Money & Business

Secrets of a Successful Online Career Fair

By / Oct 24, 2013

The National Retail Federation recently sponsored a virtual career fair for students and young professionals to explore the variety of job opportunities that lie in the retail industry. Find out what made this association’s first foray into the world of online job fairs an unexpected success.

The National Retail Federation sponsored its first-ever virtual career fair this month, and it surpassed the association’s expectations.

“The fair was so successful that we ended up extending it for an hour,” said Ellen Davis, senior vice president at NRF and executive director of the NRF Foundation.

My biggest piece of advice would be to make sure that you’ve got your two communities built because if you have an engaged group of job seekers but no recruiters it’s not going to be successful, and the reverse is true.

While NRF expected about seven to eight retailers to participate, 19 companies such as HSN, Walgreens, Radioshack, Starbucks, and Macy’s bought booths, where they could chat one on one with students and young professionals, the targeted demographic of this first fair, Davis said. “And a lot of the recruiters I’ve talked to have said they were trying to round up other recruiters in their company to chat because it was so busy that they couldn’t get through [all the people] in line.”

The fair is part of NRF’s larger initiative to change the perception of retail careers and illustrate the different types of opportunities available in the industry.

“This isn’t just a one-off,” Davis said. About a year and a half ago the association began creating a community of 40 to 50 retail recruiters and began working with schools and universities around the country to create a community of engaged students and universities in an effort to attract more talent to the industry. NRF also launched a job board this past summer to help mid-to-senior level professionals find jobs in retail. So, an online career fair seemed like a natural next step, but it was a bit of a risk.

“We weren’t sure if it was going to work,” Davis said. “We weren’t sure if retailers were going to buy booths. We weren’t sure if students were going to show up. So, we said from the very beginning ‘If it’s successful, we’ll do it again, and if not, please let us know.’”

Although participants of online fairs may miss out on the face-to-face interaction of in-person events, the virtual versions can be fairly inexpensive, time-saving methods of matching jobs and job seekers. With the NRF fair, for example, participants didn’t have to leave their homes or offices (which saved on airfare for recruiters) to talk with one another. It also provided an efficient way for recruiters to talk to a lot of job seekers. One company reported talking with 96 students in just four hours.

Virtual fairs can also provide a good first-step or introduction to an industry, especially for younger people scoping out potential jobs or anyone considering a change in career.

Associations, with their access to a wide membership base in various areas or industries, can also be great sources and coordinators of online career fairs, according to a Society of Human Resource Management article. The article highlighted the success the Parenteral Drug Association, which often reported higher turnout rates at its virtual job fairs than in-person events the association hosted at conferences.

What goes into a successful online career fair? Here are a few tips from NRF’s Ellen Davis:

Build community first. “My biggest piece of advice would be to make sure that you’ve got your two communities built because if you have an engaged group of job seekers but no recruiters it’s not going to be successful, and the reverse is true,” Davis said.

Pick the right provider. “We wanted to make sure that we used software that was innovative as our industry,” Davis said. “We didn’t want an avatar walking around with a fake briefcase. We wanted something cool. We wanted live-chat functionality and the ability to see career content at booths and the ability for recruiters to rate candidates.”

Don’t try to break the bank, initially. “For your first one, price it to break even,” said Davis, who added that NRF priced its booths at $500 a piece in the hopes of attracting more recruiters to buy and participate.

Get the word out. “We knew that without great brands participating we weren’t going to get students,” Davis said. “So, what we did first was we started promoting the heck out of this to our recruiter community, encouraging them to buy a booth to show their support and hopefully hire some great talent.”

Ever sponsored a successful virtual career fair? Let us know some of your secrets in the comments.

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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