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Virtual job fairs expand search options

By Anita Bruzzese - Gannett News Service

With the rising cost of travel and a shortage of time many of us experience trying to juggle busy lives, it can be tough attending a lot of job fairs or visiting prospective employers when looking for a new job. But with a few computer keystrokes, your problems may be solved.

Virtual job fairs are growing in popularity. Not only can job seekers participate from the comfort of their own home — or even from a current job — but employers find that it allows them to attract candidates from across the globe and also to see a greater number of job seekers in less time.

"A virtual job fair is just like a regular job fair, with different employer booths and the chance to talk to employers about jobs," says Don Best, director of marketing for Unisfair in Menlo Park, Calif. "You still give an employer a résumé and anything else you think might help you get the job, but you're doing the whole thing while sitting at a computer."

More employers are using virtual events, whether it's a job fair, marketing event, sales training or even award ceremonies, because they can use technology to cut costs associated with such events and attract attendees worldwide, Best says. For job fairs, the virtual aspect allows hiring managers to streamline a process that often can be onerous at a time when companies are under pressure to move faster in order to compete.

How exactly does a virtual job fair work? Best says that once an applicant registers online, then he or she can move to various employer booths. When an applicant makes contact with that employer, the résumé and other important documentation is immediately available to the hiring manager and a "conversation" is handled via text messaging between the applicant and the company.

Still, an employer may be talking to several applicants at one time and can "see" about 300 applicants in eight hours. So just like with a flesh-and-blood interview, you've got to do your homework and make sure you make a positive impression right away. But how to do that when the employer can't see your brilliant smile or freshly shined shoes?

Best says there are ways to make sure you make a good impression during a virtual job fair. Some tips:

  • Do your homework. When you register for the event, understand which employers will be interviewing and the qualifications needed for various jobs. Have a quality résumé ready and any other documentation, such as samples of your efforts on marketing projects. Also, you don't have to attend the "live" event, but can go online later and leave your résumé for employers. If you're interested in a specific industry, contact your professional association or look online for "virtual job fairs" in your interest area.
  • Be professional. When you meet someone virtually, you won't be able to shake hands, but it is just as important that your first contact be positive. You will be text messaging, so make sure your writing is grammatically correct and free of spelling errors. Don't use cute text phrasing or acronyms. If you supply a photo online, it should show you in a professional light.
  • Engage intelligently. You should not be asking about health benefits or how much vacation time the employer provides. Have questions prepared in advance that show you have researched the employer and the industry.
  • Take a practice run. If you've never been to a virtual job fair, you can always register for one in which you don't have an interest but that will allow you to sort of "wander around" and figure out how it works. You can attend anonymously and leave whenever you want. Don't worry if you're not computer-savvy. Those who set up virtual job fairs try to make them as easy to navigate as possible and offer online instructions.

Finally, it's important to understand that the virtual job fair is just a screening process. Best says no one is offered a job during a virtual event, but if the employer likes what the applicant offers, expect a follow-up phone call or face-to-face meeting.

Please check out the MilitaryConnection.com Virtual Job Fair featuring top employers  

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