Last month, we published an article on Virtual Recruiting: Candidate Best Practices and COVID-19: Virtual Recruiting. In light of recent rises of work-from-home policies and transitions to online education for those pursing degrees, we’ve received interest in an overview on – what constitutes a virtual recruiting event and how to prepare for them. This article provides a framework for understanding virtual recruiting events from the point of view of a few stakeholders – job candidates, employers and school career offices.
Is the new normal the same as the old normal?
For starters, it’s worth noting that effectively everyone reading this article has experience with digital interactions – just in order to access this post, you had to use an internet browser or email provider. So, if you’re thinking about participating in a virtual recruiting event and trying to figure out what you’re getting into (and how to prepare), you likely already have some familiarity with digital processes and norms – email etiquette, chat rooms, video calls, online RSVP’s, calendar invites, etc. While the rise in online recruiting efforts could be part of our new normal, it’s really just the combination of two familiar aspects of our lives: digital technology and recruiting.
What is a Virtual Recruiting Event?
We’ve chosen to use the word event rather than career fair, job fair, recruiting webinar, or etc., to provide a high-level overview of the different types of virtual recruiting experiences. As such, an event in this case is inclusive of any of these types of online recruiting. It’s a versatile recruiting option that can take different forms – anywhere from a multi-day full-blown online career fair to a quick 15-minute video chat with a recruiter. Fortunately, these events are typically just a digitized version of in-person events that candidates are already familiar with, and the broad outlines of what those events entail does not change dramatically by shifting them online. The most important thing to keep in mind about virtual recruiting events are the ways that the digital medium changes the nature of our interactions with recruiters – in both good ways and bad.
For Job Candidates
To cover the basics, the first thing you’ll want to do to prepare is read through the marketing material for the event. Ask yourself these questions:
- Why is this event being marketed to me?
- Who’s participating in this event?
- What activities/tasks included in the event?
- Where/when is this event?
- How do I prepare?
In the age of digital marketing, there is probably a good reason you’re hearing about an event: the organizers think it’s relevant to your interests. Of course, the organizers can only target you based on a few criteria, so you should take time to do your own research. It’s reasonable to approach such a decision with a cost-benefit analysis: what am I required to invest in this event, and what can I get out of it? At the same time, keep in mind that digital events make it easier to control the amount of time you invest in a given event: in many cases, if you discover that a given event is not for you, it’s simpler a less awkward to simply walk away than it would be if that event were in-person.
In any case, whenever you find an event that does pique your interest, it’s important to prepare to put your best foot forward. Here are the steps we recommend:
- Setting Goals – Nearly everyone attending a recruiting event is looking for a job offer, so it’s natural to set the goal of receiving an interview or even a job offer. But depending on the event format, receiving an offer might not be a realistic option. That doesn’t mean such virtual events can’t be valuable – the networking opportunities and company information you receive can be a critical step in the process to eventually receiving an offer. Nevertheless, it’s important to go into any virtual recruiting event with a realistic set of goals based off what the event actually entails – and then to revisit the event afterwards to understand whether you achieved those goals and what you could have done differently. Look at virtual events as building blocks in your digital recruiting process: you don’t need to finish the building in one day, and you’ll be in trouble if you skip some of the building blocks altogether.
- Networking – Recruiting activities should include a networking strategy, and this is true for virtual events as well. No matter what the event type or format is, there’s likely some type of connection made between you and the recruiting opportunity, whether it be employer branding, recruiter chats/videos, Q&A sessions, job applications, etc. To increase the likelihood of achieving your event goals, you should try to increase your number of touch points through the event and outside of the event. For example, if an event has multiple ways for you to interact with an employer you’re interested in, ensure that you are present and accounted for in each of these opportunities – and don’t just rely on the channels provided by the event itself. Reaching out by email or LinkedIn during or after the event can set you apart from the rest of the pack, and making reference to an aspect of their virtual presentation can help emphasize your interest.
- Research – At a minimum, you should review the marketing and details for the event to ensure you are aware of the event requirements, steps, timelines, etc. But your primary research should focus on the participating employer(s). One of the primary pieces of feedback we receive from recruiters is how often they encounter applicants who aren’t aware of basic facts about their business or industry. Virtual events are typically designed to provide some sort of insight into employer culture and hiring preferences, but savvy participants should do their own research in addition to what is presented in the virtual event. Use sites like TransparentCareer.com to find out what former employees have said about culture and compensation, and platforms like LinkedIn to figure out where your network intersects with a given employer.
- Organization – Experienced virtual event hosts will provide the relevant calendar invites and reminders needed for you to attend the event, but it’s better safe than sorry in this case. Regardless of what the hosts does, you should establish your own way to track the event steps, session times, and details so that you can ensure you don’t miss out on an opportunity you’re interested in. This sort of organization also lends itself to the networking and research tasks as well: keeping track of your interactions with each employer as you participate in a virtual event will make it easier to recall the salient points in the future.
- Resume – While many virtual recruiting events might not require the submission of your resume, it’s always a possibility that a recruiter attending the event or a job application through the event (for example) will request your resume during the event. It’s also always smart to customize your resume for each employer or even each role to which you’re applying – and one of the advantages of virtual events is that you can bring an unlimited number of resumes with you (in digital form) or easily make updates to your resume as you learn more about the participating employers and their open positions.
- Technology – Most virtual events will simply require you to be connected to the internet to attend the event, but there may also be cases where it’s required (or advantageous) to be on a computer vs a smart phone, to have your video on, and/or to modify your audio type. To be technologically prepared to the event, you should test that your internet connectivity and speed is reliable, that your video works (and your mindful of your video background), and that you’re using the best audio option for your location. See Tip #4 in our Candidate Best Practices blog post for more recommendations on optimizing your video call experience.
