Virtual career fairs are booming. In a recent poll, 80% of surveyed college career centers reported hosting a virtual career fair in fall 2020. That’s a sharp increase from the 15% who reported hosting a virtual event in earlier years.
But there’s an obvious source of virtual events’ increased popularity. Covid forced career fair hosts, companies, workers, and everyone else to improvise.
So are virtual career fairs just a “sign of the times”? When Covid restrictions fade away, will virtual events fade away too?
We think the answer is no. In-person career fairs will come back, but they’ll be supported by or even replaced with virtual career fairs much more frequently.
Virtual career fairs aren’t just appealing because they’re Covid-safe. Recruiters, candidates, and hosts have recognized a litany of other advantages to moving career fairs online.
If you haven’t attended one of the past year’s many virtual career fairs, you may have a hard time even envisioning one. What do they look like? How do they work? And why should you consider hosting one?
Read on to learn about this next-generation recruiting tool.
What Is A Virtual Career Fair?
What do you picture when you think of a career fair? Probably a large, noisy convention hall stuffed with booths and people dressed for an interview. How can a virtual career fair recreate that?
There are fewer differences between an in-person and virtual career fair than you might think. A virtual career fair, just like an in-person career fair, features lots of virtual “booths” operated by recruiters.
Candidates attending a virtual career fair encounter a central directory of booths, rooms, and events at the fair. When they click on an employer, they enter that company’s virtual booth.
In-person career booths usually contain plenty of glossy company brochures, fact sheets, and job descriptions. Virtual booths can hold the same thing. Employers can include job openings, company descriptions, and links to videos and social media.
Job fairs are ultimately about the all-important interaction between candidate and recruiter. Can virtual job fairs reproduce this important in-person conversation?
Absolutely! Candidates can communicate with recruiters using real-time chat. Text chat is great for saying hi and asking quick questions. And chatting lets recruiters and candidates set up video rooms to talk face-to-face.
Those video remote interviews can accompany a digital resume submission or a full job application. Once a video session is over, candidates and recruiters can send each other follow-up information and questions via chat.
In-person career fairs usually aren’t limited to booth interactions all day. They may also have keynote speakers, resume and cover letter workshops, and other events.
Virtual job fairs can offer these value-added components, as well. Virtual meeting rooms and teaching tools can facilitate speakers and workshops.
Organizers can plan a full schedule of virtual events. And because no one has to travel to attend a virtual career fair, organizers can pull their candidates from a geographically broader pool.
Why Host a Virtual Career Fair?
Schools, trade associations, and other career fair hosts went virtual in 2020 out of necessity. A virtual career fair, they figured, was better than no career fair at all.
But with the end of Covid restriction growing closer, will virtual career fairs remain popular?
Many experts think the answer is yes. Organizations who may have been reluctant to embrace virtual career fairs at first now see the many benefits they have to offer. In-person career fairs will become a reality again, but they’ll be paired with plenty of virtual events.
Why host a virtual career fair? Let’s take a look at some of the many benefits they offer.
Larger, More Qualified Candidate and Company Pools
In-person career fairs can be fun, but they can also be a serious resource drain for both companies and candidates. There are travel costs, lodging, and printed material expenses. Travel and set-up time can make a career fair visit an all-day or multi-day affair for both candidates and companies.
So you can’t blame both parties for picking which career fairs they take the time to attend very carefully. If you’ve hosted in-person career fairs in the past, there were probable exciting companies and qualified candidates who couldn’t attend. They just didn’t have the bandwidth.
Going virtual sharply reduces career fair attendance costs for both candidates and companies. The result is a larger, more qualified candidate pool and a wider range of potential employers for candidates to interact with.
Companies trying to fill an opening with many specialized, technical requirements have a higher chance of finding a qualified candidate when qualified candidates don’t have to travel to find them. Candidates, meanwhile, benefit from a greater pool of recruiters, increasing their chances of finding a good match.
More Diverse Candidate Pools
Most savvy companies realize by now that “diversity” is more than a corporate buzzword. Diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture new markets than companies that don’t make an effort to hire from underrepresented groups. Diverse companies experience 2.3 times greater cash flow on average.
But diversifying a hiring funnel can be easier said than done. If a company’s existing hiring practices didn’t create a diverse workforce, a resolution to “embrace diversity” alone won’t do much to change that. Companies often have to re-examine and change how they find candidates.
Virtual career fairs can be a potent tool for diversifying job applications. Virtual career fairs reduce travel costs and time sacrifices for both companies and applicants. Companies can devote more of their recruiting time and budget to targeting diverse applicant groups.
With the reduced costs of virtual career fairs, companies can send recruiters to more fairs held by HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) and other under-represented applicant sources. Minority candidates can attend more fairs in more physically distant locations.
