The new virtual reality in recruitment – why many careers fairs will stay online

Sep 10, 2021 | Attraction & marketing

Content provided by: Handshake

Handshake offers advice on hosting virtual or hybrid career events this autumn.

Whether it’s hybrid working patterns, the emergence of new video calling or instant messaging tools, or even the humble sourdough starter, COVID has brought a lot of changes into our day-to-day lives.

What they all have in common is they’re either a means of improving flexibility in life, or a by-product of having done so and created more spare time for yourself. While not everybody has managed to banish the commute – and for those with kids, there have definitely been complications – a lot of these changes will endure in years to come, having been pushed into widespread acceptance or culture by the pandemic.

So how does this affect student employers? After all, it’s back to campus life for those in higher education this autumn. Surely there won’t be much appetite for Zoom calls and digital freshers week events? Well, maybe not, but the virtual world of recruitment has opened up a lot of flexibility and innovation that students aren’t ready to leave behind. And employers shouldn’t be hasty to drop them either.

Based on US Handshake data, 87% of students said they still want some virtual element in their career events post-COVID, and indications are that this holds globally. But what is it about virtual fairs that means 92% of higher ed institutions plan to host virtual or hybrid career events this autumn?

Keep it flexible

As with remote working capabilities, flexibility is a significant selling point for virtual careers fairs.

For employers, it means that it’s easier than ever to broaden out your “catchment area” and recruit the best talent available regardless of location – particularly with hybrid or remote working making it easier to bridge the gap for those based outside of your locality. Same goes for careers fairs at HE institutions that are a long way from your headquarters – having a presence becomes a far less costly and time-consuming endeavour.

Students have also indicated that the flexibility suits them too. For those with disabilities, not being bound by a set location can be really beneficial, and opening up the scope of opportunities is handy for those looking at fairly focused career paths that might be disproportionately located in one part of the UK.

Inclusion is key

But beyond distance, virtual careers fairs can help create a more even playing field for all students. Candidates from non-white backgrounds can face a more difficult time at in-person careers fairs, with concerns about the implicit or explicit bias of prospective employers. But these barriers are lowered by virtual careers fairs, which allow students to connect with employers directly ahead of a careers event – and the same goes for interviews. Again, US research found that white students were the only ethnic group to prefer in-person versus virtual  recruitment.

Similarly, those who struggle with confidence or don’t operate well in busy spaces can find the setup of virtual careers fairs a relief. Rather than having to elbow one’s way to the front of a queue to speak to someone at a stand – all of which can be nerve-wracking – it’s possible to make more direct connections.

All this means employers can build wider, more diverse candidate pools, finding candidates who show promise, who have made an effort to reach out virtually, or who have the best qualifications for the job.

Virtual means cost-effective direct recruitment is possible

At the root of many of these newfound advantages is the fact that having an at least partly online model for careers fairs can take the cost out of direct recruitment for employers. With the job market likely to continue opening up as the economy does so, a lot of new positions are likely to open up for applicants waiting to kick off their careers in earnest.

But this wave of new candidates can mean finding the right talent is difficult, expensive or time-consuming. Virtual careers fairs – and virtual recruiting in general – facilitates employers directly reaching out to students that fit the bill ahead of time for 1-on-1 conversations. The same goes vice versa too – allowing you to know that a candidate has gone out of their way to make contact ahead of time. If it’s a good fit, employers can suggest they apply for upcoming roles.

With the main checkmark against direct recruitment in the past having been cost and time, student employers can steal a march on competitors by looking at direct recruitment again, with the pandemic having eroded many of the barriers to entry for things like virtual fairs and new technology like our own Handshake platform helping to facilitate these connections on a greater scale than was previously possible.

As part of our Early Careers Talent Recovery Fund, launched exclusively for UK universities, Handshake is proud to be hosting a series of Virtual Careers Fairs, offering thousands of students and employers to connect – completely free of charge. We’re inviting employers to join an impressive roster of companies including Tik Tok, Expedia, PwC and the Royal Air Force, who are already signed up to one of our fairs. For more information, please visit:


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