The virtual recruiting experience is just as important for employers, particularly as the flow of candidates from in-person recruiting events has been essentially turned off with the recent pandemic. While many employers are experiencing hiring freezes due to impacts from COVID-19, others are having hiring surges, given increases in customer demand and operational changes that are quickly evolving as a result of the new normal caused by the pandemic. In both cases (hiring freezes or surges), many employers are looking for strategies to maintain stability, positive brand recognition, and job candidate interest, whether it be for immediate hiring needs or the hopeful need for future hires. One of the big advantages of virtual recruiting is that the variety of options available make it possible to engage with candidates in any way you see fit, at scale and without significant expense. As such, employers should understand their specific goal for a given event to determine what type of virtual strategy to utilize.
Depending on the employer goal, the following should be considered when selecting a virtual event type and how to prepare for it.
- Setting Goals – Goals that employers should consider include: explaining their employer value proposition (EVP); building candidate pipelines for immediate and future hiring; and increasing application yield on high-priority listings. Virtual events can help with any and all of these outcomes, and the key is to understand the range of outcomes available from a given event, determine if those outcomes align with your recruiting goals, and then execute the event in a way that optimizes for the outcomes you are prioritizing. An employer that is focusing on overall brand recognition may want to consider a webinar that is broadcast with high-volume reach and scale, whereas an employer with immediate hiring needs should consider a virtual event that targets job candidates that fit the job needs, encourages them to apply, and enables a way for the employer to easily track, interview, and select candidates.
- Technology – Technology can often be a bigger stumbling block for employers than it is for candidates, given the restrictive IT policies of many companies and the complex approval processes that are sometimes required. Outsourcing the logistics to a third party with experience in the space is one way to help avoid or mitigate potential technological snafus, but regardless of the route you choose, there are some specific tech functions that are prerequisites for a successful virtual recruiting experience. Those functions include: a form or portal to collect and organize applications; video meeting software for webinars or other live sessions; a way to securely share files with third parties; and a landing page or other platform to share you employer information. In many cases, you may already know the specific tech tools that your company uses for these functions; for others, it may be necessary to discuss the available options with your IT department before you embark on your next virtual recruiting event.
- Finding an Event Host– Like any other recruiting event, virtual events are often organized or “hosted” by a school, organization, or platform that will handle the technology (see above) and promotion of the event to candidates. A capable host will minimize the time investment required for participating employers and can help your event reach far more candidates than you might have been able to attract on your own. When considering a virtual event, it’s important to weigh the value and experience of the prospective host: how many times have they hosted similar events? Do they have standardized processes and metrics? Can they share data on outcomes from previous events? All of these questions are crucial to understanding whether a given host will be effective or not when it comes to achieving your desired outcomes.
- Selecting Participants – One of the most important decisions you can make in any recruiting event – virtual or otherwise – is who to appoint as the face (or faces) of your company. While you may be accustomed to choosing recruiting staff and other employees for in-person recruiting events, the profile of an ideal virtual recruiting event participant is going to differ slightly – and you should have exponentially more options to choose from. Not only do virtual events allow participants from anywhere in the world to engage with one another, but without the requisite travel (and with a competent host) virtual events require a small fraction of the time commitment of in-person recruiting. Make good use of this vastly expanded pool of potential participants by seeking out those who most closely match the profile of the candidate audience: job candidates love to hear from employees who share a similar educational background and who are working in the jobs that are being promoted in that event. Other things to keep in mind include whether participants are tech-savvy enough for virtual events and whether they are comfortable with being on video and speaking extemporaneously about your firm.
For School Career Offices
School Career Offices occupy a unique position as an intermediary and facilitator for candidate-employer interactions. Thus, their approach to virtual events should primarily be about organization and communication, in order to ensure the other two primary stakeholders – candidates and employers – can easily and effectively connect and engage with one another. And given their position as intermediaries, schools can play a critical role in promoting the event to attendees and managing the virtual event ecosystem.
Here are a few ways that school career offices can make the most of their virtual events:
- Setting Goals – As facilitators of these events, career offices should set their goals based on what their students prioritize most, but they can also play an important role in setting expectations for students. Clearly communicating the nature and potential outcomes of an event can help students keep their expectations realistic. Schools also play a key role in promoting virtual events to their students, and it’s reasonable to set a goal regarding student participation and then adjust your promotion strategy as signups grow to reach your attendance goals.
- Communication – Virtual events require effective communication to ensure their success, and schools are often the best available option in terms of distributing information to their students. To this end, it is absolutely essential that your career office have a full understanding and mastery of the various options available to communicate opportunities to your students. Email is far and away the most common channel, but (like many large employers) university email servers are often overly-aggressive in tagging spam messages, and it’s possible for critical information to be lost in the digital ether. Consider using a double-pronged communication approach: share information and logistics both by email and via physical reminders like notes in student mailboxes.
- Technology – Depending upon your career office’s level of involvement, the technological requirements could be anywhere from trivial to substantial. The key to determining the requisite technology is deciding how actively your career office will participate in a given event. Some well-resourced and experienced career offices are capable of hosting virtual events, but most would likely be well-advised to entrust the technology and logistics tasks to a third party who specializes in such events. In most cases, the only real technological concern for career offices will regard communication, and email is likely to be the most technologically complex tool you use. Regardless, in the role of facilitator, schools will also need to be able to assist candidates and/or employers who encounter tech issues.