MIT’s annual spring career fair is going virtual (Wednesday, April 8, 2020), presenting new challenges for even seasoned job fair candidates. While the nature of online interactions is different, doing your homework before the fair is still key to making a strong impression with recruiters. Check out our top tips from CAPD’s webinar and learn how to get the most out of your time in this virtual environment.

Getting started

Interactions in the career fair will take place largely in chat rooms. A candidate could start in a group chat session, move to a private chat, and then receive an invitation for a personal video chat with a recruiter. Watch this short video for a demo of how the platform works.

While registration may seem less time sensitive for a virtual fair, you should register early to avoid any technical problems and give employers a chance to review your materials. Once registered, upload a resume that demonstrates a range of behavioral and technical skills that will appeal to all the employers you’re interested in. You can follow up with a more tailored resume or cover letter after the fair.

Take a moment to update your LinkedIn profile and make sure it demonstrates your unique skills and career interests; employers often screen that next after identifying a promising candidate. Make sure your profile is memorable and distinct from other candidates. Look at CAPD’s LinkedIn guide to learn more.

Express your interest

Screen company profiles online under “event details.” Take a look at what candidates they are looking for, but don’t limit yourself if you want to inquire about unlisted opportunities such as internships. Companies can bulk download resumes for candidates who express interest so make sure to check the box next to any company you’re considering. Even if you can’t attend a chat session, indicating your interest will ensure you are on their radar.

screenshot of employers tab in virtual career fair

Don’t forget to indicate your interest to recruiters; check the “Interest” box under the “Employers” tab. Explore the “Chat Schedule” tab to plan your day.

Make a schedule

The career fair runs from 9am-5pm ET on Wednesday, April 8, but you still need to plan your schedule around company chat sessions whose hours may differ. Explore the “Chat Schedule” tab and plan your time so you don’t miss out on an opportunity to connect with a recruiter.

Prepare and practice your pitch

Once you identify a list of companies you’d like to meet, think through how you might introduce yourself to each employer. Prepare a written pitch, and be ready to copy/paste it from a document. Consider what questions recruiters might ask, and draft potential responses. You will also want to brainstorm tailored questions to ask each employer. Have this “cheat sheet” script ready to go so you have a starting point in the chat room. You don’t want to take too much time crafting the perfect response in real-time.

While it’s important to be prepared for written interactions, you will also want to be ready for requests from recruiters for a personal video chat. Practice introducing yourself on camera not just in a chat. Schedule a video chat with a friend, and mock interview each other.

Snoop past conversations strategically

Unlike in-person career fairs, chat rooms keep a history of previous conversations, which you should use to your advantage. Don’t repeat the same questions; instead, use past responses to refine yours. Other candidates will be identified by their first name and last initial. You can have a group conversation, but keep it professional. Recruiters will be able to reference chat conversations after the fair.

Be present

You can join multiple chat rooms at a time, but do so judiciously. You want to make sure you are ready to promptly respond to chat messages directed to you and requests for video chats. If you need to direct your attention to something else, simply leave and reenter the chat room once you are ready to fully participate.

Look (and type) the part

First impressions matter and in this virtual fair your chat messages will be scrutinized first. Remember to write professionally and don’t fall into shorthand.

While in this age of online everything it might be tempting to attend this virtual career fair in your sweats, recruiters have the opportunity to request personal video chats. Be ready for these requests and dress as you would for an in-person fair. Consider the background in your webcam. If possible, make sure your setting isn’t messy or distracting, and check that your face is properly lit. Instead of hunching over your laptop, prop your computer on books for the video call for a stronger presence on camera. Use headphones to limit background noise. Consider having a conversation ahead of time with family, roommates, or other people with whom you share space to let them know you’ll be attending a career fair and will be unavailable for part or all of the day.

Follow up

After your virtual interaction, take the opportunity to thank the recruiter and follow up with more tailored materials, including a targeted resume and cover letter.

Following these steps will help you make the most out of your virtual career fair experience. Check out additional resources in the EECS CommKit or CAPD’s Career Handbook.

Blog post originally written by Caitlin Stier, MIT ChemE Comm Lab and Career Services Manager
Adapted by Deanna Montgomery, MIT EECS Comm Lab Manager