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Virtual job fairs … part of the recruiting ‘process’

Friday, November 4, 2016

Imagine sitting in your student apartment: from the waist up, you are in a crisp white collared shirt, timeless navy blue blazer and conservative neck tie. From the waist down, you’ve got on your comfy Mercyhurst logo sweat pants and fleece slippers. In less than a minute, you’ll be at a job fair without ever having to leave the comfort of your couch.

Millennials have grown up in an electronics-filled and increasingly online and socially networked world, so it should come as no surprise that they are seeking job opportunities through the same means. The traditional job search has evolved to include LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and job boards, with more and more human resource managers using video interviews to expand their pool of potential candidates.

And, then, there is the virtual job fair, which is fast becoming a go-to resource for many organizations.

Mercyhurst University students have been in step with the innovation for a couple years, according to Frank Rizzone, associate director of the career development office. Just last month, he said, a headhunting firm from Pittsburgh hosted an online career fair for students with disabilities with the intent of building diversity within their clients’ businesses.

And, numerous students, mostly intelligence studies majors, have signed up to participate in the National Security Virtual Career Fair on Nov. 17. Between 2 and 8 p.m., students can use their computers or mobile devices to visit agency booths to explore available job opportunities, chat with recruiters, learn about internships and other student opportunities and attend live presentations.

With security analyst jobs expected to grow 18 percent now through 2024, key federal agencies are going the route of online career fairs as part of their recruitment process, Rizzone said. Among the agencies on board for the Nov. 17 fair are: Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence/National Counterterrorism Center, and more.

Ryan Kahn, career coach and television personality, told Forbes magazine, “Online career fairs are a great innovation of the more traditional career fairs. Companies like Google are doing a great job to reach beyond the job fair in their online Hangouts. These are a chance for the candidates to hear from, ask questions, and interact with real employees at the convenience of the candidate’s home. As online job fairs become more widely adopted they will be a great addition to the recruitment process.”

“Process” being the operative word, according to a second-year intelligence studies graduate student at Mercyhurst who opted not to be identified.

“I’ve done virtual career fairs before and they are OK for gathering information, getting a question answered or watching a workshop, but they aren’t nearly as effective as the face-to-face interaction you get at a real career fair,” he said.

Rizzone would have to agree. “I understand that many of these agencies are looking for ways to reduce their recruiting costs, and when you consider fielding a team, transporting to career fairs, staying in hotels, meals; it adds up.”

Still, he said, making that all-important personal connection is as relevant today as it ever was. So is time-honored advice like: be prepared, do your homework, have a strong resume, dress for success … um, maybe skip those vintage sweatpants after all.

“Yes, we have heard stories about recruiting teams asking the interviewee to get up and check out something behind them just to see if they are, in fact, wearing sweats,” Rizzone said. “Whether in person or ‘in virtual reality,’ candidates need to dress appropriately.”