Virtual Job Fairs Gain Ground

Not only do virtual job fairs change the playing field, they speed up the process.

By Dona DeZube | November 2008


It’s official: Virtual jobs fairs aren’t just for techies anymore.
In accounting and finance, they may have gone mainstream last month
when KPMG offered 600 jobs via a global, online career fair.

The
event included online visuals that mimicked a real job fair, including
an exhibit hall filled with booths staffed by recruiters and other KPMG
officials who talked to job candidates via instant messaging.

Visitors
were able to see a live Web cast, visit a country booth to learn more
about the company’s operations there, chat with senior leaders and
apply for jobs, says Paloma Alos, KPMG director of global people
marketing and communications.

Really hip companies,
like data-storage firm EMC Corporation in Hopkinton, Mass., have
already taken the idea of virtual job fairs further by holding them in
Second Life, a 3-D virtual world inhabited by millions avatars (virtual
world personas).  In Second Life, 20,000-employee EMC has a round,
glass headquarters building where visitors watch birds fly and dolphins
jump. They can pour a glass of virtual lemonade, click on paintings to
connect to EMC’s Web site, or fly upstairs to virtual interviews.

Not
only do virtual interviews change the playing field (no one can see
your palms sweat online), they speed up the job game itself, says Polly
Pearson, EMC vice president of Employment Brand and Strategy
Engagement. You can submit a resume on Tuesday and have an interview on
Wednesday.

"In the virtual world, I could say meet
me at this address in five minutes and we could go there and sit down
and look you in the face (or at least look your avatar in the face),
and get to know you and have what feels like a face to face meeting,"
she says. "Except it’s more fun."

Ironically, one of
the company¿s latest Second Life hires was a global controller who
lives in, of all places, in EMC’s neighborhood of Boston. The
controller elevated her personal brand because everyone in the company
heard about the virtual career fair. And, like others hired during
EMC’s Second Life job fair, she was the center of attention at every
social event she went to for months.

Virtual vs. Real Life

A
virtual job fair differs from a real life job fair in ways that benefit
some candidates, but not others. For instance, the anonymous nature of
online recruitment fairs make them unique. In the virtual world, the
recruiter won’t see a handicap or your skin color, and can’t hear your
accent, either.

"That matters a huge amount to a
proportion of the job seekers," says KPMG Global Recruiting Director
Keith Dugdale. "You’re only judging by what’s presented. It’s got to be
good for independence of judgment."

Yet, communicating
via instant messaging also strips away the benefit of verbal charisma.
¿You lose the ability to make the impact and forge the relationship,¿
Dugdale adds. ¿And maybe that¿s something that they shouldn¿t be doing
at that stage of the process. People should see it as an opportunity to
find out about opportunities and to make an initial contact, but you¿re
never going to get a full detailed 45 minute interview.¿

Much
that occurs in a virtual event could occur in the real world, says
Brent Arslaner, vice president of marketing for Unisfair, a Menlo Park,
Calif., virtual event firm. "You can be a wallflower and sit in your
corner and not communicate with anyone," he says. "Or, you can put
together a list of subjects you really need to know about and really
learn. It’s an opportunity for bidirectional communication."

The
way people communicate virtually is often more direct than the way they
communicate in person. "Don’t be rude or abrupt, but be specific,
Arslaner says. "The purpose of these events is for companies to sell
themselves. Use it as an opportunity to learn more and ask direct
questions: What is the culture really like? What is an average work
week?"

Despite the fact that KPMG and EMC have gone
into the virtual world in search of employees, it’s still an emerging
trend, says Lynne A. Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at
Northeastern University in Boston. "People are still struggling with
how to do it most effectively and how to make it work for everybody
involved," she says. "We’ve got a few more years of in-person
interviews ahead of us."

To get ready for a virtual job fair, consider these tips:

  • Think
    carefully about what you want to get out of the event because you can¿t
    visit every booth and talk to everyone. Know which companies you want
    to target based on their culture and business environment, Alos says.
  • If
    there’s a welcome video or a demo on the start page of the virtual job
    fair, listen to it to for tips on navigating the event and talking to
    people using instant messaging. Treat the fair like a buffet: See
    what’s available before you fill your plate. Know who you want to talk
    to and what you want to get across about yourself.
  • Treat
    the virtual event the same way you would an in-person job fair. Do your
    research before the event and remember it’s a professional interview,
    not Second Life. No emoticons or using "U" instead of writing out
    "you," Alos says.Do share more then a resume. If you have samples of
    your work or other resources that can differentiate you from the crowd,
    you should add them to your profile.  
  • Ask
    for a follow up interview. During the live portion of a virtual career
    fair hiring managers can be inundated with questions and may only be
    available for five or 10 minutes. 
  • Remember
    that everything you and the employer says is on the record. At the end
    of the fair, you¿ll probably have a "briefcase" that includes all your
    interactions and positions you’re interested in and videos about the
    company.

Whether
or not your next employer offers virtual hiring, know that eventually
it’s going to become more common, if for no other reason than it’s a
lot less expensive to hold a virtual job fair than a live one.
"Ultimately, it is the workspace of the future," Pearson predicts. "So
if all of us who are professionals want to be employed for the next 15
to 30 years, we have to start being aware of these tools."

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