Virtual Career Fairs: A Game-Changer

Career fairs have long served as a way to attract and pre-screen a large number of potential job candidates at one time and in one place. But two interrelated factors have lessened their efficiency.

One is the movement to seek out talent where it lives rather than being limited to local candidates. Technology and best practices for telecommuting have made the requirement to live and work in the same area less important for knowledge-based jobs than it once was, allowing organizations to seek out qualified candidates globally. The second factor is the skyrocketing cost of travel due to increases in gas prices along with costs associated with renting a space to hold a career fair.

Organizations can overcome those limitations by creating virtual career fairs. In these online events, technology can create a branded environment with a lobby or welcome area complete with tables or rooms where candidates can get information or chat with recruiters to learn more about an organization. Adobe Flash is often used because it allows organizations to host events without bandwidth issues.

How to Make It Work
The scope and size of an event are up to the organization hosting it. Various factors impact this decision, including expected attendance, number of booths and types of content — video, images, text — hosted. A company also can determine if a virtual career fair will meet its recruiting needs based on how many jobs it has to fill.

Goals should be set early in the planning process since companies likely will measure success differently. Virtual career fairs range in cost from $25,000 to $90,000. This number fluctuates based on the size and scope of the event, as well as the desired objectives and reach the sponsors wish to achieve.

Thanks to technological advances, creating a virtual career fair is relatively easy. It can be done in-house if the organization has the resources to devote to it, in conjunction with an outside partner or by working with technology vendor support staff.

Pre-built templates walk users through the virtual recruiting process step by step, from developing the initial welcome area to building individual booths and setting up chats. Depending on their budgets, companies can choose a pre-done graphical look to quickly and easily set up their event or develop one specific to their brand, which likely will require a graphic artist.

The Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS) held its first virtual career fair in April 2011 to enhance its online career site for 11,000 members. The existing site was built around a robust online job board, and the company wanted to take its model further, be more innovative and increase interactivity.

With RAPS physical career fairs, roughly 70 to 75 percent of registrants actually attended, which is considered a solid industry statistic. With the virtual job fair, however, 83 percent of the 755 total registrants attended the event while it was live.

“The attendees were shocked,” said Brad Pierson, manager of integrated product sales for RAPS. “And the sponsors appreciated the high number and quality of candidates that attended the virtual career fairs.”

Financial advisory firm KPMG also has benefited from virtual career fairs. Its first World Job Fair, a 48-hour virtual recruiting event in 2008, generated 20,000 registrations from 40 countries.

KPMG used a follow the sun strategy where the event started at the same hour in successive time zones. For instance, an 8 a.m. start on the East Coast would be followed by an 8 a.m. start in the Central time zone and so on. This allowed registrants to participate during normal business hours during a continuous two-day period.

Approximately 9,300 applications were created during the virtual event. KPMG subsequently began using the technology for other applications, such as a virtual event for employees and partners interested in exploring international rotation opportunities. It also has continued to host the World Job Fair with similar success.

During these events, sponsors meet many qualified candidates in a short period of time and gain more information about them due to the online registration process. Sponsors can hold informal interviews to better gauge candidates and their backgrounds. Information not included on resumes or that can only be obtained via candidate-specific questions can be gathered and assessed later.

Sponsors also can run a qualifications-based search of who was in the virtual career fair at a given time based on the information attendees list during registration, then contact them while they are online to draw them to the sponsor’s booth. All of this helps participating organizations shorten their hiring cycles and fill needs more quickly.

Another benefit of virtual over physical career fairs is they remain open long after the live portion of the event is completed. The events continue to deliver value via prospect leads for weeks or months at a time. While the booths may not be manned live, potential candidates are encouraged to ask questions, indicate their areas of interest and highlight their qualifications. These messages are then forwarded via email to recruiters at the sponsor companies, which then connect directly with candidates.

Information gathered during a virtual career fair also can show what questions were asked and which information most interested potential employees, such as specific company benefits, perks and salary, allowing an organization to further refine virtual career fairs in the future.

Another advantage to virtual career fairs is the ability to search visitors to find matches to organizational needs, even if the visitor didn’t leave a resume. Attendee information can be captured by requiring a basic registration form to be filled out for entry to the career fair.

General questions include name and contact information, and questions are customizable for sponsors to obtain more specific information if needed. By properly designing the form attendees must fill out to attend the virtual career fair, an organization will have the data needed to begin the matching process sooner, and help fill vacancies more quickly.

Build It, They May Come
As with any career fair, the challenge is getting candidates to attend. An organization can have the slickest, most interactive event on the planet, but that doesn’t guarantee potential candidates will register or attend.

To achieve success, it’s important to market the virtual career fair aggressively through email, direct mail, advertising, public relations, social media and other channels such as partner companies. Integrated marketing campaigns work best for career fair promotion. The more diverse the selection of marketing vehicles used, the better the chances of reaching more potential attendees. A full-time marketing person is not required for these efforts. However, it is best if someone involved with marketing takes charge.

Once potential candidates have registered, organizations need to set up a regular email, social media and other communications schedule to keep them informed and the event top-of-mind, with a final reminder going out the day before. Once the live portion is completed, organizations should send out regular reminder emails that the virtual event is still open. The reminders should include information about useful materials such as recorded webcasts, industry keynotes and workshops which are available on demand or for download in the booths, and also include the ability to leave questions, which must be answered promptly.

Virtual career and student fairs are gaining popularity in academia. DeVry University in Chicago uses a virtual open house to interact with students and show them why a DeVry education makes them attractive to potential employers. The University of Manchester’s Business School uses a virtual career fair called MBS Global Campus to attract students from around the world and to connect potential employers with current students for recruiting.

As with the business-oriented career fairs, these virtual events have a live and an ongoing element. The student fairs are marketed through a variety of channels, including the school’s website, email lists and targeted advertising.

Potential students register, and the day(s) of the event booths are available where they can talk to representatives from departments in which they are interested. Unlike a physical student fair, where the recruiter generally speaks with one person at a time, recruiters at a virtual student fair may hold several conversations at once. Much like chatting with friends through an online service like AOL’s Instant Messenger, within virtual environments participants can have multiple, private chat windows open at once.

The key benefits are the ability to connect with more students who may not be within an easy drive of the school and eliminating travel costs and venue rental for out-of-town recruiting. In addition, virtual events enable more efficient use of faculty and administration time since participation happens from their offices, and they allow recruiters to build more of an ongoing relationship with prospective students than can normally be achieved with a “meet and greet.”

Since 2011, corporate recruiters have been taking advantage of the MBS Global Campus to recruit students without the time and expense involved in campus visits. The virtual environment acts as an ongoing connection. This helps companies stay on their best candidates’ radar screens while reducing costs.

CareerBuilder.com has seen similar results with virtual career fairs it has conducted for clients. “We’ve achieved as much as a 70 percent reduction in cost per hire for one of our clients at a cost per attendee of just $2.76,” said James Gilliam, senior virtual environment manager at CareerBuilder.com. “You would be hard-pressed to achieve those results in one market, much less the full-country coverage our events provide.”

While face-to-face meetings are still important, now they often can be pushed back further in the hiring process, when interest levels on both sides are high. Until that time, virtual career fairs provide a high level of interactivity that helps to keep an organization’s pipeline filled with quality candidates.

Eric Vidal is the director of product marketing for event services at InterCall, a global conferencing and collaboration services provider. He can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.

LEARN MORE
Technology has changed the way we approach talent management processes. Are virtual environments the future of HR?