8-city Virtual Job Fair May Be the Crest of a Trend

Back in the day, online career events were exciting only for their novelty.

To tell the truth, as recently as a few years ago, online job fairs were barely a step above what employers would get for buying a posting contract on a job board: a place to list open jobs, a corporate profile, access to resumes, maybe live text chat, a bulletin board discussion area, and some off-site advance promotion. These events would typically run for days or weeks.

Once the excitement of the Internet’s bursts of innovation began to wane, so did enthusiasm for the online job fairs. Relegated to the sidelines, they chugged along sponsored by colleges, the occasional job board,  tech companies, and some newspapers.

But now, with interactivity commonplace and budgets tight, new life is being breathed into online recruiting events.

Next week, two ambitious events will take place on successive days. One is a bonafide career fair. The other a Twitter-based jobs conference.

Tuesday, TweetMyJOBS will bring together, virtually, a raft of top-flight job search and recruiting professionals, to participate in panels and workshops on subjects from branding to networking to career changing.

Tweetnoting (as the press release describes it) the American Jobs Conference is presidential candidate and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. This is worth watching if for no other reason than to see how he manages to deliver his address — Getting Americans Back to Work — in 140 characters.

It starts at 9 a.m. PDT and runs until 3:15. The general hashtag is #jobs4US, and it’s already getting a workout. Hashtags will be assigned for each of the sessions once the agenda is completed.

TweetMyJobs was acquired a few months ago by the CareerArc Group, which also owns a few other career and recruiting focused sites.

On Wednesday, some of the largest newspapers in the country will participate in a virtual career fair as far from the old-school events as YouTube is from Hampster Dance.

To anyone who has ever played an online game or wandered around a virtual world, the environment of the Tribune Digital-organized job fair will be entirely familiar. Job seekers navigate by moving through a conference center to visit the various employer recruiting booths.

Live chat via text, voice, or video will allow recruiters and seekers to discuss opportunities and even conduct interviews. A recruiter with a hot prospect can conference in a hiring manager on the spot.

Booths can be set-up with jobs, naturally, and also with videos, company descriptions, FAQs, content from the career site, and links into the social networks.

Each of the eight newspapers from across the country — including Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Central and South Florida — each get a floor of the conference center for the employers they signed up. Each newspaper is also promoting the event online and in print..

The sheer scope of this event sets it apart from others. Kelly O’Brien, director of recruitment strategy at Tribune Digital, says she expects as many as 8,000 job seekers will participate, visiting upward of 50 participating employees.

“This is all happening on one day, with recruiters in their booths all day, so job seekers will be able to interact with them right then,” explains O’Brien.”There’s a lot more interactivity that there used to be.”

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Recruiters can pre-screen job seekers, so they don’t have to speak with everyone who comes knocking. But if they find a hot prospect among the resumes (they have access to all of them and get filtering tools to sort through them), they can reach out and invite them in for a conversation.

As companies keep a tight lid on spending, but demand more from their recruiting teams, virtual job fairs are getting a second look as an alternative to in-person events.

Joe Shaker Jr., VP at Shaker Recruitment Advertising and Communications, says he’s seeing more interest in virtual job fairs from the firm’s clients. Two years ago Shaker partnered with InXpo, the technology provider behind next week’s job fair. Shaker’s digital division then began managing virtual job fairs for clients as varied as Allstate and Dice.com.

The recession, he says, has spurred interest in virtual fairs. “Everyone is looking to save money,” he says. “What’s the cost of attending these live events?”

While employers pay to participate in the online fairs — rates for next week’s event range from $800 to $9,000 — there are no travel costs. Having a dozen recruiters participate costs no more than one, and none of them have to leave the office.

Nor do working job seekers, who don’t have to take a day off to attend. That,  says Tribune’s O’Brien, may mean higher-quality candidates will participate. The event is accessible from most portable devices, including Android-powered smartphones.

BrightMove, the recruiting technology company, offered another reason recently for why virtual job fairs “are popping up all over the place.” In a word: Millenials.

Gen Yers now entering or in the job market are entirely comfortable with conducting business online. Considering that they prefer Facebook to TV, and texting to email, this kind of career exploration is more the norm than the exception.

In fact, these job fairs, including next week’s, offer an online metaphor for the social interaction of job seekers at a live event. A “Networking Lounge” serves as the equivalent of the hotel lobby of a job fair, says Shaker. It’s a place where job seekers can interact with each other and make connections that may further their job search.

Are we going to see more virtual job fairs? Is this a trend? Says Shaker, “I think, obviously the answer is yes.”

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.

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12 Comments on “8-city Virtual Job Fair May Be the Crest of a Trend

  1. I’m not surprised that virtual job fairs are making a comeback in the rising tide of social media. Having worked at the now defunct Westech Expo organization, creators of the original Virtual Job Fair, I know first hand the “old school” events were indeed an extended job board or simply a way to pre-qualify candidates for a live career fair or collect resumes from those unable to attend. Now new technology is creating a platform for people to connect in ways not previously possible in virtual environments. With the emergence of real-time video interviewing and greener recruiting, I expect that Virtual Job Fairs are the wave of the future.

  2. sylvia not the wave of the future- just a wave of the future- simulation is by far the best predictor of job suceess and simulation/VR technology will change employment just as it will change finding employment.

    Get ready for the Panopticon !

  3. @Sylvia: I miss Westech. When we had a number of recruiters, we would sometimes send one around with our “gimmes” to trade for other companies’ “gimmes”.
    (The companies that just had chocolate were rather sad but acceptable, but the ones that just hads hard candies were downright pathetic.) I got scores of pens, some curious and occasionally useful or clever doo-dads (one of which was quite sharp and dangerous), and a couple of t-shirts.

    Cheers,

    Keith “Waxing Nostalgic” Halperin

  4. @Martin you are right of course, the resurgence of virtual job fairs is just one part of a rising tide of changes in an ever-changing industry. Never a dull moment, eh?

    @Keith yeah I miss Westech too, thank god for social media makes it easier than ever to stay connected with old friends and former customers. I still have some clever do-dads with the Westech logo, although the sharp & dangerous ones have all been confiscated by the TSA.

  5. We’ve hosted a few virtual events over the past few years at Intel. Some of them were used to generate interest in future opportunities while one of our more recent events was solely a Virtual Career Fair where we had recruiters and hiring managers available to chat. I don’t see Virtual Career Fairs replacing in person career fairs but they do allow us to expand our reach.

  6. @Sylvia: Yeah, those were the days….
    “‘Sharp and dangerous’ -that’s how we like our candidates.”

    @Sejal: who has non-virtual career fairs, and why?
    Open houses:yes. Career fairs:?

    Cheers,
    Keith

  7. By career fairs I meant attending campus career fairs. Open houses: yes, campus career fairs: yes, stand-alone career fairs: not so much. 🙂

  8. Tough call. I find that anything with a learning curve in this industry requires years of patience before it ‘takes off’ in the recruitment world.

    I once was quite excited about virtual job fairs. They scale better, provide better access and can answer the demand of job seekers and employers alike much quicker (you don’t need as much prep time & attendees have the luxury of schedule flexibility).

    Having watched our ‘virtual’ attempt at uniting alumni with employers evolve into a face-2-face job fair business, I know it’s not easy to get traction. An unexpected surprise, however, was learning just how special bringing employers and job seekers together, in-person, truly is (as long as expectations are aligned and the quality on both sides is strong.)

    So I can’t say with confidence that these events will truly take off. Regardless I’d like to see a resurgence in high quality in-person job fairs and hope the virtual counterpart proves successful enough for all participants that it finds a long term home in the recruiting world.

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