Job fairs have been used by job seekers and employers for decades, but the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in fundamental changes to the way these events are conducted.
Instead of going to a conference center or some other meeting area where you can interact with potential employers in-person, most job fairs are now conducted virtually.
Although this change may have been accelerated by the pandemic, virtual job fairs are not entirely new. They’re also not likely to disappear once in-person meetings are feasible again.
Due to convenience and advances in technology, this trend is almost certain to continue. So it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the process.
The “virtual” part of a job fair describes the way the event is run, not necessarily the type of jobs available. They’re not just for virtual jobs or remote jobs that involve working from home. These virtual job fairs are used by employers to find qualified candidates for all types of roles.
Virtual job fairs share many similarities with traditional job fairs, but there are also some key differences and nuances you need to be prepared for. The career fair tips covered in this article will help you to put your best foot forward and give you the best chance of securing employment.
What Is a Virtual Job Fair?
Virtual job fairs are very similar to traditional in-person job fairs. Other names that may be used include career fair, online job fair and expo. The purpose is to help employers find qualified workers, and to help job seekers find employment.
They are events held at specific days and times, as opposed to online job boards that can be browsed at any time. There will be many companies attending the virtual event, and they will typically have multiple open positions that they’re looking to fill.
Each virtual job fair will be unique, with a great deal of variation from one to the next. Some simply provide basic information about the employers and the open positions, along with a link to their website and contact information that job seekers can use to get in touch.
However, most events will make use of technology like chat rooms and videoconferencing. The interactive aspect allows it to function as much like a traditional job fair as possible.
The event will have an online platform used by attendees — both employers and job seekers. In most cases, you’ll register by creating a user account. After that, you can log in to the platform at the designated time.
Most of these platforms allow you to create a personal profile that will be visible to employers, as well as to upload your resume. The platform will include all of the necessary functionality like chat rooms and video conferencing.
Some virtual job fairs even go as far as including a map that resembles what an in-person career fair might look like, with different booths or rooms for employers located throughout the “venue.” Then you can enter the “rooms” of the employers that you want to interact with. These could be chat rooms or group video calls.
Much like traditional job fairs, the virtual events can be hosted by any number of different businesses or organizations. Colleges may host events that are geared towards recent grads and entry-level jobs. Government agencies, veterans groups, Chambers of Commerce, and other groups that would sponsor traditional job fairs are also likely to host virtual events.
How Are Virtual Job Fairs Different From Regular Job Fairs?
In most aspects, virtual job fairs are remarkably similar to more traditional in-person events. The online versions have been set up purposefully to mimic the in-person events as much as possible.
While the goals for employers and job seekers remain the same, there are a few key differences you need to be aware of in order to make the most of the opportunity.
- Dependent on technology. Obviously, virtual job fairs rely on technology much more than traditional in-person job fairs. Fortunately, the requirements are minimal and the details are pretty simple — but it does require an adjustment.
- Conducted in your home. You may be interacting with a potential employer through a video call while you’re sitting in your home. You’ll need to consider the noise in the house and the background that will be visible to other people.
- Interaction and body language can be more challenging. While video conferencing allows you to see the person you’re speaking to, it’s not quite the same as talking face-to-face at an in-person event.
We’ll cover all of the details related to these challenges, so by the end of this article you’ll be well prepared for a successful and productive experience with a virtual job fair.
How do you introduce yourself at a virtual career fair?
Typical in-person career fairs are usually held in large venues or conference centers with employer booths or displays set up throughout the area.
As a job seeker, you simply walk around and introduce yourself to anyone you want to speak with. The employers are looking for people to interact with, so they may even strike up the conversation.
Even for those of us who are introverted, it’s not very difficult because everyone is there for the purpose of meeting people.
Virtual job fairs share the same purpose, but the mechanics are a little different. Not every event will function the same, but many of them share some common features.
Typically, the event will provide details about each employer that’s participating and the specific job openings they’re looking to fill. There may be a specific chat room for each employer, so you can join the chat room of any employer that you want to meet.
