Advice on How to Staff a Virtual Fair

October 12, 2020

Sheri Blight, Employer Relations & Events Manager at Kennesaw State University, plays a lead role in managing career fairs. With the shift to virtual this Autumn, she and her team dived headfirst into answering a question on everyone’s mind: “How should I staff a virtual fair?”

With no booths to set up or name tags to print, Sheri and her team of 17 focused their energy on providing support for students and employers in new ways. With four successful virtual fairs completed so far this Autumn, they’ve been kind enough to share their approach.

Host virtual student workshops before the fair

Traditionally, Sheri and her team have hosted pre-fair workshops to help students feel confident about attending. This year, they decided to offer these events virtually.

For their biggest fairs, the team hosted an all-day Job Fair Prep Workshop. It featured repeated presentations on CV writing, professional appearance, social and virtual networking, as well as programming on how to navigate Handshake Virtual Fairs in the morning and virtual drop-in advising in the afternoon. These were staffed by 12 teammates in teams of two for the morning presentations and in shifts of 5-6 in the afternoon. They also ask a few valued employers to join for the afternoon walk-in hours to help give students advice from a different perspective.

For smaller fairs, the team hosted smaller workshops. A shorter version of the combined topics is presented and students are encouraged to book an appointment with their advisor for additional help.

Communicate with employers regularly

Communication is key in a virtual setting. Employers may not need to know where to park and unload—instead, they need to learn a new platform…on top of the other new platforms that other schools may be using. Sheri and her team approached communications with understanding & patience. They decided to break up the communications into pieces to ensure the employer could learn a few things at a time and didn’t feel overwhelmed.

  • Welcome email: Sheri took advantage of a new “employer welcome email” feature in Handshake to share initial details with employers. Sheri used this email both to welcome the employer to the event and to let them know about the scheduling process, the critical first step to success, providing appropriate links to Handshake videos and articles to learn more
  • Office Hours: The next step was letting all schedule representatives know they had a place to learn and ask questions. Sheri took a page from Handshake’s book and offered weekly office hours for her employers to learn about tips, new features, troubleshooting, or just to ask questions
  • Shorter, targeted emails: In past years, employers would get one long email with every fair detail listed out. However, when the most important thing the employer needs to do is learn the Handshake product, that becomes more difficult. Sheri broke down the emails into more targeted topics with links to important documents:
  • Setting/managing a schedule with instructions for reps to follow starting with claiming their schedule and taking them all the way to the fair day
  • How the fair works with links to explanatory videos from Handshake (like this video on the scheduling process and this video on hosting fair sessions)
  • Preparing for the day, including checking student profiles and a link for the Fair Day Employer Support Zoom Room

Offer drop-in support during the virtual fair

Sheri split her team into two groups to staff the virtual fair. Shifts of six or seven teammates joined a Zoom room to support students and four more joined another Zoom room to support employers. Both rooms were open for drop-ins starting an hour before the fair and saw the most traffic in the hour before the fair and the early part of the fair. Once students and employers got the hang of things, the traffic started to decline. At that point, they staffed three people and kept one person ‘on-call’.

Staffing the employer room

All employer representatives with a schedule were invited to the employer room via email before the fair. Sheri designated one person to assign breakout rooms, one person to monitor chat, and joined herself as ‘troubleshooter-explainer’. Everyone participating was also prepared to answer questions as needed.

Employers were able to access their video sessions an hour before their fair sessions started to test out video and audio. This meant that Sheri’s team saw the most traffic during the first hour they were available. There was a drop-off in traffic 30 minutes into the fair, then another small spike of activity two hours into the fair. Most questions the team received were about finding the links for each session/general questions about how the fair works and troubleshooting video and audio.

Sheri shared that being able to see employers was great for relationship building:

“From the employer relations side, being able to see our employers on screen was really great! Towards the end, we had many employers join our room to say “hi” and just to chat with us since they are used to seeing us at the fairs.”

Staffing the student room

In the student room, one person managed breakout rooms and everyone else was scheduled in shifts to answer student questions. They fielded questions both about navigating the fair in Handshake and about interviewing and preparing an elevator pitch. With a few fairs under their belt, they’ve compiled this fantastic FAQs document for students!

The team communicated with one another via a separate chat while they were helping with students. This gave them an opportunity to confirm answers to questions, get context on students who dropped in multiple times, and talk about trends they noticed—student experiences in employer sessions, frequently asked questions, and more. The chat also gave Sheri the opportunity to jump in with answers to questions when she wasn’t busy in the employer room. As with the employer room, there was a drop off in activity about 30 minutes into the fair.

Use Handshake’s Session Details page to stay on top of schedules

Sheri and her team were excited about our recent updates to the Session Details page. For their first fair after the new Sessions page launched, they used it to:

  • Help students identify open sessions with a particular employer
  • Field questions from employer representatives about their individual schedules
  • Track whether students and employers were meeting during the fair using the “In Progress” filter and keeping an eye out for the No-Show label
  • Identify which students and employers were true no-shows, rather than just missing one session (possibly due to user error or a technical issue)
  • Confirm a student/employer connection happened before agreeing to email a student on behalf of an employer

In the future, Sheri plans to keep expanding the ways she uses the page:

  • Warning employers if a certain time has a lot of competing group sessions
  • Tracking which 1:1 sessions with low signups have preferences

As your teams host your first virtual fair on Handshake please don’t hesitate to reach out and share your learnings and strategies! Check out some additional tips from other career services professionals here.