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Virtual career fairs: 7 ways employers can stand out

With virtual tactics here to stay, get best practices for engaging with students before, during, and after your virtual career fairs.

The pandemic unlocked the portal to virtual and hybrid everything. For recruiters, virtual career fairs are a powerful way to help you scale relationships during busy seasons and leverage your school connections. And there’s so much about virtual career fairs that’s mutually beneficial for students and employers: accessibility, inclusivity, efficiency, time saved, costs saved, convenience…the list goes on.

In fact, virtual fairs help level the playing field for women, people of color, neurodiverse students, and those with disabilities. These groups report finding virtual recruiting to be less anxiety-inducing, easier to balance, and more accessible compared to meeting with prospective employers in person.

According to Handshake survey data, 80% of most students and recent alum want to attend a career fair before they apply for a job.* Why? The #1 reason students gave is to "ensure that there are opportunities for growth and development within the company."

So you know virtual career fairs have their place in your early talent recruiting strategy, but you might still be wondering: how can we attract students to our sessions, and provide the best possible experience for students? At in-person fairs, you have the added attraction of food, swag, and even your mascot. How are you attracting students at virtual career fairs—particularly if your brand is lesser known?

Check out the following 7 ways you can stand out before, during, and after your next virtual career fair.

Before a virtual career fair

1. Proactively invite students to your booth

Since 66% students and recent alumni want to receive proactive messages from employers that help with their job search*, reach out to your candidates early is critical to getting their attention. Filter from 15M+ student profiles to find your qualified talent matches. This gives you the ability to message those students one-on-one and proactively invite those students to your virtual career fairs.

With Handshake Premium, you can create custom groups for each of your open roles and connect directly with potential candidates to invite them to your virtual fair. Learn more

2. Highlight what makes your brand unique

Today’s students and recent grads want to know that their first or second job out of school is going to be impactful. Make sure your Company Profile on Handshake speaks to your mission and values. But don’t leave it up to students to research your company on their own. Reach out to qualified students and use that as an opportunity to give more insight into your company culture. For example, share “day in the life” stories from current employees or thoughtful short videos that feature cross-functional senior leaders.

Tip: If you’re attaching your virtual session to your message, provide students with a preview of what they can expect. This is an opportunity to expose candidates to your brand and your values, and holds your team accountable—while prioritizing student interest based on those most qualified.

Download our free guide for more ideas on how to make your brand shine throughout the candidate experience.

3. Be transparent

At every touchpoint, establish transparency, open up the dialogue and lay out position expectations as early as possible. Tailor the session for your attendees—ask engaged students to message you with one question they’d like answered by the end of the virtual career fair. Highlight exactly why new hires should want to pursue opportunities with your employer. When students have a great experience, they’re more likely to promote your company with their peers by “word of mouth.”

During a virtual career fair

4. Make it memorable

At in-person career fairs, you can count on some organic brand exposure from students stumbling across your swag or decorative banners in person. What are those surprise and delight moments during your virtual career fair?

Brainstorm ideas that will make the student experience at your virtual booth both memorable and useful. For example, you can host a virtual scavenger hunt where the first 50 people to identify in-session cues correctly win exclusive company swag. Or trivia boards where students can ask questions to get to know your senior level employees better.

Check out 4 creative recruiting event ideas to make virtual career fairs memorable for students →

5. Demonstrate how your leadership is invested in early talent

Early talent wants to see themselves in the leadership at your company—and women and non-binary individuals are almost 2X more likely than men to say that seeing women in leadership roles makes them likely to apply to a job. Consider inviting your VP of engineering who happens to be a woman, for example, to attend your virtual career fair and provide personalized insight into how your company supports other women computer science majors throughout their careers.

6. Humanize the candidate experience

For smaller teams without the headcount to visit dozens of different events, virtual fairs are a force multiplier. It’s easier for alumni, advocates, department leads, and hiring managers to attend—all of whom have valuable perspectives to share. Instead of blocking days out of their schedule for travel, they can invest a few hours whenever is most convenient for them, and dive right back into their normal work day. This puts more relevant employees in front of great talent, and helps them establish their professional network.

Handshake Premium partners can bring in non-recruiting teammates, or “advocates,” to help students learn first-hand about what life looks like at your company and on their potential new team. Learn more about advocates

After a Virtual Career Fair

7. Nurture your qualified connections

Meeting with a candidate once at a career fair is a good start. But if you leave and don’t look back, you could miss out on recruiting a stellar candidate. Following up with your prospects is critical to sealing the deal. Keep in mind that these students have likely met with other employers they may be interested in, so time is of the essence.

At in-person events, candidates can slip by without you getting their contact information. Virtual career fairs are an easy way to keep track of your attendees—and make the follow-up process easier. Learn about tracking your in person check-ins to evaluate your on-campus ROI

Putting these steps into practice

Even with the return of in-person recruiting fairs and events, virtual recruiting will remain a vital component of a successful hybrid recruiting strategy. You can reach targeted audiences that align with your criteria and values ahead of career fairs to determine fit early on, and offer a more personalized candidate experience. By making use of digital tools like Handshake, you’re leveraging the convenience, equity, and scale of online interactions as a way to make your recruiting resources go further.

Learn more about how virtual career fairs fit into your overall hybrid strategy

*Handshake internal study, December 2022; n=1,692

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