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How to Get the Most out of Virtual College Recruiting

August 9, 2020
Ben Siegel

How will you tackle university recruiting this fall?

Career fairs have long served as a way for employers to connect and prescreen college students at one time and in one place.  However, the current global pandemic has completely disrupted the traditional recruiting methods and practices.  Eventually, the imminent health crisis will subside, but the future of large-scale career events hosted by colleges and universities to showcase their talented students may become a thing of the past.

Even if everything “goes back to normal” at some point in the future, there are two key factors that have diminished the effectiveness of these types of events. 

First, the growing movement to seek out talent where it lives rather than being limited to local areas is making live job fairs obsolete. 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. 

Second, the time and expense of travel to and from the events, as well as all of the other “costs” associated with traditional career fairs on college campuses have created barriers for companies that do not have the time, money or resources to commit to these types of events. 

To overcome these issues, companies and organizations of all sizes and in every industry can utilize technology to connect and interact with college students looking for full-time jobs and internships.  By taking part in or hosting a virtual career fair, organizations can create a branded environment that communicates information about your company directly to students.  You also have the opportunity to collect valuable information from candidates with ease. 

One of the lesser-known benefits of hosting a virtual career fair is the ability to attract hard-to-find “passive” candidates – those students that might not be actively engaged in a job or internship search.  In many cases these students like the convenience of these types of events because they “fit” into their school and part-time work schedule. A virtual career fair provides students like this with the flexibility they need in order to participate when compared to a traditional career fair.

What is a virtual career fair?

A virtual career fair is similar in content and focus as a more traditional “on-campus” career event, but it takes place “online”.  These events can be synchronous, for example you are connected to candidates “live” and in “real time” to discuss.  These types of events can also be asynchronous  is an online "event" (as it takes place at a certain time and is not ongoing) in which employers and job seekers each meet in a virtual environment, using chat rooms, teleconferencing, webcasts, webinars and/or email to exchange information about job openings. Job seekers upload resumes and may be matched with employers or may simply browse companies’ “booths.” Like a non-virtual job fair, a virtual job fair has a limited duration.

What are the benefits of a virtual career fair?

Increased Access and Accommodation - Perhaps the biggest benefit of virtual career fairs (when compared to in-person career fairs) is that these types of experiences can increase accessibility for both you and your team, as well as the students that you are connecting with, as they eliminate any geographical barriers.  Because candidates can join your virtual career fair from anywhere with the click of a button, these types of events can help increase the diversity of your potential talent pool by making the opportunity to learn about your organization at times that fit their schedule.  The convenience of a virtual career fair — especially when held over the course of a few hours, or even a few days — makes it easy for busy job seekers and those students who may have other reasons for not attending a traditional career fair to participate. Anything you can do to make the recruiting process easier for your candidates will improve your results. 

More meaningful connections with candidates - Virtual career fairs allow you to have multiple, private conversations at once with candidates. This makes it easier for you to increase both the quality and quantity of your interactions with candidates during a virtual career fair than you could ever dream of making at an in-person event where you can only talk to one person at a time. 

More efficient use of recruitment marketing budgets - Virtual career fairs improve the efficiency of your recruitment marketing efforts. You can send invitations to a targeted list of candidates in your talent database or ATS and your results will be better than in-person events because candidates know how convenient an online event can be. On average, virtual career fairs have an attendance rate of 50% which is quite high compared to other in-person career events.

How can virtual career fairs be integrated into my campus recruiting process? 

As discussed in the previous section, there are a host of benefits your organization can take advantage of by utilizing virtual career fairs.  However, it should be pointed out that these events should not replace all of your current college recruiting initiatives, but rather utilized to enhance the experiences of your next generation of talent.  

As a result of the current situation with COVID-19 we are all turning to virtual everything. Yet despite not being able to hold in-person events, your goal remains the same: hire the best talent.  Meanwhile, recruiters everywhere are also scrambling to provide a stellar candidate experience in these unprecedented times of uncertainty.

