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

Jul 15, 2011
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

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.”

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

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.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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