by: Kaila Kea-Lewis
Have you ever seen that episode of The Office where the Dunder Mifflin crew heads to a local job fair? Just like in any other episode of the show, everything that can go wrong does. The worst part is when Michael announces to all the job seekers that Dunder Mifflin cannot do anything useful for them. No, seriously. He says: “We do not offer college credit, we cannot give you any sort of pay, but it is a really fun work environment!”
Yikes. If you’re worried that your next career fair experience will go anything like this, you’re in good company. Job seekers have always been nervous about what they might encounter at a career fair—and how successful they can be. As a career coach, I’ve worked with clients who’ve said the wrong name during their elevator pitch, missed the time slot they scheduled with a dream company, and forgotten to attend the fair altogether.
So it’s no surprise that virtual career fairs, which add a whole new format to the mix, might have you feeling nervous—especially if you’ve never attended one before. These online events aren’t new; they gained traction in the 2010s but really took holdwhen the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person networking impossible. These kinds of events might be unfamiliar, and therefore a bit daunting, but once you learn how they work and try them out, they can be a great tool to help you find and land your next job.
Attending a virtual career fair is a great chance to connect with employers. I’ve worked directly with job seekers to find new job opportunities and network at virtual career fairs and with employers struggling to attract qualified talent and turning to virtual career fairs to boost their recruiting efforts. Now that many employers have experienced the benefits of virtual career fairs—higher attendance than in-person fairs, for example—they’re more inclined to keep them going beyond the pandemic.
What does that mean for you? Well, it means that virtual career fairs are going to be a mainstay in job searching and networking for the foreseeable future. If you’re thinking about attending a virtual career fair, you can use this guide to get started.
What Is a Virtual Career Fair and Why Should You Attend One?
A virtual career fair allows employers and job seekers to meet remotely. Virtual career fairs rely on video conferencing software to help recruiters and other representatives connect with prospective candidates, so you can network and learn about job openings without ever having to leave your home. Much like in-person fairs, virtual career fairs often feature multiple employers at the same event. When you arrive at a virtual career fair, you may even see a virtual booth for each company. If you’ve attended an in-person career fair in the past, you were probably able to go to a booth and strike up a spontaneous conversation. However, at a virtual career fair, you may be required to schedule meetings with employers, which helps to ensure a seamless online experience at a fair that has attracted hundreds of attendees.
Every virtual career fair is different, but as an example: Handshake—an online platform that connects student job seekers with recruiters—encourages employers who attend their fairs to schedule 30-minute group sessions that accommodate multiple recruiters and up to 50 students each along with 10-minute one-on-one meetings between recruiters and students.
Although virtual career fairs often target college students, Muse career coach Cassie Spencer says that companies are starting to host more virtual career fairs for entry- to senior-level professionals. “Your local chamber of commerce could be hosting a fair,” she says. As could a professional organization, such as Women in Technology International or the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, or a staffing or recruiting firm.
“Virtual career fairs give you space to connect with people you wouldn’t have before. And connect with opportunities you wouldn’t have before,” says Jolie Dudley, a career success coach for a coding bootcamp.
In addition, virtual career fairs allow you to meet with a lot of potential employers at one time and save money on travel costs. “With virtual fairs, you have a wider network of companies to connect with, not just those who are local,” Spencer says. They’re especially convenient if you’re seeking opportunities in different cities or states. “Job seekers who are looking to move in the next year or so can lay the groundwork now for their move later.”
These fairs also have perks for job seekers in other situations, too. For example, if you work in a niche field or an emerging industry (think virtual reality), you may be able to attend a fair that is dedicated specifically to these types of opportunities. Similarly, you may have an easier time finding remote and flexible job opportunities at a virtual fair (and have the chance to flex your tech and work-from-home skills in the process). Career changers can also benefit from virtual career fairs. “If you have a dedicated time slot, you can gather a lot of information that would be harder or more time-consuming to gather otherwise,” Spencer says. For instance, you could find out what transferable skills the employer is seeking and align that with the skills you bring from your former field.
How Does a Virtual Career Fair Typically Work and What Can You Expect?
Since not every virtual career fair is identical, you can look forward to a slightly different experience each time. This may seem stressful, but understanding some of the commonalities can help calm your nerves. The process typically goes something like this:
- First, you find the right virtual career fair for you. You can discover virtual career fairs through events websites like Eventbrite and Meetup or career fair websites like NationalCareerFairs.com. If you’re a current student or recent graduate, check with your school’s career services department about upcoming fairs. Regardless of your experience level, Spencer recommends following the companies you’re interested in to find out when they’re hosting fairs: Check their LinkedIn profiles as well as their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. Similarly, Dudley suggests joining professional organizations and groups, naming Latinas in Tech as an example. “There [are] all these hubs that have their own Slack channel[s] where you can find opportunities,” she says. This is a useful way to stay in the loop on upcoming virtual career fairs.
- Next, you register and log on. Register for the fair to ensure you will have a spot. Keep an eye on your inbox for any guidance you receive from the career fair host about getting started. At each fair, you may be required to use a different platform, with popular options including Zoom, CareerEco, Handshake, Symplicity, and Remo. Make sure to log in a few minutes early on the day of.
