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Virtual career fairs offer online employment opportunities

January 13, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
With the unemployment rate in double digits, career fairs often draw thousands of eager job-seekers. Now there's a way to get around those long lines and time-consuming meet-and-greets. The traditional job fair is getting a modern makeover.

Imagine being able to land a job with the click of a mouse. That's now possible through something called a "virtual career fair."

Big-name companies like Microsoft, Procter and Gamble, and 3M are all participating.

For the past three years, Marybeth Gillespie has been hard at work looking for a new job.

"I used recruitment agencies. I had done cold calling. I had answered classified ads," said Gillespie.

No jobs offers turned up, until she tried a career fair right from her very own living room.

"I was able to study the companies that were offering local jobs, click through to their web sites, learn their culture," said Gillespie.

The career fair has gone digital. With the unemployment rate near 9 percent and companies looking to broaden the applicant pool, the virtual career fair has exploded in popularity.

Malcolm Lotzof is chief executive officer of INXPO, one the leading platforms for virtual events. He says thousands of people attend.

"We have companies like Microsoft that we've done that with. We have 3M we've done it with. P and G right now, we run probably a couple of hundred events every year," said Lotzof.

Some organizations host their own virtual fairs, while others join group fairs held by sponsors. And you don't need to be tech-savvy to scout them out. Participants simply log on, upload their resume and visit a variety of virtual "booths," organized by company or by field.

"They're given the opportunity to see job opportunities at the companies that are participating, and then actually apply, and in many cases interview via chat," said Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast.com.

Either through video or by instant message.

"They can do it from their home, in front of their computer. Very efficient. Very time effective," said Lee.

Eventually you may be contacted for a telephone or in-office interview.

Still, experts say virtual career fairs may not be for every job-seeker.

"You do not have the opportunity to look an employer in the eye, shake their hand and try and make a good first impression," said Lee.

But that didn't bother Marybeth Gillespie.

"I found that the job fair experience was simple, uncomplicated, most importantly, it got me a job," said Gillespie.

Virtual career fairs are free. You can learn about them through the newspaper, a company's website, social networking services like Facebook and Twitter, even Google searches or word of mouth.