, may be general in nature with a variety of participants and employers, or more specific in purpose. Fairs geared toward specific groups of job seekers or students, focused on employers in a particular geographic region, or organized to promote a specific career field (such as health care or technology), are also popular. While each event will have unique features, there are basic steps you can take to prepare yourself for the experience, conduct yourself during the event, and follow up after participating.
- Register: Most virtual fairs will require you to sign-up as a participating job seeker in advance. This should be at no cost to you, so beware of events that charge job seeker fees. Events geared toward specific audiences, such as students or engineers, may limit participation to just those groups.
- Create your profile: Part of your registration will include setting up a profile in the career fair's system. This may include components such as basic contact information, a photo, your resume, a skills inventory, and possibly video. This profile is essentially your virtual business card and available to employers as a reference during the event, so make sure it is professional and accurate!
- Research the companies: A list of participating employers should be available before the fair starts. Take a look at this list and identify the companies that may be appropriate for you to interact with – review the websites and other online profiles for each company. Where are they located? A large fair may include employers recruiting for positions located across the country or even internationally.
- Prepare your questions: Your time with individual recruiters may be limited, so it is important to prepare your questions in advance. They will expect that you have already done some research about them and your questions should reflect this, focusing on specifics that can't be found online.
- Prepare your introduction: What are you looking for? How are you a fit for the organization? Consider how you will introduce yourself to recruiters, in a 30-60 second "pitch", and practice what you will say.
- Log in and test your equipment: Remember getting to know the technology used in your first online course? Sometimes the navigation and communication tools take a little practice. Virtual career fair systems are the same way. If you have the opportunity to log in early and explore the site before the fair begins, take advantage of this time to make sure you and your computer are ready.
- Follow the organizer's instructions: The group organizing or sponsoring the fair will likely have tips and instructions for you as a participant. Go through these thoroughly and follow their guidance.
- Look for "live" interactions: The fair may or may not have synchronous, or real-time, communication available. Look for opportunities to talk with recruiters through virtual company "booths" that include text chat, video chat, and scheduled information sessions or webinars. Check your time zones! There may also be networking rooms for you to meet with other students or job seekers, as well as general sessions addressing job search skills.
- Find posted materials: The sites used for virtual fairs include asynchronous (static or recorded) materials as well. Look for links to company information, staff profiles, welcome videos, and white paper reports, and a searchable database of active vacancy announcements.
- Submit your application(s): If you are able to directly apply for jobs during the fair, take advantage of the chance to do so when you find positions that fit your search.
- Be prepared to interview: Interviews may not happen at the fair itself, but be prepared to engage with employers should the opportunity arise. You never know where the conversation may lead.
- Stay positive: Your career fair interactions may be your first impressions with these employers. Remember to be professional in all of your activities related to the career fair and put your best foot forward.
- Follow-up: Take the time to make contact with recruiters you connected with during the fair. Do this within a week or two. Use this opportunity to thank them for their time, ask additional questions, and express your continued interest.
- Track your applications: Use the career fair's system to track your applications and review company materials even after the fair closes. And develop a system that works for you to stay organized and track all of your job search efforts and connections.
- Assess the event: How did it go? Assess both the event, for usability and participating employers, and your efforts, for lessons learned. Where can you improve your strategies for the next virtual career fair?
Finding Virtual Career Fairs
Start with your school! You may find virtual career events organized by your career center. These events will be focused on students, and potentially alumni, from your school, and link to employers who are interested in hiring its graduates.
- Kaplan University recently conducted a 3-day event focused on the accounting field that drew 12 employers and 245 students. Employers participated in live information sessions conducted as webinars, and students were also able to attend events addressing general job search skills.
- The University of Cincinnati is already planning for a virtual career fair in 2012! They are advertising full and part time positions as well as summer jobs and internships for current students and alumni.
Find additional career fairs, beyond those coordinated by your school, which are open to the public. Here are just a few of the events advertised for the remainder of 2011. Explore these and continue your search for other career fairs that are focused on your local area or career field.
- There are a number of regional events out there, including ones coming up in Phoenix, AZ and Miami, FL. The Chicago Tribune Virtual Career Fair is another example and has a helpful demo and list of recent participating employers.
- The Veterans and Military Spouses Career Fair targets specific job seekers and employers. Take a look at their Attendee Guide for screenshots of the online interface and tips for participants. The Best Practices document for this event also provides general advice for all job seekers.
- The Diversity Career Fair is focused specifically on students and recent graduates, and is open for a full year.
- Explore virtual career fairs sponsored by professional organizations in your field. The American Chemical Society Virtual Career Fair is just one example.
Virtual Career Fairs are sponsored by a wide variety of organizations, from your school and private staffing firms to local workforce offices and professional organizations. The Virtual Career Fair is just one resource available to you in your job search. Contact your career services office for more information. Ask about upcoming career fairs, on ground and online, and find out about other ways you to connect with companies that are actively hiring.