How to Prepare for a Virtual Career Fair

How to Prepare for a Virtual Career Fair
portrait of Ciera Graham, Ph.D.
By Ciera Graham, Ph.D.

Published on December 22, 2020

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Career exploration is critical for college students, as it gives them the opportunity to connect classroom knowledge with their skills, interests, and aspirations. Many students arrive at college in an exploratory phase in which they're looking to learn more about how different career paths may fit with their unique talents and abilities.

Having a college degree is key to raising your marketability and employability. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the 2019 employment rate was highest for those with more education. Data indicates that 25-to-34-year-olds with a bachelor's degree or higher boast a particularly high employment rate of 87%.

College is where many young adults get the opportunity to develop career-specific knowledge and engage in professional development activities. Campus career services departments usually host career fairs, which allow students to connect directly with recruiters and learn more about companies and available positions.

Campus career services departments usually host career fairs, which allow students to connect directly with recruiters and learn more about companies and available positions.

Career fairs also provide students with the opportunity to learn job-search skills like networking, interpersonal communication, self-confidence, professionalism, and organization.

Additionally, career fairs benefit employers looking to grow their applicant pools. These events are both efficient and cost-effective and allow employers to meet a plethora of students, thereby increasing their chances of finding the right candidate for the job.

These days, many colleges rely on digital apps and platforms like Handshake, Career Fair Plus, and Brazen to raise employer and student visibility. These resources let students view attending employers, get information on companies and job openings, and meet one on one with recruiters.

COVID-19's Impact on Student and Employer Engagement

The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly affected traditional forms of student and employer engagement. With the temporary closures of many colleges and universities, not only have career fairs moved to a virtual format, but employers have also had to develop remote interviewing and onboarding processes.

In a recent EAB survey of over 100 career services leaders about their responses to COVID-19, 55% of leaders planned to host a virtual career fair for the first time this fall.

Given the economic impact of COVID-19, students are feeling anxious about their future job prospects. With decreased confidence, many also feel reluctant to apply for jobs or engage with employers in virtual spaces.

As a result, colleges and universities must innovate and reimagine virtual engagement opportunities while also recognizing that virtual engagement can exacerbate equity and accessibility barriers, especially for low-income and rural students who might be unable to afford and access technology to connect with employers.

Holding a career fair that serves thousands of students isn't easily replicable in a digital format, which is why many schools have been forced to rethink how they can still provide students ongoing engagement opportunities on a smaller, more intimate scale.

Due to the pandemic, many schools have been forced to rethink how they can still provide students professional engagement opportunities on a smaller, more intimate scale.

Carnegie Mellon University and Southern Connecticut State University, for example, host virtual employer sessions focused on skills-building. These activities home in on a specific skill, such as crisis management or data visualization, in order to provide students with a hands-on learning opportunity and facilitate direct conversations with employers.

The University of Delaware has similarly created a series of career development virtual chats in which students meet in small groups with employers to learn about job and internship opportunities. These events allow students and employers to build more substantive and meaningful relationships with one another while giving recruiters more talk time and increased accessibility to students.

Nevertheless, equity remains a problem — for students who are parents, for international students, and for students who work full time — making it critical for schools to hold career events at flexible times. By using video conferencing tools like Zoom, institutions can record sessions for students to view at any time.

Career service leaders should also partner with other campus departments to offer loaner laptops and Wi-Fi hot spots to learners who lack access to technology and a reliable internet connection.

How Does a Virtual Career Fair Work?

Digital engagement maximizes opportunities for creativity and innovation. These days, colleges and universities are identifying unique ways to foster more intimate and meaningful engagement between students and potential employers.

Here are two types of online professional engagement opportunities students can explore:

Employer Spotlight Fairs

These types of career fairs are geared toward large groups of people and are a great way for employers to reach a high volume of students in a single snapshot. Employers can give presentations on their company, industry and job trends, available career opportunities, and the recruitment and hiring process.

At these events, an employer's primary goal is to increase the visibility of their open positions and the company as a whole. Due to their size, these career fairs often fail to provide sufficient time for students to connect directly with recruiters.

Networking Sessions

Networking sessions are ideal for students looking to get lots of face time with recruiters. The job site Handshake allows students to schedule a one-on-one 10-minute session with each employer. In these meetings, students can learn about available job opportunities and practice marketing their skills.

Students may connect with recruiters through video calls, audio calls, or text-based chat.

3 Tips for Preparing for a Virtual Job Fair

Update Your Handshake and Social Media Profiles

Your digital footprint is key to getting noticed by employers during COVID-19. According to a 2017 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers use social media to screen candidates; therefore, students should be careful not to post inappropriate or controversial content on their personal social media pages and profiles.

Students should take advantage of professional social platforms like LinkedIn to market their skills, talents, and experiences.

At the same time, learners should take advantage of professional social platforms like LinkedIn to market their skills, talents, and experiences. Be sure your profile reflects your most up-to-date employment and educational history. You might also ask former professors, mentors, advisors, and supervisors to write a LinkedIn recommendation for you to help increase your visibility and strengthen your digital brand.

Another step you can take is to set up a personal website or digital portfolio through which you can show off any projects you've completed or contributed to. HubSpot maintains a handy list of free websites you can use to create an impressive digital portfolio.

As mentioned above, Handshake is a great tool for college students and recent graduates to connect with potential employers. Check that your demographic information, including your academic major, contact information, and graduation year, are all up to date. You can also select the types of jobs and industries you're interested in.

Finally, don't forget to upload a current copy of your resume. The following video presents helpful tips on how to update your Handshake profile for a virtual job fair:

Find Out What Employers Will Attend the Fair

Candidates who do their research convey to employers that they're serious about potential work opportunities. With online career fairs, you can register to attend sessions with specific employers. As such, it's important that you research each company you plan on meeting with at least 2-3 days in advance.

Familiarize yourself with each company's mission, read employee reviews on sites like Indeed and Glassdoor, and view open positions on Handshake and company websites.

Research each company you plan on meeting with at least 2-3 days in advance.

In your one-on-one session with a recruiter, make sure you convey your marketability, your relevant skills and talents, and the fact you did your research on the company. You should also ask questions during your networking session to highlight your enthusiasm and commitment. If you want to apply for a particular position, ask that company what its preferred method for submitting applications is and how you can follow up with the recruiter after the job fair.

Keep an updated list of all the employers you meet, as well as key contacts and company contact information. This allows you to track your job search progress and makes it easier to reach out to potential employers at a later date.

In virtual networking sessions, you'll likely only get a short time with each employer, so it's important you leave a great impression. Before the career fair, practice your elevator pitch by yourself and in front of family and friends. You might also see whether your college offers a mock-interview service.

Test Your Technology to Ensure Everything Works

Tech mishaps are inevitable, and some are beyond our control. Because digital platforms offer multiple ways to engage with employers, you'll want to take some time to check and test your computer's audio settings and video capabilities.

By participating in a mock interview before a virtual job fair, you can ask for feedback on the quality of your audio and video. If you have any other questions or issues, refer to Handshake's troubleshooting guide.

Learn to Embrace Virtual Career Fairs

While professional networking today may be all virtual and look quite different from how it was done in previous years, online engagement between students and employers is becoming increasingly innovative.

In order to raise your job prospects and employability in our constantly evolving world, you must do your research and practice selling yourself. Most importantly, be prepared to put your best foot forward.


Feature Image: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images

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