When you join a chat room, the host (the employer) will probably see that you’ve entered and they may welcome you. At this point, beginning the conversation is pretty simple and you can introduce yourself and ask any questions that you have.
Many virtual job fairs include functionality that allows you to have private 1-on-1 chats with employers as opposed to open conversations that may be seen by other people in the chat room. Typically, you’ll connect in the general chat room first and then you can request a 1-on-1 chat if you’d like.
“Since different hiring managers and recruiters typically set up interactive rooms with multiple attendees in each one, introductions are best done over text, with requests to connect at some point during the event, or potentially after,” says Rolf Bax, Chief Human Resources Officer at Resume.io.
If it seems like there may be a good fit between you and an employer, video calls are also usually an option. At this point, it becomes more like a traditional in-person job fair or interview, and if you want to land a job, getting the video call is an important step.
When it comes to introducing yourself, Pete Sosnowski, VP of People and Co-Founder of Zety (an online resume builder) has some practical advice.
“From my experience, when someone requests to interact, I prefer the polite yet confident approach. Something like [the following]”
Hi Mr. Sosnowski. I looked over your company profile and I was really impressed. It looks like a great place to work. Would you be willing to have a short chat with me? I have five years of experience in marketing and I know that department is growing at your company.
“This shows that the candidate has done their research, feels they are a good fit, and is reaching out in a respectful manner,” says Sosnowski. “My answer: Definitely! If said candidate continues to impress, I would ask if they wanted to do a quick interview.”
Getting Your Setup Ready
Landing a job through a virtual job fair requires that you have your technology set up correctly.
Thankfully, it’s not that difficult and you probably already have everything you need. A basic laptop with a built-in webcam and microphone will be sufficient. If you happen to have a separate camera or mic that’s higher quality, that’s even better, but certainly not mandatory.
Identify The Tech You Need (And Test It)
Each virtual job fair will use specific technology to host the event. There are several popular platforms that have been created for conducting online career fairs.
Some will also make use of familiar platforms like Zoom.
The first thing you need to do is check with the host of the virtual job fair to find out what platform will be used and see if you need to download anything. This information is usually readily available on a registration or sign-up page, or you may receive the details after you register.
You don’t want to wait until the day and time of the event to figure out how to access the job fair. Take some time in advance to access and test whatever platform will be used to make sure that you have no issues.
The host or the platform will likely provide a troubleshooting guide should you run into any problems.
Also, keep in mind that video conferencing usually requires a broadband internet connection. If your internet connection is spotty or on the slow side, you may want to connect your computer directly to your modem or router via a LAN cable, rather than using WiFi (which is slower).
Choose The Right Background
Since you’ll be speaking with hiring managers or HR reps through video conferencing, your environment and background is extremely important. Your goal here should be to have a clean, tidy background with nothing that’s going to be off-putting to the person you’re speaking with.
Here are some tips that will help you to choose a suitable background.
- Keep it simple. If possible, position yourself so the background will be clean and simple. A wall or an organized bookshelf is an ideal option.
- Make sure it’s clean and straightened. You don’t want to have an unmade bed, piles of dirty clothes, or empty beer cans in the background. Depending on your situation, you may not have a convenient place to set up. That’s ok, but make sure it’s at least clean and tidy.
- There should be no action behind you. You don’t want to be in a spot where other people in the house will be visible behind you. This also goes for pets, or anything else that moves and could be distracting.
- Don’t wear clothes that are the same color as your background. Choose clothes that will have some contrast with the background color to make it easier for people on the other end to see you.
- Be aware of windows. Windows can cause issues for a few reasons. If the window is behind or beside you and the sun is shining brightly through the window, it can cause visibility problems for the person you’re speaking to. The other potential problem is movement or anything distracting outside that is visible. Close the blinds or curtains if that’s the case.
- Make sure nothing inappropriate or potentially offensive is visible. This includes everything from wall art to books to objects sitting on a table or dresser in the background. You don’t know who you’ll be speaking to and what might make someone else uncomfortable, so move anything that has any potential to be an issue.
