Wear Pants — and Other Advice on How to Prepare for a Virtual Job Fair

A woman gets ready for an interview.
Getty Images

Employers are increasingly experimenting with creative methods to find and attract workers.

That’s where virtual career fairs come in.

They are definitely a win-win for both job seekers and employers. They can be nationwide, on-demand and discreet. They can also reach new audiences that might not be able to make it to in-person events. The best part? You don’t have to travel for either.

“I might not be able to get away from my office for a full day or half day,” says Gayle Oliver-Plath, CEO and founder of CareerEco, a virtual career and graduate-school events website. “But I may be able to get away for an hour or two.”

Discretion is crucial for job seekers who are currently employed and feel uncomfortable attending a job fair physically, says Laurie Vicente, senior marketing director for the recruitment firm Brilliant.

Oliver-Plath predicts the trend will continue to grow and that job seekers should expect virtual job fairs to be the new norm.

Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) is one university that has jumped on the trend. In addition to its normal career fairs, it hosts three to five virtual career fairs through CareerEco each academic year, says Richard South, an employee relations manager at the university’s career center.

South says in-person fairs have limitations due to budgets and physical space, while virtual fairs offer a more level playing field for both employers and job seekers.

“Many companies that frequent the virtual fairs don’t have recruiting personnel,” South says. “So it’s engineers logging on to a virtual fair speaking to other engineers.”

While the perks of online job fairs are plentiful, there are a few things to keep in mind before logging in and nabbing a job. Here’s what you can do to stand out as a candidate. Much of this advice can also be applied to general virtual job interviews.

How to Prepare for a Virtual Career Fair

It’s easy to overlook preparation for an interview or event that you’ll be attending via computer, probably from the comfort of your home. But don’t mistake the convenience for insignificance; attending one could actually take a little extra planning and practice. Here’s how to stand out from the virtual crowd.

Do the Proper Legwork

Just because the job fair is online doesn’t make it any less important.

“There is that misconception,” South says, “that if you’re doing a virtual fair you don’t need to prepare.”

Don’t fall into that trap. You still have to research the companies beforehand and have your tailored resume and cover letter ready to go just as you would at an in-person event. Instead of doling out your documents, you’ll typically need to upload them on the website. (The trees will thank you.)

To cater to employers on both Macs and PCs, Vicente says to save your documents as PDFs.

For overachievers who want some bonus points, try writing a couple of cover letters — one general cover letter and another that is tailored to your favorite employer at the event. (We’ve got your back if you need some help crafting your resume or cover letter.)

Yeah, multiple cover letters may be overkill for some, but Oliver-Plath recommends at least coming up with tailored questions for the employers. She says virtual events give you more power to investigate the company since information should be readily available on the event page.

But beware — information flows both ways. The employer is also at the computer and can just as easily look you up. Vicente recommends a pulse check on your social media to be safe.

“Make sure all of the privacy settings are set to the highest level,” she says.

The exception, of course, is LinkedIn. Vicente says to show off your profile and customize the URL, too. Just keep it professional. She’s almost numb to the amount of 420s and other embarrassing things applicants leave attached to their URLs or email addresses. Almost.

For other tips on making your LinkedIn profile sing, check out our guide.

Take Care of Technical Issues… Before the Event

When the internet is involved, be prepared for problems. The best time to consider them is before the event.

The night before is a great time to make sure everything is ready to go. Is your virtual career fair profile properly registered? Are your web browser and flash player up-to-date? Are your documents organized and ready to go?

And don’t forget the motherlode of technological issues: Wi-Fi. It has a way of cutting out at the most inconvenient times. The best way to skirt that problem is to expect it. Hard-wire your ethernet cable into your computer. That way your connection will be faster and more stable.

Technology also has a way of bringing out our worst tendencies. It’s not a technological issue in the strictest sense, but be aware of how you type when you’re at a virtual career fair since a lot of the communication will be done through a messaging system.

No “yups,” “Ks” or “sups” — employers keep an eye on things like grammar and tone.

“You have to be concerned with how you’re coming through in writing,” Oliver-Plath says. “Do not use any language that you would use in a text.”

Be Interview-Ready

You did your homework. You nailed the small talk with employers. Now you might just get an invitation for an interview on the spot. That may not always be the case, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be prepared. At a virtual event, that could mean being ready to go on camera.

South says one of the biggest complaints from employers is that candidates attend virtual fairs from public spaces. So make sure you’re in a distraction-free environment for the interview.

And if you’re not used to interviewing through Zoom, Skype or FaceTime, it could take a little practice. Trial runs are your saving grace.

“I think it’s absolutely necessary that you treat it like an in-person interview,” Vicente says. “Dress to impress; dress just like you would [at] a regular interview.”

Some people don’t take this part seriously, or they try to find ways to cheat the system.

“We’ve unfortunately had people that have put on a buttoned-up shirt,” Vicente laughs. “But the phone fell, and we saw that they were wearing boxers.”

So yeah. Don’t do that. Recruiters really want to see that you’re taking the video interview seriously.

Vicente says that Brilliant uses an “appearance rating system” during video interviews that takes into consideration your aesthetic and professionalism, not just your outfit. That means the recruiter is going to be taking note of everything in the frame — food, cans, towels on the floor, children running frantically, boxer briefs. It’s all fair game.

Another element to keep in mind is eye contact. You might naturally want to look at the interviewer’s face on the screen, but if you do that, you will appear to be looking down since most webcams are slightly above the monitor.

Vicente shared these additional tips to nail the video interview:

  • Test your lighting. The interviewer is going to want to see your face and background clearly.
  • Position the camera at eye level. A few books stacked under your laptop should do the trick.
  • Apply a little extra makeup. It’s not as visible on camera.
  • Have an interesting prop behind you. A bookshelf, plant or painting could work wonders. No one wants to see you against a blank wall.

Oliver-Plath also had some tips of her own. Her biggest piece of advice?

“Absolutely never interview on a handheld device.”

It’s very obvious to the interviewer, usually low-quality and takes up one or both of your hands. But what if you’re checking into the virtual job fair from your car during lunch break? A phone is all you might have.

Not to worry. Oliver-Plath says it’s better to tell the employer that you’re not in the best environment for an interview and offer alternative times.

“If you can’t do an impromptu interview,” she says, “no one is going to hold it against you.”

Adam Hardy is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.