No need to wake up at the crack of dawn, no need to waste gas to get to a crowded hall and wait in long lines to see recruiters. In fact, really no need to even get out of your pyjamas.
These are the advantages of a virtual job fair, which experts say are finally destined to take off - after years of more hype than reality. They're different from traditional one-on-one encounters, though, so you'll need to adjust your approach to make them work for you, the experts say.
By far the most ambitious virtual career fair to date in Canada is one being run this week by Monster.ca. More than 10,000 participants signed up in advance and the free fair, which runs through Sunday, is receiving as many as 200 applications an hour, said Robert Waghorn, a spokesman for Monster.ca in Montreal.
Unlike campus job fairs, this virtual fair is not aimed strictly at students, he said. Fewer than 20 per cent of those who have registered are recent entrants to the job force, another 19 per cent have up to five years experience, 37 per cent have worked for between five and 10 years, and 24 per cent have 10 years or more experience.
To get started, participants take a compatibility test, answering questions about their skills and interests to determine which among the companies, ranging from retailing to finance, would have suitable jobs. Then, they click on the virtual booth of employers they want to pitch and download their résumés. They can also link to video presentations about the company and its work culture. Prospective employers do interviews with candidates via video and text.
"An advantage for job seekers is that you can pinpoint in advance who has the right jobs for your skills and what you are looking for," Mr. Waghorn said. "When you go to a traditional job fair, you may have to walk around from booth to booth to wait a long time, only to find out an employer doesn't have any opportunities for your specialty."
The virtual approach will also appeal to passive job seekers - people who are in jobs but might be interested in moving to a new employer and wouldn't want to tip their hand by showing up at a physical job event, Mr. Waghorn added.
While the concept has been around for several years, virtual recruiting hasn't been widespread until now outside the tech industry. Early attempts ran into limits on computer capacity and by the time most people had computers capable of doing video conferencing, the economy had taken a dive and there were too few jobs going for employers to cast a broad net, said Debbie McGrath, president of on-line human resources events producer, HR.com in Aurora, Ont.
"If you talked to me only a year ago, nobody in Canada was paying to sponsor these," she said. But with the economic recovery bringing a rebound in hiring, companies are starting to embrace national on-line recruiting, both in wide-ranging events like Monster's and more specialized events for specific types of jobs.
While virtual job fairs are gaining ground, the trend isn't about to sound the death knell of face-to-face encounters just yet, Ms. McGrath added. "Canadians tend not to be very innovative at trying new things."
However, "those who do adapt to the new reality can gain a great advantage for the future," she said.
From the employers' standpoint, the benefits are in costs and use of personnel.
"When they do physical job fair, they have to pay to set up a booth and have a couple of people out of the office for a day or two. With a virtual booth, they work from their office or from home and can work on company business when they are not doing interviews," said Mark Swartz, Monster.ca's national career coach, based in Richmond Hill, Ont.
"Plus, physical job fairs are limited to a very small area. If you are in Calgary, you won't see people from Manitoba or PEI. Online, the entire country becomes your domain," Mr. Swartz said.
For job seekers, "you don't have to get up at 7 and get in line by half an hour in advance of the door opening. Traditional job fairs only run for one day and that limits the number of potential employers candidates can see. A virtual event can run several days, so you can take your time."
However, while it can seem more informal to make your pitch over the Web, job seekers should remember, this is still a business situation and they still must be profession in their approach, Mr. Swartz cautioned.
"Once you've got your information into their data base, make sure your home voice-mail is set up with a business-like greeting and check in online regularly during the day to be available if potential employers want to contact you," he said.
And because a fair like Monster's extends over several days, it gives you time to do some research before you make your pitch, Mr. Swartz added.
"By getting some background about their services and corporate culture, when you do contact them you can position yourself as a problem-solver who understands what they need and can speak their language," he said.
"That makes an impression on an employer because you've taken your time to get to know them and their problems."
Tips for job seekers in a virtual world:
Set realistic goals - There's a lot of competition, so don't expect to get an immediate job offer from your online résumé alone. You may just want to learn more about what kinds of jobs and employers might suit you best for a more direct approach.
Take a compatibility test - It's tempting to apply to every employer, but the test offered at registration shows you with which of the participating employers you have the best fit. These are the ones you should be researching and targeting.
Research employers beforehand - Visit the booth of every employer that you're targeting. Learn about their history, corporate culture and needs before you contact them directly. Use the information to think about answers to job interview questions that would apply to the positions they have available.
Submit your résumé early - Employers check their in-boxes as soon as a fair opens, so you might as well be front and centre. Proofread carefully and highlight your top accomplishments clearly.
Select a "low privacy" setting - Adjust your computer's settings so all participating employers can readily view your résumé and can contact you, even if you haven't approached them.
Install and use Skype - Employers will be interviewing people directly through this free video-calling service. Rehearse in advance so that you come across as a strong candidate on your webcam.
Ask relevant questions - Once you've gathered information on particular employers at their booths, make contact with those you want to follow up with and discuss something pertinent to them, such as an inquiry about their latest news or a probing question that displays your interest in their needs and highlights your skills and experience.
Chat with other job seekers - Just like at a real career fair, you can network with other job seekers at the event and exchange leads or ask for referrals and ideas.
Share the event - Use the "Share on Facebook or Twitter" buttons to let your friends know about the event. You can also spread the news through Delicious or Google and Yahoo bookmarks. Then let the employers you connect with know that you've helped bring attention to the event they're paying for. They'll be appreciative that you've made the extra effort.
Tips for hiring firms going virtual:
Build a showcase - Spend some extra time developing your virtual booth to make it look engaging and offer insights into the organization and its culture.
Staff with specialists - Have experienced managers and recruiters online who can engage with candidates and not just collect résumés.
Be easy to find - Use a range of key words to describe all the appropriate jobs you have available, as well as geographic locations, to help search engines link candidates with potential jobs.
Prospect - Even if they don't come to you, this is an opportunity to search out candidates that meet your criteria and contact them to schedule potential one-on-one interviews,
Acknowledge attention - Thank everyone who visits your booth
Sources: HR.com and Monster.ca