At a virtual career fair, you have five minutes – 10 at the most – to make a good impression. After that, the recruiter is on to the next candidate. And if it’s a big event, there could be as many as 1,500 job seekers in line behind you.
So, what can you do to stand out?
Sofia Jones, diversity initiatives program manager for Raytheon Intelligence & Space, has been on the company's side of the booth many times. Here, she shares tips on what to do before a virtual career fair, how to look good on camera and what to say so recruiters remember you.
Set up your profile early. Most companies search the database as soon as it's available, so make sure you're in the system. Fill out your profile, include a professional photo and don't forget to attach your resume.
"It is so much easier for us if we're able to have a conversation and be able to look at someone's experience and what their goals are," Jones said.
Make a chat cheat sheet. At a virtual career fair, a group chat is often where the conversation starts. Rather than waiting in line to speak with a recruiter, as you would at an in-person career fair, you often start in a chat room where job-seekers share their names and areas of interest.
"It's one big meet and greet," said Jones.
But it's also easy to make a mistake, so it's a good idea to type out what you're going to say ahead of time and copy-paste it right into the chat box. Here are a few suggestions:
- Hello! My name is (insert name) and I would love to hear about (insert technical discipline) opportunities with your company.
- My major is in (insert field) and I graduate in (insert year).
- What types of opportunities would be available at your company for someone with my background?
- Does your company offer an intern program?
- What kinds of technology will the company focus on in the next five years?
Make comments unique to the company. You'll probably have similar questions for each employer, but make it clear you know the differences between all the companies you're visiting. Read the company's website ahead of time, find some items that excite you, then bring those up in your conversation. Make specific references to the field and the company's products, services and values. (Here's a good place to start.)
"Do a little bit of research so you can say, 'I know you are experts in the field of cybersecurity. I am studying cybersecurity and I'm very interested in the defense sector,'" said Jones.
Have specific job openings in hand. Knowing about specific jobs gives you an advantage, so have those job descriptions handy to discuss with a recruiter. Even better, apply beforehand.
"That's very proactive," Jones said. "And, although the recruiters probably are not going to have time to look up their status, they could at least say, 'I applied to mechanical engineering job 17528 yesterday and I'm looking for any other opportunities that you might have for me.'"
Talk about your interests. Separate yourself from the crowd by focusing on your passion. Highlight a school project that relates to the field you're interested in or volunteer work that taught you to be a better leader.
"You want to talk about what puts fire in your belly," Jones said.
Be camera-ready. A recruiter might opt for a video conference if there's time, so either have a tidy room behind you or an appropriate virtual background. Dress as if you were there in person. If you're using a mobile device, use a tripod to hold it steady, and place it on a stack of books or something else to ensure it's at eye Ievel. If you're using a laptop with a webcam, adjust it so you're making eye contact — not looking off to the side.
"You want to make eye contact just like you would with any other conversation," Jones said.
Get ready to discuss relocating. Know what you want and where you want to be. Before you chat with recruiters, ask yourself if you would consider moving for the right opportunity. Remote and flexible work options are more possible than ever before, but some roles require being on-site — and sometimes, a willingness to relocate will give you a huge advantage.
"It's really important and I do give this advice a lot to new graduates. Your opportunities to grow at a company this big (we have 180,000 employees) grow exponentially if you are flexible to relocate," said Jones. "I tell everyone: Be open. Just because you move to Virginia or Florida for a year doesn't mean you'll stay there. That's an opportunity for you to get your foot in the door."
Is it busy? Consider coming back at a better time. Conference traffic ebbs and flows, and candidates can see how many people are in the group chat at any given time. Recruiters do their best to keep things moving and make sure everyone gets time. But if 300 other job seekers are waiting, consider checking out other conference resources and returning a bit later.