Hosts must be proactive to assure their virtual fairs actually promote diverse hiring. Marketing efforts should include reach-outs to minority candidate communities, such as posts on HBCU job boards. Seek recruiters from companies who prioritize diverse hiring.
These measures are usually well worth the effort.
Companies who find a large, diverse, and qualified applicant pool at a virtual job fair one year are likely to send recruiters a second year. You’ll also earn attention from institutions such as HBCUs devoted to helping qualified minority candidates get their fair shake on the job market. These institutions are more likely to funnel students towards job fairs that prioritize diversity.
Instant Data and Feedback
Companies who send recruiters to career fairs often have a lot of questions for them afterward.
How many resumes did we get? Which job openings were candidates most interested in? Were there more entry-level or mid-career attendants? Who should we follow up with immediately, before another company snatches them up first?
Career fair hosts also have plenty of questions. How many candidates attended? How did candidates and recruiters feel about the event afterward?
A good host, after all, never rests on their laurels. They want feedback on what worked and what didn’t. That way, they can throw an even better fair next time.
Parsing out answers to all these questions can be a time-intensive, laborious process.
Recruiters have to look through paper resumes to harvest contact information and credentials. They may need to manually enter promising candidates’ information into an applicant tracking system. Career fair hosts have to send out feedback surveys and hope for a high response rate from busy candidates and recruiters.
Virtual career fairs, by contrast, offer instant information for hosts, recruiters, and candidates to act on.
Recruiters can use keyword screening to sort through resume submissions for qualified candidates. They have immediate access to contact information for all candidates who passed through their booth. So if they need to, they can reach out quickly.
All interactions at the fair are immediately capturable as digital data. Companies can run reports and gather instant insights. This digital data also helps them get candidates into their applicant tracking system quickly.
Hosts, too, can gather information instantly with virtual events. No more harassing attendants with feedback emails or asking for comment cards.
Instead, gather feedback instantly during or right after the event. This feedback comes from when candidates and companies are still focused on the fair.
Downsides to Consider—And What to Do About Them
Are there downsides to moving your career fair online?
The answer definitely can be yes. But hosts can apply best practices to minimize these downsides and get the most out of the virtual model.
If you’ve held off on holding a virtual job fair in the past, you’ve probably thought about their potential downsides. Let’s look at what those downsides are, and how to mitigate them
Lack of Technical Know-How
Just like in-person career fairs, virtual career fairs require planning and infrastructure. Applicant registration, virtual booths, keynote events–setting up any of these requires technology and know-how.
The good news? There are already virtual career fair platforms you can rely on to manage your event.
A good career fair platform strives to be as intuitive as possible. Intuitive design minimizes the need for pre-fair platform training.
But you can still use your registration process to help your participants navigate the event. Just send them email instructions or a video tutorial beforehand.
Getting the Word Out
Marketing and advertising are essential to in-person career fairs. That’s even more true when your career fair is virtual.
The most successful virtual career fairs draw participants from all over. And a few flyers in your school career center are unlikely to reach those participants.
You’ll have to use virtual marketing techniques to bring attention to your virtual fair. Consider social media posts and paid advertisements. Reach out to trade associations, college career offices, and other important participant groups.
If you have specific career fair goals, such as attracting diverse candidates or candidates with specialized industry skills, tailor your marketing accordingly.
Still Miss In-Person? Consider a Hybrid Model
Virtual events are better than ever. Many candidates and recruiters—especially Millennials and Gen Z’ers—have used quarantine to embrace virtual events.
But after Covid restrictions ease, some people are hoping to never join a Zoom meeting again. Even the best virtual career fair risks leaving out participants who just need in-person interaction.
If you’re reluctant to leave in-person career fairs behind, you can easily host a hybrid fair.
In the hybrid model, hosts still help recruiters set up rows of booths in a large event space. In-person candidates still don their most professional outfits and print paper resumes.
In hybrid models, however, candidates usually have a choice between attending online or in-person. Attending companies can have virtual booths, physical booths, or both. They may send one recruiter to staff the in-person fair and keep another in the office to conduct Zoom calls.
Lead Your Industry With Virtual Career Fairs
Covid restrictions won’t last forever. But if your reaction to less social distancing is to revert to exclusively in-person events, you’re missing out.
Industry experts have come out of this trying time with a silver lining. That silver lining? An understanding of just how many benefits virtual career fairs have to offer.
Check out this list of virtual event platforms, including Premier Virtual, Brazen, vFairs, and others who are helping career fair hosts become career fair leaders by holding high-quality virtual events. We can help you throw a virtual career fair that generates meaningful connections between employers and applicants.