Landing your first job can be scary and a bit daunting. Now throw in the added stress of a global pandemic. I know, it’s not always pretty.
Fortunately, virtual career fairs are taking off as a recruiting hotbed. So although you won’t be using that confident handshake you’ve been practicing, there’s still a way to network and hone your interviewing skills in the virtual world.
And you’ll have the chance to do so on a much grander scale, since a typical virtual career fair will have companies from all different industries and geographies– not just the ones within commuting distance.
Your preparation for a virtual career fair can be very similar to what it would be for a similar in-person experience; however, there are some unique challenges job seekers are facing during this new virtual process. I’ve outlined some tips to help you turn career fairs into serious job prospects:
1. Do Your Research
Avoid career fair burnout and use your time wisely by researching the companies attending the career fair in advance. Narrow your interest down to 10-20 companies that you want to speak with. And then go into the event informed and engaged, which will place you leaps and bounds above the competition when you speak with their team.
It doesn’t have to be time-consuming either. Co-Founder of Ntroduced, Jay Green, has a few simple suggestions for career fair prep:
Browse the company’s careers page to learn more about who they are, what they do, and who they’re looking for.
Follow them on LinkedIn.
Read an article or a blog that they have posted.
2. Know your value add (and be able to communicate it).
Every career fair is an opportunity for you to practice your “about me” pitch. You may only get a few minutes with each company, so you need to make them count and leave a lasting impression.
Organizational Coach & Leadership Consultant, Aleta Maxwell, suggests coming up with a personal value statement to clearly and succinctly pitch yourself. This should include what you are doing in your current role and 1-2 accomplishments that you are proud of. I suggest writing this pitch down first in your own words then rehearsing until it feels natural. It is also a good idea to have your resume handy if you freeze up and forget your job timeline– just don’t sound like you’re reading from a script.
3. Dress to Impress
Just because this is a virtual career fair doesn’t mean that you can show up in your PJs (at least from the waist up). Try to look presentable and polished to make a good first impression.
Some companies have a casual dress code while others are more “suit and tie.” A happy medium that I recommend is a collared shirt, blouse, or the quintessential startup chic t-shirt/blazer combo (and I always love a statement necklace to give my look a little boost of my personal style).
4. Think about your lighting and setup.
You don’t need to have a professional video set staged in your living room. But try to find a space with a clean, simple background and decent lighting. Clutter and weird unflattering shadows can be distracting. You want the recruiter to be listening to your words; not staring at the pile of papers and soda cans in the background.
It all starts with quick, easy adjustments to your workspace. Check out these tips to create your ideal setup.
5. Remove distractions.
You may be a constant multi-tasker (I’m guilty too); however, during a virtual interview, your multi-tasking can come back to bite you. Make sure your focus is where it needs to be: on the conversation you’re having. Set your phone to silent, and close out any other communication channels.
As for kids and pets, it’s expected that they may occasionally make an appearance– and that’s okay, because you’re human. It’s a good reminder for the interviewer that everyone is facing their own unique challenges right now. But for the sake of your own focus, I suggest finding something to (hopefully!) occupy your kids (both human and furry) during the conversation.
6. Take notes.
Taking down a few notes during your session will help you remember who you spoke with and decide if the role is right for you. It will also show your excitement for the opportunity and that you are fully engaged in the conversation. And these notes will come in handy when you send your follow-up note (see #10), since you’ll be able to recall specific points of the conversation.
It’s generally good practice to ask the interviewer at the beginning of the conversation if it’s ok for you to jot down a few notes while you speak, so you come off as a considerate, active listener.
7. Speak slowly and clearly.
You may have some pre-interview jitters or social anxiety, and that’s totally normal. Even the most experienced job seeker can get flustered before meeting someone new. So before you hop on the call, say a few sentences out loud and slow down your speech. You have great things to share about yourself and you want to make sure they do not get lost because you’re talking too fast.
If you’re using the chat box, make an effort to use correct grammar and punctuation.
8. Body language matters.
Just like at an in-person interview, you want to exude confidence in your ability to excel in the role. Being on video heightens the need for you to maintain eye contact, avoid slouching and keep yourself from nervous fidgeting.
Rashmi Mehan encourages putting yourself back in your comfort zone. You have a home field advantage in the virtual world. So you can wear your fuzzy slippers, have a fidget toy under the table, or your favorite mug nearby. Taking deep breaths, remembering to center yourself in your chair and having two feet planted steadily on the ground will help you not only look confident, but feel calmer as well.
9. ABC (Always Be Closing).
An interview is really a sales pitch for yourself. So during your meeting, ask about the skills and attributes the company is looking for. And then seal the deal at the end by highlighting ways in which you’re a match.
Finally, set yourself up for a follow-up by asking the interviewer for their contact information and confirming next steps. Each company will have a different process, so take note and follow up accordingly.
10. Send a thank you.
Just because the meeting went virtual doesn’t mean the same rules don’t apply. You should always send a quick follow-up note after an interview, thanking the interviewer for their time, reiterating your enthusiasm, and confirming next steps. If this is the first email to the company, I would also suggest attaching a copy of your resume.
And if you want more great tips like these, check out my latest posts on NSBE Boston.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
With a master’s degree in Opera, Jen Paxton didn’t think she would have a career in Talent Acquisition, however, she fell in love with helping candidates find the right role. She started her career at a recruiting firm placing technical professionals, then after a few years moved in-house. She has grown teams at later stage startups like Fiksu and LevelUp and built Recruiting and PeopleOps strategies from scratch at small startups like Logentries and TrueMotion. Jen is currently at Privy, an eCommerce Marketing platform that helps small and growing brands get from $0 to $1 million in online sales, as their VP of People+Talent. She focuses on building a company that employees and candidates love.