With this in mind, if you are considering integrating virtual career fairs into your recruiting strategy (and you probably should be with the uncertainty of events through the rest of 2020), here are three ways to ensure your event is a success:

1. Focus on the “Human Connection”

Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge facing employers engaging in virtual career fairs is being able to make meaningful connections with candidates. After all, how can we build relationships without shaking hands and making eye contact?

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to focus on human connection and get results from your events. You can start by putting yourself in the position of the candidate.  How would you like to be engaged by a potential employer?  The more you can personalize each of the interactions the better. It’s OK to use some form of automation or mass email, but make sure you are leading with the person’s name and customizing it to the role the person would be interested in.

You should also make emails and materials a reflection of your company’s brand by infusing messaging that brings out your organization’s personality.  You must also make a concerted effort to connect your company and the work you do to what students’ value most – collaboration, mission-driven work, challenging work and opportunities for professional development are just a few of the things that college students are looking for as they make the transition to the next chapter of their lives.

Lastly, it can be really easy to hide behind text-based chats, but after a while, texting can come across as lukewarm, at best. If you really want to stand out, consider adding video to your events. This can be as simple as a video presentation at the beginning of the event where you have a hiring manager share details about your company, culture, and values.  Videos are an amazing way to bolster your employer branding while helping make a more personalized connection with your candidates. Unfortunately, many employers make videos without thinking about what candidates want to know, or use the same videos for years. Remember, job-seekers prefer to watch videos of hiring managers and see employee-generated content, as opposed to recruiter videos. Also, use candidate personas when planning video content, and update your videos based on candidate feedback.

2. Clearly illustrate the recruiting process – and stick to it!

The virtual career fair should not replace all of your recruiting activities, but rather it is a good starting point to begin the process of identifying candidates.  The process from this starting point should be clear, concise and easily understandable by the candidates. 

Consider creating a date-driven timeline to share with candidates at the time that they initially engage with you.  Even though things might come up that delay the process, having a general timeline is generally helpful for the candidate and will probably reduce the number of calls and emails you receive from candidates asking questions about the “next steps” in the hiring process.

The bottom line here is transparency.  The more transparent you are with the process and the timeline, the more trust you are building with candidates. 

3. Continue the Conversation

The follow-up you engage in with candidates met through virtual career fairs is critical and the importance of this cannot be over-emphasized.  Creating a “communication flow” with candidates prior to the event will help to minimize confusion and also create a streamlined, post-event experience for the candidate and your organization. 

This would also be a good time to expand the conversation with candidates by engaging hiring managers, or other key personnel in the process.  For example, if your hiring managers weren’t part of your event, you should connect them with top candidates shortly after the event in order to keep the candidates you are focused on engaged in the process.

This may seem evident, but it is sometimes an overlooked necessity: please make sure that you email your attendees after the event, thank them for their time, and include some type of feedback survey about their experience!  This is also a great time to communicate next steps to candidates whom you’d like to move forward. Consistent, transparent communication helps ensure a great candidate experience.

Ultimately, we don’t know how long we’ll be recruiting in a world of social distancing, but even when it’s safe to gather again, virtual career fairs should remain a big part of your recruiting strategy.  It will be critical to continue honing your process and look for new ways to build relationships with candidates. 

What is the best way to “structure” a virtual career fair?

Much like a traditional career fair, a virtual career event needs to be structured in a way that effectively communicates your message, collects the information you need from candidates and provides the attendee with the information they need in order to “see” themselves as an effective team member in your organization.  With that in mind, here are several suggestions to get you started in structuring your career event…

Determine what message you want to communicate to potential attendees.  Your message should be clear, concise and easily remembered.  Don’t try and flood participants with every bit of information about your organization all at once.  This can be incredibly overwhelming, especially for a college student making their initial transition to the next chapter of their lives.  

