8 ways to ace a virtual career fair

Many companies have shifted to virtual recruiting during the pandemic. Virtual career fairs offer job seekers the opportunity to connect with prospective employers, learn about job openings, and build professional networks.

Preparation is key to making a positive first impression and getting the most out of your participation in a virtual career fair. Here are eight tips to get closer to your career goals.

1. Set up your space

Virtual career fairs are often hosted via video conferencing platforms. Prior to attending a virtual career fair, do some research on the specific platform being used for the fair. If possible, conduct a test run to ensure you are familiar with the controls of the platform (e.g. mute button, video button, etc.) and that you feel confident in using the system. Always remember to check that your webcam and microphone are working correctly.

Preparing your physical space is also important to set yourself up for success at a virtual career fair. Decide which space you will utilize for the duration of the fair ahead of time. It is best to choose a space with adequate lighting, little to no background noise, and minimal chances for interruptions. Don’t sit with your back to a window, or the light behind you will distort the image. Your space should also be located in a place with strong Wi-Fi to avoid potential interruptions in service during the fair.

2. Dress to impress

Treat a virtual career fair as you would an in-person career fair. Just because the fair is being held remotely does not mean prospective employers are treating the occasion any less seriously. Remember, a virtual career fair is your chance to make a positive first impression. Pay attention to the dress code for the fair (if there is one). If there is no formal dress code, err on the side of business casual to business formal.

3. Do your research

Research the companies that will be in attendance at the virtual fair to learn about their goals, values, mission, products, and services. Doing your research will communicate to prospective employers that you have put in the effort to get to know what they are all about. A thorough understanding of the companies will also allow you to more effectively communicate how your qualifications and goals align with their organization.

4. Prepare an elevator pitch

Develop a strong elevator pitch. This is essentially a 30-second commercial outlining your educational background, professional experiences, and skills that are relevant to your intended career goals. Practice makes perfect when it comes to your elevator pitch. To effectively deliver your pitch in a virtual format, it helps to practice with others using the same (or a similar) video conferencing platform to rehearse. Ask someone you trust to give you critical feedback. You can also record yourself delivering your pitch and play it back to determine if there are any areas for improvement.

5. Show your personality

Be prepared to deliver your elevator pitch and to answer employer questions about your qualifications. Ideally, your interactions will feel more like a conversation and less like a Q&A session or formal interview. Beyond learning whether you meet basic qualifications for potential opportunities, employers are seeking to identify individuals who may be a good fit for their company. In order to determine fit, employers want to get a sense of your personality and your communication style. Do not be afraid to let some of your personality shine!

6. Keep your focus

Much of our nonverbal communication can be lost when meeting through a computer screen. Maintaining eye contact can help minimize this disconnect. One tip for maintaining eye contact is to look at your camera when speaking to someone virtually, instead of looking at their image on the screen. This makes the employer feel like you are speaking with them directly. Avoid the temptation to check your phone or other tabs on your computer during the fair. Others will notice when you are looking down or away while you are engaging in conversation with them. Avoid distractions and keep the focus on your conversations.

7. Collect contact information and promptly follow up

During a virtual career fair, employers may be meeting with hundreds of prospective candidates—many with similar qualifications and work experiences. Your goal is to stand out from the crowd in a positive way and to make the case that you are the best fit for a given role. Following up promptly after a virtual career fair can help you stand out from others who do not follow up and may help keep you top-of-mind when employers are making decisions about who to interview for a role.

Before leaving the virtual career fair, make sure to collect the contact information (business phone number, email, LinkedIn information) for each of the individuals you speak with. Within 24 hours of the fair, send a follow-up email or LinkedIn message to those individuals thanking them for their time, summarizing what you spoke about, and offering to stay connected. If you discussed potential next steps during the fair (e.g. setting up an interview time, sending your resume, etc.), reiterate those next steps and follow through.

8. Think short-term/long-term and keep realistic (and optimistic) expectations

While virtual career fairs offer a great opportunity for connecting with prospective employers and learning about potential roles in your industry, it is important to keep in mind that it is only one of the many strategies available to you in your job search. It can be useful to think in terms of both short-term and long-term goals when attending a virtual career fair. A short-term goal may be to land a job offer from the fair, but even if you do not walk away with a job offer in hand, know that the connections you make at a virtual career fair can serve your long-term goals when opportunities open up in the future.

Carlos A. Flores is a career management specialist in the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.