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A new way to job seek: Virtual career fairs

February 20, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
For the past three years, Marybeth Gillespie has been hard at work looking for a new job.

She has used recruitment agencies, done cold calling and answered classified ads.

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 websites, learn their culture," Gillespie said.

With the unemployment rate high and companies looking to broaden the applicant pool, the virtual career fair has exploded in popularity.

"We have companies like Microsoft that we've done that with, we have 3M we've done it with, P&G," said Malcolm Lotzof. CEO of INXPO, one of the leading platforms for virtual events. "Right now, we run probably a couple of hundred events every year."

Some organizations host their own virtual fairs, while others join group fairs held by sponsors.

You don't need to be tech savvy to find them. Participants simply log on, upload their resume and visit a variety of virtual "booths," organized on the site by company or by field.

"They're given the opportunity to see job opportunities and the companies that are participating, and then actually apply, and in many cases interview via chat," said Tony Lee of job-hunting site CareerCast.com "They can do it from their home, in front of their computer. Very efficient, very time effective."

Interaction can be done through video or instant message.

It's also effective because recruiters have the chance to pre-screen resumes, then target potential employees.

"The recruiter is able to seek out the attendee at the event and bring them into the booth, or connect with them, so it kind of turns the process on its head."

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," Lee said.

That didn't bother Gillespie, who said she felt she made a first impression with her work history. Sure enough, after a face-to-face interview, she was offered a position on the spot.

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

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.