- Real backgrounds are best. Zoom and other platforms allow you to set a virtual background that hides your actual background. These fake backgrounds can be very helpful but they’ll often create some blur around the edges of your face, especially if you’re moving. That’s potentially distracting, so it’s best to show your real background if possible.
- Nothing silly. If you do decide to use a virtual background, go with something very simple instead of choosing a background with the hope of being funny.
If you’re looking for some good examples and ideas, Room Rater on Twitter is an excellent source of inspiration.
It’s also good for some humor and examples of what to avoid.
Test Your Camera Height, Angle and Lighting
When you’re interviewing for a job, appearance counts. There’s a reason we dress nicely for interviews and attempt to look professional.
For a virtual interview, the same thing applies to your setup with the camera and lighting. The goal is to make yourself look as presentable as possible. You might be surprised how much of a difference this can make.
The correct camera height is at your eye level, and the angle should be straight on. This will give you the most flattering look and also the best angle for a natural conversation. It can be awkward for the person speaking to you if they’re looking down or up at you from a camera that is too high or too low.
If you’re using a laptop that’s sitting on a desk or a table, it’s likely to be too low. Don’t simply tilt the screen back until your head is fully in view, as this will result in a bad angle. Instead raise the height of the laptop until the camera is at your eye level. You can do this by putting a box or some books under the laptop.
Lighting is also extremely important and something you should definitely pay attention to. In general, the best light will come from in front of you (like if you’re facing a window). Light from the side or the back can cast strong shadows and make your face difficult to see. Also, light directly from above your head is typically not ideal either.
The video below is a great resource that will help you to look your best.
Test Your Audio
Once you know where you’ll be setting up, the next step is to do some testing. Make a test call to a friend just to verify that everything is working and that your audio is good.
A quick test could help you ensure that there are no echos or other problems with the location that you’ve chosen.
Preparing for the Fair
Like any other job fair or interview, being prepared is critical. Don’t just show up at the time of the event
Update Your Resume and Have it Ready as a PDF
Many virtual job fair platforms will ask you to upload your resume before the event even begins. Of course, you want to be sure your resume is up-to-date with your current experience and ready for employers to see.
If the platform you’re using doesn’t have the functionality to upload a resume, most employers will ask for it when they’re speaking to you. They’ll probably want to quickly review the resume before you talk or while you’re talking, so it’s important to have it handy.
Research The Companies That Are Attending and Prepare Questions
Just like any interview, you should take some time to familiarize yourself with the companies you’ll be speaking with. Almost every virtual job fair will provide a list of the companies that will be attending so you can easily do this research ahead of time.
You don’t need to speak to every company that’s attending, so narrow it down to the ones that seem like the best fit. Get to know what those companies do and come prepared with a few questions that show you’ve done your homework.
The interviewers will like to see that you’ve been proactive and that have a genuine interest in their company. It’s an easy way to stand out from other candidates who may not have put in the same time or effort.
Jenna Carson, HR Director at Music Grotto says, “In job fairs I’ve been approached with direct questions such as ‘what jobs are you hiring for?’ This makes me think a candidate is looking for any role. When me or my recruitment team are approached with a unique question about our company, it makes us really listen to that person.”
Choose an Appropriate Outfit
While virtual interviews may seem more laid back and less formal than traditional in-person interviews, it’s still important that you dress appropriately.
I surveyed several HR professionals on this topic and every one of them gave the advice that you should dress the same for a virtual job fair as you would for a traditional in-person job fair.
The specifics of what you should wear can vary depending on the industry you’re in and the type of job you’re after. In general, you may not need to be in formal attire (like a suit), but casual clothes are not appropriate.
“First impressions are always important, and meeting someone online shouldn’t affect how you present yourself,” says Jessica Lim, HR Manager at MyPerfectResume. “This is particularly the case when attending virtual job fairs. Dress professionally. You can wear a shirt, a nice sweater, or a blazer.”
