10 expert-backed tips for navigating virtual career fairs and making sure you stand out to hiring managers

  • CareerBuilder's Chris Salzman and career coach Tristan Layfield provide advice on how job seekers can stand out at virtual career fairs.
  • Take advantage of every feature offered at the fair, including signing up for video chats with employers.
  • Craft and practice a compelling elevator pitch and develop a set of individualized and thoughtful questions to ask hiring managers.
  • Highlight your personality by sharing anecdotes about your life and examples of challenges you've faced and navigated in past roles.
  • Afterward, send thank you notes and LinkedIn requests to everyone you spoke to — and make sure to include context in both.
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Career fairs can be a great way for job seekers to augment their search. Candidates can discover new organizations, learn more about specific industries, and talk to hiring managers directly. They're helpful on the employer side of things, too, by allowing companies to expand their talent pool and get directly in front of candidates.

Yet, as a result of the restrictions due to COVID-19 on how many people can gather in one space at a time, career fairs have transitioned to a virtual setting.

Overall, this is a good thing. It's better that career fairs exist online than not at all. And it has some benefits, too. Job searchers can attend from the comfort of their home and explore companies at their own pace without feeling rushed by the crowd around them. And for employers, the virtual environment facilitates easier candidate tracking.

"After the event, a hiring manager can go back through conversations to refresh their memories, review conversations, and re-engage with candidates directly," said Chris Salzman, a director at talent acquisition company CareerBuilder.

Take time to craft the perfect elevator pitch, one that succinctly summarizes your experience, interests, and value.

In addition, Salzman highly recommended preparing questions for each organization. That way, you'll leave with the information you want to know most, and you'll demonstrate that you're engaged, interested, and did your research.

The key here is that these are smart, thoughtful questions, not just a generic set that you take from virtual table to virtual table. Instead of, "What does your company do?" you should ask something like, "I saw on your website that [company name] only partners with mission-driven organizations. How do you evaluate your prospects for that specific characteristic?"

5. Sign up for any available office hours or video chats

Some online career fairs provide the opportunity to connect with an employer via video, whether it's a one-on-one chat or group info session.

Whenever this is an option, take advantage of it. This is a great way to stand out from other candidates, as it gives you extra time with the employer representative and allows them to put a face to a name. Plus, it helps make up for the major aspect of in-person fairs that's missing: face-to-face interaction. 

6. Test your technology

Technology is wonderful, but it certainly isn't without its faults.

Make sure your computer is charged, you have access to your charger and an outlet just in case, and your internet connection is steady. In addition, check out the detailed technological requirements of each career fair. Sometimes, you'll need specific devices or software to access it. Set aside time to ensure you've eliminated any possible technological barriers and that you have backup plans in the case of a glitch.

"You want the focus to be on you and your amazing skills, not the fact that your technology isn't working," Layfield said.

7. Dress like you're going to an in-person interview

"Get dressed completely," Layfield said. "Yes, I mean put on pants."

Sure, it may seem like a bummer. After all, for the past few months, many of us have been logging into work donning our favorite "work from home casual" outfits and hairstyles.

But if there's a video component, the last thing you want is for a recruiter to catch a glimpse of the sweatpants you haven't washed since last week. And even if this career fair is video-free, Layfield posits that dressing like you would for an interview or in-person job fair will "put you in the right mindset for the occasion."

8. Write professionally

Even during fairs with video chat options, you'll still be doing a lot of written communications with employers. That means you have to be extra careful about what you type. This isn't the time to use texting acronyms (i.e., LMK and TYSM). Take your time, use standard capitalization and punctuation rules, and proofread scrupulously.

"To stand out [in a positive way], make sure you use descriptive, clear sentences with proper grammar and punctuation," Salzman said. "Stay away from colloquial acronyms or abbreviations as those could come across as informal." 

9. Show off your personality with anecdotes

It can be tricky to clearly express who you are in a virtual setting. But that doesn't mean it's impossible — you just need to put more effort into it.

When you interact with an employer, "share what makes you different from other candidates, whether it's your past experience, skills, education, or hobbies," Salzman said. Yes, you're there as a job seeker, but you're also a human. And it's the unique things about you — like your proficiency in three languages or your cake decorating skills — that will make you stick in a hiring manager's mind.

Also, come prepared with examples of challenges you've faced at prior roles and how you navigated them. This will differentiate you from other candidates and "help give hiring managers an understanding of how you think and work," Salzman added. 

10. Follow up with everyone you spoke to

After logging off, send everyone you spoke to a note thanking them for their time and, if applicable, further expressing your interest in the company. This is also a great opportunity to send them a link to your portfolio or other work samples.

Sending a thank you note is something you should do even if you didn't love the company or the roles they offered. You never know what the future may bring. Making a good impression on that hiring manager now could end up benefiting you down the line. 

In addition, send them a connection request on LinkedIn (but make sure your profile is up to snuff first). When you do, add a note for context: 

Hi [their name]: It was so great connecting with you at the [name of career fair] today! I look forward to staying in touch as I continue pursuing opportunities within [insert type of industry]/at [company name]. Have a great day. – [your name]

Following up "will help refresh their memory on who you are and help keep you top of mind," Layfield said. 

How to find virtual career fairs to participate in

Of course, you can always Google "upcoming online career fairs." Some sites aggregate all upcoming events. But, there are a few other tactics you can employ, too.

  • Upload your resume and create a profile on online job boards, such as Indeed, Monster, CareerBuilder, Glassdoor, and ZipRecruiter. "Thousands of companies look to job boards to source candidates and manage their events," Salzman said, "so using a job board as a jumping off point puts you directly in front of employers that are actively hiring."
  • If you have a list of companies you're especially interested in, regularly visit their website and social media channels to see if they announce any job fairs they're hosting or participating in.
  • Check in with your alma mater's career center and alumni office. If available, sign up for their listserv. 

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