Virtual careers fairs v. in-person careers events: the key differences

Everything you need to know about online careers fairs and other careers events – from how virtual fairs work to who’s running them.

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Most students will attend at least one graduate careers fair (sometimes called a jobs fair) during their time at university. Normally held on campus, careers fairs give you the opportunity to meet a number of employers, postgraduate course providers and/or careers advisers all in one place on the same day.

However, the coronavirus has made in-person events on this scale impossible for now. The good news? Graduate job fairs (and other careers events) aren’t cancelled – just moved online.

What does a virtual fair look like?

The exact lay-out and features of a virtual careers fair will depend on the platform the organiser is using, but you’ll often find:

  • a home page with details of the fair
  • a ‘main hall’ where you can access all of the exhibitor ‘stands’
  • an ‘information desk’ manned by the fair organiser, eg for help with tech issues
  • a CV clinic
  • live sessions eg webinars and panel Q&As.

A typical employer stand might include:

  • a bio about the company and its student and graduate programmes
  • answers to FAQs
  • videos for you to watch, eg of current graduates talking about their experiences
  • links to their careers websites and social media channels
  • job and placement vacancies.

You can then interact with employers on a one-to-one basis via a chat box (where you can instigate a conversation and only you and the employer can see your messages). There is usually also the option to request or register your interest in a video or audio call with the employer – but it is ultimately up to them whether to accept and call you.

You can also interact with employers at any of the live sessions they’re participating in, such as a webinar. Any questions you ask or comments you post in the chat during these sessions can be seen/heard by the other attendees.

Virtual fairs v. in-person: what’s different and what’s the same?

While the state-the-obvious difference is that you’re not talking to employers face-to-face, there are other important differences and similarities to take note of.

  1. At a physical fair, exhibitors don’t have access to any information about you prior to speaking – and they leave the approaching completely up to the students. At virtual fairs though, employers can see the profile you’ve filled out and they can reach out to students whose profiles meet their requirements .
  2. Just because employers can reach out to you at virtual fairs, doesn’t mean you should wait for them to make the first move. You’ll need to be proactive and initiate conversations with the employers you want to talk to . If you’re feeling shy or nervous at a physical event, a recruiter might see you hovering and start chatting to you, but that won’t happen at a virtual fair.
  3. You can still ‘attend’ a virtual fair as many times as you want to during opening hours, for example you can leave and log back on or check for notifications later if you need to work around lectures and other commitments . However, virtual eliminates the need to be in a specific location – even if it is only a ten-minute walk from your halls of residence. You can log in on your own device from wherever you are.
  4. In a virtual environment, there’s no capacity constraints and no need to stand around in a queue to speak to an exhibitor . You can send a message and they’ll get back to you as soon as they are free. You should still exercise patience and manners while waiting for a response from an employer, though. Give them time to work through their messages and, if it’s getting close to the end of the fair and you haven’t heard back, follow up politely.
  5. As with in-person fairs, there are a number of virtual fairs that serve different student audiences. While some fairs cover all careers and types of opportunities, others are specific to a career sector (eg law, business, the creative industries or engineering and technology) or a type of opportunity (eg internships or part-time jobs and volunteering).
  6. The careers fair freebies students have come to know and love – stationery, water bottles, stress balls, portable phone chargers, chocolate fountains – won’t be a feature of virtual fairs. However, some employers have been known to run competitions with cash or other prizes up for grabs in place of the usual freebies .

Read our six tips for succeeding at virtual careers fairs for more guidance on what to do before, during and after a virtual fair.

Who is running virtual fairs?

Most universities are running virtual careers fairs. Check with your university careers service when yours will be.

There are also careers fairs held by graduate job websites such as targetjobs.

What other virtual careers events might there be?

You can expect other types of careers events to become virtual. Check what online events your university careers service is arranging this year, such as skills workshops and employer presentations.

There will also be virtual networking opportunities outside of your university – such as those run by targetjobs events and by professional bodies specifically for their field, such as finance, journalism, construction, health or management.

Head to our events page to see the full line-up of targetjobs events for this academic year, including Undergraduate of the Year , Future Female Engineers, Aspire Law and IT's not just for the boys!

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