How to ace virtual careers fairs

Sep 3, 2020 | Attraction & marketing

The majority of student attraction and marketing on campus will be virtual this autumn. ISE’s Stephen Isherwood gives his top tips on getting the most out of virtual careers fairs.

Virtual careers fairs are not a new invention. The Open University has successfully delivered online fairs for several years. What will change this year is the number of employers and students accessing virtual fairs as Covid-19 has forced the cancellation of the traditional face-to-face fair.

Some virtual fairs will take place on a single day and be sector specific, cross sector, or theme based. For example:

  • The University of Nottingham will host four virtual sector specific fairs on single days: Law; Management, Finance and Consulting; Engineering, Science, Technology and Biosciences; Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy.
  • The Autumn Showcase at Cardiff University is a single day event for employers from all sectors.
  • The Inclusive Futures Virtual Fair is a diversity and social justice themed event created and run by a collaboration of six widening participation universities: Greenwich, Hertfordshire, London Metropolitan, West London, Kingston and Westminster.

Other events will run over a number of days and offer a mixture of opportunities to interact with students. For example:

  • University of Liverpool are running a 10-day interactive, virtual event running over three weeks.
  • Cardiff University are hosting collaborative four-day events, with input and delivery from employers, careers staff and placement staff, which culminate in a virtual fair on day four.
  • University of Hertfordshire are running their week-long WorkFest with placement events, employer talks and a main fair combined with a STEM Fair.

Advance preparation for virtual fairs is essential if you are to attract the best talent to apply for your programme.

Students attending virtual fairs will expect more than just a chat function. And it is likely you will engage with more students than you would at a traditional face-to-face fair so be prepared to manage a high volume of interactions.


Six top tips to ace virtual careers fairs

1. Understand the platform

Not all universities use the same providers to deliver their virtual fairs. It is important that you take the time to understand the technology they will be using for each individual fair you work with. Organisers will offer training and full joining instructions and all participants should take full advantage of these materials.


2. Content is crucial

Fairs will have a range of interaction options with students, not all of it ‘in the moment’, e.g. webinars, Q&A session. And some of this content will be available post-event. Content should be engaging. As with any user experience, understanding the impact of your materials on students will help you make the right impression on your target audience. Clarity and consistency are key.


3. Focus on diversity

Because digital platforms offer a greater variety of involvement options and fewer barriers to engagement, you will be able to work with a more diverse range of students. You should prepare for this by making your content accessible to all students from all backgrounds. Think of virtual fairs as a means to enhance your diversity strategy through better targeting, messaging and use of data.


4. Brief your team

Nothing can damage your employer brand with students more than inconsistent, out of date or missing information. Students are more likely to use chat functions than speak online and as communication is instant, your will team will need information at their fingertips. Be prepared for questions on vacancies, internships, visas, location and selection processes. Put yourself in the shoes of the student – what would you ask an employer?


5. Manage the data

One advantage of online platforms is the range of information you will be able to access on the students you interact with. Diversity, subject, year of study, sector focus data will all be gathered more readily by the platforms. This will help you target those students you want to follow up with at a later stage.


6. Measure your impact

In addition to individual student data, you will also have access to data on the overall impact of your campaign: attendance rates, number of views, appointments booked etc. As with any other aspect of your marketing and attraction campaign, this data should be assessed and used to improve performance at later events.

Read more advice, case studies and insights in ISE’s Planning for a virtual autumn: a campus engagement guide for employers

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