Virtual Career Fairs: Strategies and Learnings from the Autumn Term

January 27, 2021

What does it take to host a memorable virtual career fair? Six leading employers debrief their wins and lessons from the first virtual autumn term.

This time last year, had we told you 2020 would be the year you digitally transformed your recruiting program, you would’ve found it hard to believe. Before the pandemic, employers relied on in-person career fairs for the bulk of their campus recruiting. Yet similar to the fate of other in-person events, conferences, and meetings this year, career fairs have gone virtual.

In response to this shift and the evolving needs of employers, higher education institutions, and students, Handshake engineered an interactive virtual fair platform backed by the largest network of early talent. One where where employers could replicate the components of on-campus engagement, like fireside chats to a room of students or more intimate 1:1 conversations with qualified candidates.

“The work you have done dumbfounds me. The quality and level of service Handshake has provided this season is incredible. You and the Support team have gone above and beyond.”
—Tim Lefebvre, University Relations Program Manager at CVS Health

Last fall, more than 17,600 employers across industries and sizes attended these fairs. They leaned on Handshake’s powerful tools to facilitate meaningful connections with students, all in less time and with no travel needed. In a poll of nearly 400 early talent recruiting professionals, the majority of employers said they spent 2-3x less time or about the same time on virtual compared to in-person recruiting.

With over 1,200 virtual fairs planned by more than 450 universities on Handshake this spring, we’re confident that virtual is here to stay for the remainder of the academic year.

DYK: Other platforms don’t offer video, one-on-one and group sessions, or scheduling—key features of the dynamic, scalable, and trackable virtual fair experience offered on Handshake.

Virtual career fair best practices and learnings

Employers learned how to become increasingly adaptable this year while keeping students and their priorities top of mind. With that said, a few common virtual career fair challenges stood out.

1. Overcoming the technology learning curve

When it comes to navigating any new strategy or technology, a learning curve is required to get you and your team up to speed. And last fall, learning curves certainly weren’t lacking in abundance.

Previously, employers relied on student foot traffic to drive interest to their booths on campus, but in the virtual landscape, that interest is driven by the impact of their digital presence. In the absence of opportunities to interact face-to-face, components like your Employer Page description, student testimonials, virtual fair content, and alumni connections increasingly matter.

Employers were competing with so many other things going in a student’s life: family, coursework, physical and mental health, and concerns about the future. How might you put students first and create an invitation and curriculum that gets them excited to learn about your company? How are you going to offer them hope in an otherwise challenging moment in their lives?

“Employers should be intentional about the types of content they share. For us, it’s about showcasing the best parts of American Express, our colleagues, and our value proposition, and ensuring that it meets the needs of our students and that we’re not going in with a standard corporate presentation—but providing them with the answers they’re looking for as they’re launching their careers.”
—Chloe Ford, US Campus Diversity Manager at American Express

2. Enabling your team for digital success

One of the biggest challenges we heard from employers is that their teams weren’t prepared. Team members would frequently hop on to a virtual fair on the day of, but virtual career fairs don’t entirely eliminate the need for prep work. Employers should be intentional about their programming.

Chemours, an American chemical company and Handshake Premium partner, approached a more intentional curriculum

They leveraged virtual career fairs as an opportunity to ping hiring managers while they were in 1:1 sessions with students to see if they’d be interested in reviewing a candidate’s Handshake profile and pitching their job. If so, these hiring managers could join the session, meet with students in real time, and encourage them to apply—all in less than 10 minutes.

When Chemours attended Prairie View A&M University’s virtual career fair, for example, their recruiters directed students to their careers page while in session so that they could apply while the company’s value propositions remained fresh. They then forwarded qualified Handshake profiles to hiring managers to give them an opportunity to connect 1:1 with these students live.

“The Handshake platform is easy to use and I have yet to experience a single technical issue during a virtual event through Handshake. The support team is easily accessible and the feedback from users have led to immediate changes to improve the overall recruiting experience in Handshake.

Hands down the most positive experience I’ve had with a virtual platform so far this year. I would absolutely recommend this platform to others!”
Bohn Gehyeka, Recruiter at ZS Associates

3. Driving students to your sessions

Over the course of the first virtual autumn term, we learned that more than 9 in 10 students who signed up for a 1:1 session attended. And more than 3 in 4 students who signed up for a group session attended.

For context, the average registration-to-attendance rate for virtual events across industries stands at 45%. Despite these high attendance rates, some employers struggled to invite students to their sessions and get them to attend.

Tip: If you still have 1:1 spots available, hold your group session earlier in the day and encourage students to sign up for a 1:1 session later. This keeps students engaged while filling your spots.

One way employers got in front of students was through proactive messaging Campaigns. These employers stood out by delivering personalised outreach at scale to students who fit their criteria, inviting them to register and attend.

By refining the available pool of students on Handshake to those who match their degree, skills, or other criteria, employers can ensure they stand out to the right candidates before any of their peers do.

Fiserv, a global FinTech company, sent out a Campaign to students before their event, utilising Handshake Premium’s Segments to source the students who meet their ideal profile. As a result, the team at Fiserv drove only qualified candidates to attend their sessions and were able to optimise their time.

Benefits of virtual career fairs

At the end of the day, the technical learning curve didn’t outweigh the benefits of participating in a virtual career fair, like accessibility for both employers and students, a deeper understanding of connections, and time-savings for all.

Here are some common benefits employers lauded:

  1. Budget and bandwidth associated with traveling on campus is no longer a concern. Employers can now recruit qualified students from the comfort (and safety) of their homes.
  2. Easier for alumni ambassadors, department leads, and hiring managers to attend. Instead of blocking days out of their schedule, they can now dedicate a few hours or less to participate.
  3. Virtual fairs enable efficiency. Rather than dealing with unpredictable lines, students can pre-schedule sessions and research Employer Pages and open jobs on Handshake.
  4. Instead of meeting with unqualified students, employers looking for a specific type of candidate can define criteria in order for students to see and sing up for their 1:1 sessions on Handshake.
  5. Opportunity to expand brand awareness. If an employer isn’t hiring, virtual career fairs are their only opportunity to get in front of large groups of students from a branding perspective.
  6. Data to visualise the candidate funnel, outreach performance, opportunities for team optimisation, and overall learnings around how virtual fairs contribute to outcomes.
  7. Quantifiable connections. Fleeting connections are hard to keep track of on campus. Technology like Handshake makes it easy to know who you connect with and when.

DYK: Handshake facilitated more than 1 million connections between employers and students in the fall. Check out our third annual Campus to Career report for more insights and learnings from the first fully virtual recruiting season.

What’s next?

According to NACE, the majority of employers (54%) are recruiting virtually through the 2020-2021 academic year. And even if campuses reopen, not all students are planning to return right away, which means that virtual career fairs are here to stay.

Follow in the footsteps of leading employers and master the virtual fair experience by proactively inviting qualified students to your sessions, activating your digital ambassadors for personalised engagement, hosting your own virtual events across partner higher education institutions, and evaluating candidates on the same platform you rely on to source.

Learn how with Handshake Premium >