Attending a career fair is an excellent way for job seekers to meet with recruiters, company representatives, and even hiring managers face-to-face without the hurdle of having to go through an online application process first. When you attend a career fair, it’s good practice to show up sharply dressed, with a stack of resumes to hand out, and alert and ready to make a good impression. But what about when the career fair is online? Are the rules different?
Traditionally, career fairs are in large spaces where multiple companies send hiring reps to recruit new talent. However, in the era of COVID-19 (and all-things-remote), career fairs have evolved into virtual events where job seekers can sign in and meet with recruiters through video chats rather than in person. While the logistics of virtual career fairs can be challenging, the virtual setup is beneficial because it allows more people and more employers to join in.
While a virtual setup is beneficial for job seekers because it gives them more companies to connect with, it also brings in a larger talent pool. So it’s arguably even more important to present your best self at these events than at a traditional career fair. Luckily, a little preparation will go a long way in this case.
Why Attend a Virtual Career Fair?
The most obvious reason to attend a career fair, whether virtual or not, is to land a new job. Of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll be offered one on the spot, but by connecting with recruiters and hiring managers one-on-one, you are in a position where you can leave a lasting impression that might give you an edge on the competition. Also, you’ll likely trade information with these company representatives. Perhaps if there isn’t an opening at the company right now that would be a good fit for you, you’ll have a direct line to them when something does become available.
Even if you’re not actively looking for a new job, but you’re open to taking one for the right opportunity, you can still benefit from attending career fairs because you’ll be able to network with people across various companies and industries. It is especially true for virtual career fairs since there will likely be more companies in attendance than at a traditional event. Because of this, you’ll be able to expand your network significantly, and even if your new connections don’t lead you to a new job, they could lead you to collaboration opportunities down the road.
Similarly, virtual career fairs also offer the chance to network with peers from your industry and others across the country (possibly even internationally, depending on the career event you attend). So, even if your dream company isn’t participating in the virtual career fair, a peer who works for that employer might be, and if you connect with them, they could help you get your foot in the door with a referral.
There are many good reasons to attend a virtual career fair, but that’s not to say there aren’t some downsides to this setup, too. Let’s weigh them:
Convenience (you can attend from your own home)
Access to a broader range of employers and industries
Opportunities for one-on-one conversations with key decision-makers
Discovering new possibilities you might not have known about otherwise
A chance to speak to actual employees at companies you’re interested in
In-person events can make having one-on-one conversations a little easier
There’s a risk of technology problems (on your end, on the company’s end, or even on the host’s end)
You don’t have the convenience of physically passing business cards and resumes into people’s hands
If you aren’t tech-savvy, the process may be overwhelming or complicated
More passive job seekers will attend, which can clog up the queue for active job seekers
One-on-one conversations may be over chat, not video
There are certainly downsides to virtual career fairs, but the benefit of having access to so many more employers makes them worth it. Plus, since so many companies are shifting to become fully remote, virtual career fairs will continue to be the norm, so it’s better to get on board early than to miss out on opportunities because of the challenges.
Preparing for a Virtual Career Fair
Just like you would for a traditional interview, it’s essential to spend some time preparing before a virtual career fair. Of course, how you present yourself will significantly impact the impression you leave on recruiters and hiring managers (more on that later). Still, the work you put in ahead of the event will also reflect you as a potential job candidate. Here are some things you might want to do ahead of time:
Make sure your resume is up to date, error-free, and provides a broad overview of your experience; this is especially important if you’re interested in multiple industries or roles since you won’t be able to submit tailored resumes like you would if you were applying online
Follow the career fair’s host’s instructions on creating your employee profile before the event; take your time reading through everything to ensure you didn’t miss any steps that could reflect poorly on you as a candidate
Participate in any practice rooms or webinars the host offers so that you’ll be able to navigate the fair once the event is live easily
Practice your elevator pitch so that you can get right to the point during one-on-one conversations with recruiters and hiring managers
Go through mock interviews with a friend ahead of time (or use your actual interviews as practice)
Look over the list of employers attending the career fair and make a priority list so that you can use your time efficiently
Do some research into the companies you want to connect with as if you were preparing for a typical interview; you should also have a general idea of what the other participating employers do in case you find yourself talking to a hiring representative
Treat the event like you would a virtual interview; test your technology the night before, have a backup device nearby (a tablet or even your phone) in case there is a tech issue, and set up your computer in a space that is free of noise and distractions
How To Present Yourself at a Virtual Career Fair
Again, you should think of this event like an interview because even though you’ll be talking with people from various organizations, some of which may not even have a job opening that’s a good fit for you right now, all of these conversations are essentially mini-interviews. You want to leave a good impression so that you stick out from all of the other people they’ll meet at the event. Unfortunately, since virtual career fairs have various layouts (group video calls, private calls, chats, etc.), there’s no perfect checklist for how to do this. So, here are some general best practices to consider based on your event’s setup:
Show up looking professional; dress sharp with your hair styled (and wear any accessories and or makeup if they reflect your style)
During video discussions, be sure to smile, make eye contact, and stay engaged
Apologize for any disruption from kids or pets during calls (no need to be ashamed if this happens, though)
Speak up in small group chats, but don’t alienate fellow attendees
For chat one-on-ones, stay on topic, keep your responses brief, and be conscious of spelling and grammar (consider installing a Chrome extension like Grammarly to help catch errors)
Ask questions about the company’s mission, its long-term goals, and where someone with your skillset would fit in
Most importantly, be yourself. While you should try to be your best at events like this, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Not only is this personally exhausting, but you also run the risk of connecting with a rep at an organization that would be a bad culture fit for you. It’s wise to show up to career fairs ready to impress potential employers, but don’t forget that you’re interviewing them, too.
Virtual career fairs can open up many opportunities to professionals. On January 25 and 26, 2022, The Mom Project is hosting The Comeback, an immersive virtual summit designed to connect moms and employers, and further forge pathways to fully activate our workforce.