How to stand out at a virtual job fair

by Myelle Lansat
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How to stand out at a virtual job fair

Companies are turning to virtual career fairs to recruit new talent during the pandemic. If you’re gearing up to attend one, you can expect anything from one-on-one Zoom sessions with recruiters to virtual rooms filled with 400 people.

Virtual career fairs can help you get a sense of a company’s culture, job openings and hiring process, said Dilyara Timerbulatova, the virtual career fair product manager at PowerToFly, a networking site for women and nonbinary professionals. She coordinates virtual job fairs featuring five to 10 companies from major metropolitan areas, each attracting up to 1,500 candidates. Attendees have the option to jump into any company’s virtual room of up to 400 people and participate in 40-minute Q&A sessions hosted by a PowerToFly moderator.

Interest in virtual job fairs has surged this year. While there's no hard data on how frequently they're taking place, Google searches for "virtual job fair" spiked in September.

“We used to host job fairs once per quarter but moved to monthly job fairs due to the growing demand,” said Timerbulatova. Keep tabs on companies you’re interested in on sites like Twitter and LinkedIn so you’ll know if and when they join a career fair.

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Attending a virtual job fair can open the door to discussing controversial but important topics with companies, said Nicole Felter, one of PowerToFly’s career fair moderators. “It’s a special environment with special conversations — in one room they got into a discussion about the Black Lives Matter movement,” she said about a recent job fair. "That’s something you may feel uncomfortable bringing up in-person, but it’s great to know where companies stand on social issues.”

Making an impact in a crowd of candidates can set you apart from your competition. Here’s how to stand out in a virtual job fair.

Do your research

Virtual or not, it’s important to do at least some research on companies attending a job fair. In one-on-one interviews, recruiters may introduce themselves and the company, but they’re more interested in learning about you, said Mallory Foutch, a campus recruiter at Policygenius. “If you only have a 10-minute conversation and spend three minutes talking about the organization, it leaves little time to talk about the candidate’s knowledge, skills and abilities,” she said.

One way to be memorable is going into a career fair knowing what you’ll say and ask. “When you introduce yourself, you need a hook — why you’re interested in the company, the job you’re interested in and your relevant experience,” said career coach Tracy Timm.

If there’s a Q&A portion of the job fair, ask questions that will give you a better understanding of what it’s like to work at a company. Ask about things like the onboarding process, employee experience, benefits, maternity leave policies, culture and diversity. If you’ve already applied to a job at the company, ask the recruiter what that role entails. “These types of questions can teach you something meaningful about the company and will make you look good to the person you’re asking it to,” said Timm.

Create a professional & comfortable atmosphere

You don’t need to wear a suit and tie to a virtual job fair, but don’t wear pajamas either. Timm says it’s important to show up authentically and appropriately for the job you’re interested in. For example, if you’re overdressed and the company you’re speaking to has a casual dress code, “it can feel stuffy and look like you’re trying too hard,” she said. But if you show up in a hoodie and the business you’re chatting with is buttoned up, you may not give the right impression either, she said.

“If you show up authentically then you will attract roles that fit you authentically. If you show up unauthentically and get the job, then you’ll have to be unauthentic over a long period of time,” said Timm. If you’re only wearing something professional from the waist up, make sure you have everything you need in front of you so you don’t have to get up mid-interview. Think: resume, pens, paper, headphones and chargers.

You’ll also want to find a distraction-free environment, said Timm. If you have pets or children, make sure they’re occupied while you’re participating. If your only quiet space still feels chaotic, it’s OK to use a virtual background, just make sure it’s not distracting.

Stay connected

Virtual career fairs should be the starting point of communication with a company you’re interested in. Connecting with recruiters on LinkedIn will indicate you’re eager to work with them and keep your name top of mind. Remember that you’ll need to apply to a role to be considered for the position.

When you’re connecting, don’t send empty LinkedIn requests, said Foutch. Stand out by adding a message to your request. “Say something like, ‘Hey [recruiter’s name], it was great to meet you at X event. Glad we talked about Y and Z,’” she said.

If you’ve already applied to the job, let the recruiter know and ask about next steps. If you don’t hear back from a recruiter right away, don’t panic. Keep following up with your contact and let them know you’re still interested in the role.

Even if a company doesn’t have open roles, connect with recruiters or other people at the job fair if you had meaningful conversations, said Timm. “Growing authentic relationships with businesses and people in the industry can’t hurt.”

Image: Nastia Kobzarenko