Business etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore recommends wearing solid, bold colors and avoiding patterns, stripes, and plaids. And as mentioned earlier, it’s best to avoid wearing the same colors as your background.
Making a Great Impression
You’ve done all the prep work. You’ve researched the companies attending, updated your resume, found the best location in your home, and perfected the lighting and camera set up.
Now it’s time for the event, and it’s your chance to shine. Follow these tips to make sure your preparation was well worth the effort.
Practice Your Elevator Pitch
Your elevator pitch is a short 30-second (roughly) summary of what you do. As you meet employers, they’ll want to get to know more about you, but you have a limited amount of time. Work on perfecting your elevator pitch to sell your capabilities to potential employers.
The job listing site Indeed recommends a four-step approach:
- Start by introducing yourself.
- Provide a summary of what you do.
- Explain what you want.
- Finish with a call-to-action.
You can read the full article for more details on those steps and how to effectively craft and use your elevator pitch.
Kristen Fowler of Clarke Caniff Strategy Search recommends adjusting your approach slightly.
“Keep it more brief than you would in person and allow for natural pauses for the hiring manager to ask questions,” she says. “If you start speaking too long, it can be hard for the person on the other end of the video to ask a question or make a comment.”
Talk to the Camera
During your conversation, be sure that you’re looking at the camera rather than looking at yourself or the other person on the screen. Make eye contact with the camera just like you would make eye contact with a person sitting across the table from you in a traditional interview.
Practice Your Body Language On-Camera
Body language on video conferencing can be a little challenging, mostly because we’re not used to it like we are accustomed to speaking with people in-person. The most important thing is to be natural. Here are a few specific tips:
- Sit up straight.
- Don’t be stiff.
- Don’t wave your hands close to the camera.
You may find it helpful to have some practice calls with friends ahead of time specifically to practice body language.
“Nodding is a useful skill as well,” says Ben Lemarche, a veteran recruiter with Lock Search Group. “Crosstalk is more punishing on a videoconference than in real life, so if a candidate can signal they’re following along non-verbally, the interview will be much smoother.”
Sharpen Your Interview Skills
In order to make the best impression, you’ll need to sharpen your interview skills. A lot of this comes down to preparation, which involves researching the company and the job that’s available, as well as preparing your answers for common questions.
Ramit Sethi recommends putting yourself in the interviewer’s shoes. While most candidates will talk about themselves, what they’ve done, and what they’re looking for, a more effective approach is to consider what the interviewer is looking for. Talk to them about what you can do that will address the challenges they’re facing and they’ll be much more interested.
This article from The Muse covers the most common interview questions that you should be prepared for, as well as some tips for answering each question effectively.
Get the Contact Info You Need to Take the Next Step!
Before you end the conversation, be sure you get the contact information from the people you’re speaking with.
Generally, email is the best way to communicate without overstepping, so ask for an email address.
Some people may give you their phone number, but in most cases they’ll prefer to be reached by email.
After the Fair Is Over
The job fair may be over, but your work isn’t done quite yet.
Follow Up Quickly
You should follow up on any jobs that interest you, or the conversations that seemed to have the most promise.
You don’t want to be overzealous and follow up the next morning, but you also don’t want to wait too long and miss the opportunity.
In general, five business days is an adequate window. If you haven’t heard anything in five business days, send a brief email to follow up.
Be sure to thank the person for their time and express your interest in the job. Sometimes a follow-up can make the difference in getting a second interview.
Follow Up Once More
If your first attempt at following up doesn’t generate a response, you can follow up a second time, but be sure to give plenty of time.
Wait 1-2 weeks after your first follow-up before trying a second time.
If your second email doesn’t get a response, just leave it at that. Too many follow-ups will do more harm than good.
Virtual job fairs are a current trend, and one that seems very likely to continue even after the pandemic is over.
So as a job seeker, becoming familiar and comfortable with the virtual event process is essential.
Thankfully, they’re very similar to the in-person job fairs that you’re probably already familiar with and the tips and resources in this article can help you to adjust in those areas that are different.