- Finally, you participate! Once the fair starts, you may be allowed to access various booths or you may be instructed to attend specific sessions. Depending on what modes of communication are available on the platform, the employer may connect with attendees via chat rooms, email-style messaging, or presentations. The format for conversations will vary, too. You may be asked to participate in panels, one-on-one chats with recruiters, or group sessions. At a panel, you can expect to hear from multiple recruiters or representatives from the same company, which gives you a broader idea of what it’s like to work for the organization. A one-on-one chat between you and one recruiter is designed to give you the recruiter’s undivided attention, which is why you usually have to sign up for it. But when hosts are expecting a large turnout, they might also encourage you to sign up for group Q&A sessions, where employers present and then invite participants to ask questions afterward. Feel free to engage with other attendees as well.
12 Tips for Virtual Career Fairs
Just as you would for an in-person event, you should plan ahead to maximize your time at a virtual career fair. Here are some tips you can use before, during, and after the fair to make the most of it.
Pre-registration is increasingly becoming mandatory for virtual fairs. You may also be required to indicate whether you’re interested in a one-on-one session or a group session. A good rule of thumb is to select a group session for employers you are casually interested in and a one-on-one session for employers you actively want to pursue.
2. Attend the Pre-Event Webinar, if There Is One
Some virtual career fairs will include a webinar to brief attendees on the event. During the webinar, you can learn more about how the event will be structured, what types of opportunities will be offered (internships, part-time jobs, or full-time work, for example), and how everything will work on the day of. You can also find out more about which employers will be attending.
3. Do Your Homework
Just because you’re not meeting people in person doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be equally as prepared. Doing your homework goes beyond knowing what the company does. Understand what product or service the organization provides and review recent announcements and headlines. Also, think about how you fit into all of that. “Know what excites you about potentially working there. Know why you would be a good fit,” Dudley says. Check out current job openings and note any specific roles that match your skills and interests.
4. Check Your Tech
If possible, use a desktop computer or laptop instead of a mobile device to access the fair. Test all of your technology beforehand, including your computer, microphone, and webcam. Spencer suggests familiarizing yourself with the platform being used for the fair as well. If the event is being hosted on Zoom or Microsoft Teams, you can use the free version to test it out on your own. For other platforms, try searching for a free demo on the website or on YouTube.
5. Update Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile
Prepare and polish your materials ahead of time so that if an employer asks you to provide them, you’ll be ready to take action. Check your resume and LinkedIn profile for typos, and make sure they are clear and accurate. If you have a website you plan to share, update this as well.
6. Look Into the Camera
During a virtual career fair, your facial expressions will stand out the most—after all, it’s the main thing employers will see. Maintain good eye contact, sit up straight, and smile when it feels natural for you. All of these cues will show the employer that you’re present and interested. Avoid turning your body away from the camera, slouching, or making negative facial expressions, such as furrowing your brows or grimacing.
7. Brush Off the Unexpected
Sure, you should eliminate distractions as best you can, but things happen! With virtual career fairs, you may experience a few hiccups, such as your screen freezing, your dog barking, or your doorbell ringing. Whatever happens, do your best to bounce back. “Most employers are pretty understanding and know that things happen,” Spencer says. “I think it’s important to laugh it off. Try not to be flustered or frustrated. This gives employers a glimpse into how you deal with the unexpected. It also tells the employer how you do under pressure.”
8. Don’t Forget to Interview Them, Too
“Often, candidates are so focused on making sure they’re the right fit for the company,” Dudley says. “Use these fairs to empower you to shift your mindset. Find out if the company is a good fit for you.” That means not only sharing how your background matches what the employer is looking for, but also asking targeted questions that will help you determine whether what the employer is offering matches what you’re looking for. (Read more about how to gauge company culture during remote hiring processes, and start using the tips at the virtual fair!)
9. Ask How They’d Like You to Follow Up
Some employers will want you to follow up by writing an email, connecting with them on LinkedIn, or applying for a job opening directly through their system. Knowing how your dream companies want to hear from you will increase the chance that you can get a response from them.
10. And Then Do It!
Now that you know how your target employers want to hear from you, go for it! Compose a professional message that reminds them of who you are and why you’re reaching out. Send it no more than 24 hours after the event. For example, you might write in an email or LinkedIn connection request:
Hello Ms. Jones,
Thank you for meeting with me at the XYZ Virtual Career Fair yesterday. I enjoyed speaking with you about DEF Company and the types of opportunities that may be available in the future. I also enjoyed hearing about how you grew your career in customer success and would love to stay connected with you. As we discussed, I’ll reach out again next semester, closer to my graduation date.
I hope you have a great weekend!
11. Apply for the Jobs You Discussed at the Fair
Submit your application within 24 to 48 hours after the fair. If possible, follow up with an email to the recruiter or representative you met. Let them know that you enjoyed meeting them and have applied for the position, and attach your resume and cover letter to the email so they can easily access it.
Hello Mr. Cole,
Thank you for meeting with me at the XYZ Virtual Career Fair yesterday. I enjoyed speaking with you about the Customer Success Specialist role at DEF Company and just submitted my application for the position. As I mentioned during the fair, I believe that my background in relationship management and customer service is a strong fit for this role, specifically since your team’s new initiative is focused on testing and implementing different strategies to improve relationships in order to increase customer retention metrics.
I look forward to hearing about next steps. Until then, I thank you again for your time at the fair and wish you a great week!
12. Reflect on Your Career Fair Experience
Think about what you’d like to improve for future virtual career fairs. Use these questions as guidance in your reflection:
- Did I feel more comfortable one-on-one sessions or group sessions?
- How could I have improved the way I scheduled my sessions (e.g., scheduling more or fewer sessions or building in more or less time between sessions)?
- Did I find it easier to meet with employers through chat or video?
- How can I do better at eliminating distractions?