Plan ahead.  Now that you know WHAT message you want to communicate, now you need to determine HOW you are going to deliver that message.  If the virtual career fair is a “live” event, you will want to make sure to keep your messages short as you may be “meeting” with many students during your timeframe.  If the event is accessible for an extended period of time, you may want to consider doing a video recording lasting no longer than about 90 seconds that communicates your message.

Make it easy to get additional information.  Students today are amazing researchers.  Make sure you provide them with links to resources on your webpage that provide information they may be looking for.  Creating an FAQ sheet for the event is probably a good idea as well.

Make is easy to ask questions.  Many virtual platforms allow for “live chat” sessions.  Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity to connect with students.  If not, provide attendees with an email address or a phone number in which they can contact you if they have additional questions.  Again, the more information you provide “up-front” the better.

Clearly state next steps.  As with a traditional career fair, you want your attendees to walk away knowing what the next steps are in the process.  As illustrated in the previous section, be as clear as you can about when they will hear from you.  As mentioned, this is how to build trust with potential candidates throughout the process.

Think of the entire experience through the eyes of the candidate.  As you set the stage for your virtual career fair, make sure you do a couple of test runs with someone in your organization.  This will give you the opportunity to get some feedback on the experience before engaging potential candidates.

How should I follow-up with attendees after the virtual career fair?

Although we briefly touched on this earlier, your follow-up is actually the most important part of the virtual career fair!  The interactions you have with candidates for internships and full-time positions at a virtual career fair is an “introduction” to your organization, but the real “connection” with candidates starts when the virtual career fair concludes.  This is where so many organizations fail in the recruiting process.  To make the most of your virtual career fair efforts, make sure you develop your “post-fair” engagement strategy.

To start, make sure you collect the relevant information you need to move forward with the candidates.  This should include, at the minimum, each attendee’s contact information and resume.  However, savvy recruiters will seek to get information that will help them to really connect with candidates.  For example, what the candidate is passionate about, their favorite classes and whatever other information you believe will help you build a better, and more meaningful relationship with the candidate.  Remember, today’s college students have been raised in an environment of personalization.  From devices to their streaming service, every aspect of their lives has some level of personalization.  It would be a mistake to think that they would not expect the recruiting process to be just as personalized. 

It is also important to make sure that you make it easy for the candidates to find and access the information that you want them to have.  For example, if you have links to videos (and yes, you should be using video to communicate your message), put all of those links in one place and send access to that place to the candidates.  If you have a recorded webcast, make sure that it is easily findable and easily digestible for the candidates.  A series of short videos “dripped” out over time is a much more effective way to engage candidates today that sending them one long video with all of the information in that one video.  

Finally, there are several different “platforms” that you can use to deliver your virtual career fair.  Abode (fka Scholars), Zoom, Xor.Ai, and Meta by Acai are just a few that offer turnkey solutions for companies and organizations of all sizes.  Each of these platforms have their own benefits as well as limitations.  It is important to make sure that you choose the platform that is best for you and your organization. For example, you should choose one that allows you to host a webinar, view feedback and results, message attendees, request files from them and build a talent pipeline all in one place.

The bottom line is that your “virtual” career fair should communicate your organization's culture and “personality” as much as possible.  Don’t try and “sell” your organization through this platform, rather be as transparent and honest as possible - two qualities today’s college students value.  By doing this the candidates who resonate with your message will be attracted and engaged and you will not spend precious time connecting with candidates who are not a good fit. 

Virtual Recruiting with Abode

Ready to get started but not sure how? Schedule a time to talk with someone at Abode and learn how to navigate virtual college recruiting.

“Abode provides a solution that allows us to better connect with Gen Z talent in a way that is engaging to them. It offers a way for Elevance Health to enhance our brand and coin ourselves as an employer of choice for college students and graduates. Working with Abode is an easy and seamless experience.”
Brooke Smith
University Relations Manager,
Elevance Health (fka Anthem)