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Pushed by the Pandemic, Virtual Career Fairs Become the New Norm

Reaching potential job candidates can be challenging during the best of times, but during a pandemic – with personal interactions severely limited – the challenge grows even tougher.

Unable to hold in-person recruiting events, many in the energy industry have turned to virtual career fairs as a means of expanding their outreach. In the process, they’ve discovered that online events can sometimes be more successful than more traditional career fairs.

Here are some lessons learned from three companies: Consumers Energy, Dominion Energy and the Mears Group, as well as from CEWD.

Virtual fairs net broader reach

Consumers Energy began hosting virtual career fairs late last year, prior to the arrival of COVID-19, as a means of reaching greater numbers of potential hires across the Midwest without having to travel outside the state of Michigan. “It just so happened that our efforts landed right at the onset of the pandemic,” said Curtis Belen, Senior Inclusive Culture Consultant/Outreach Team Lead.

“One thing that doesn’t happen at (in-person) career fairs is people getting hired,” he said. “Because of that, attendance is low. People realize that no matter who they meet in our booth, they need to follow up with somebody else through another platform. But with a virtual platform, we can cast a wider net and become more efficient gaining those touch points.”

Likewise, Dominion Energy had already discovered the value of virtual career fairs prior to the pandemic, said Senior Military Recruiting and Strategic Sourcing Specialist Saddiq Holliday. The company began using them late last year to better reach its target audience – transitioning military and veterans who often live in states far from the civilian jobs they’re pursuing.

“Military candidates can’t always go to local events if they are elsewhere trying to come back home,” said Holliday. “Having a schedule of virtual events allows us to meet those candidates wherever they are.”

Dominion Energy receives multiple requests every week to take part in virtual career fairs across the 18 states it serves, said Holliday. Some requests are for company representatives to answer questions or serve on panels at informational events. They also take part in or host recruiting events more specific to their hiring needs.

He estimates Dominion Energy reaches about 300 potential candidates each month through virtual events of both types.

Target your marketing and collect more data

Consumers Energy hosts two virtual events each month and targets these to specific populations, such as transitioning military, people with disabilities or women. They range in size from 20-30 individuals up to as many as 150, said Belen.

Marketing the events is easy to do online, said Mary Tschirhart, Digital Sourcing Specialist for Dominion Energy. When five members of the company’s talent acquisition team posted notices on their LinkedIn profiles, they succeeded in registering 250 participants for one event.

Another nice thing about online events? The ability to gather data on those who attend and tag them to maintain contact for follow-up. “We could expand well beyond name, email address and resume,” said Tschirhart. “We could ask additional questions like, ‘Do you have a military background? Are you a veteran? What kind of jobs are you interested in?’”

Because of the tags, said Tschirhart, they could follow up with participants afterwards by sending them links to jobs and encouraging them to set up online profiles. They could also easily track participants to see who created a profile and filed an application.

When taking part in fairs attended by multiple companies, access to participant data ahead of time allows companies to steer candidates toward their booth, said Holliday. “You get a lot of data about people prior to joining the fair. There’s an Excel spreadsheet you can look at ahead of time and you can send out emails to people if you like their resumes, ask them to stop by your booth and let them know you have a position open they might be interested in. It allows you to target people specifically, rather than standing behind a table wondering who you are going to meet.”

Advanced access to data produces better prepared candidates

While the level of candidate preparedness can vary, overall, those coming to virtual career fairs tend to be more prepared, companies noted. That’s in part because recruiters can fill their online booths with videos and information about their company and available jobs, which candidates can peruse prior to the event.

“We had a few where we’ve had great candidates who have been very well prepared. They did their research in advance,” said Stephanie Metzler, Vice President of Workforce Development for the Mears Group, which has participated in half a dozen virtual recruiting events since the pandemic began. “They do have an opportunity to log in before it starts and they can list who they want to chat with.”

“Those who are participating in the military career fairs are far more prepared than those in the general career fairs,” said added.

Typically, virtual career fairs last about two hours and recruiters can chat with potential candidates for up to 10 minutes, sometimes chatting with more than one at a time. While they are chatting, recruiters can look at a candidate’s resume on the side of the screen.

Be the host to get the most

“We are hosting our own events, as opposed to joining a collective career fair,” said Belen. “That way, we get job seekers who have already been informed and done their research. They know they are coming to a Consumers opportunity and they are more familiar with our company. It lends itself to better conversations. Candidates have specific questions and there are things we can respond to immediately, or direct them to somebody who can respond on the spot. I think that really weeds out the passive and the just curious, versus the really interested job seekers.”

Save your data, save time

“Every time you go into a new event, even if it’s using the same platform, you have to recreate your entire booth,” said Metzler. “So save it – your job overview, pictures you want to include, all the static information that does not change. Make sure you have all of that in a file. It will expedite things when you have to set up your next booth.”

The future is now

Energy companies say they’ll continue to hold online events, long after in-person encounters become safe again.

“This is a trend,” said Rochelle Tabor, Senior Human Resources Consultant at Consumers Energy. “A lot of organizations are going this way. It allows you to reach a lot of candidates in a short period of time. It eliminates travel time for employers and time away from work. There’s no dress code. Candidates can look at company information at their leisure prior to event so they are more informed.”

“We don’t know when COVID-19 is going to end but afterward, this is still something we’ll be doing.”