Virtual career fairs deserve consideration from Black professionals serious about optimizing their careers even during these challenging times. Up until early last year (2019), I associated career fairs with booths filled with bored-looking recruiters seeking entry-level applicants in fluorescent-lit hotel basements. And that was my optimistic association: moderately useful for college students (and the companies looking for them) — absolutely useless for anyone with more experience, brand and network.
However, I changed my mind when it came to virtual career fairs and had such an "ah-ha" moment that my business partner (Michael DeFlorimonte, founder of the African American Employee Network) and I launched a platform called Black Virtual Career Fair last year. The current pandemic has only increased my belief that virtual career fairs are important tools for Black talent.
Here are five reasons why virtual career fairs offer value to Black talent:
1. Virtual career fairs offer a low friction way for Black professionals to explore their options.
One big advantage of our virtual career fairs is that they connect Black talent to new career opportunities. This is especially critical since a disproportionate number of Black professionals have been displaced because of COVID-19 through reductions in force, layoffs and furloughs. In general, virtual career fairs are events where participants engage with exhibiting companies, partner organizations and other attendees within a virtual environment during a fixed time window (typically a few hours).
Virtual career fairs benefit Black talent because they aggregate several opportunities nationwide at a variety of companies. (For example, we have 25 companies exhibiting for our upcoming virtual fair on December 10.) This allows Black professionals to explore several opportunities at their convenience, especially considering the fact that more people are at home with a computer or laptop. This provides a ton of value with a minimum amount of interruption.
Moreover, Black talent that is currently employed can choose to register stealth, which means they can explore opportunities without revealing to their current employer that they are looking for another job. This creates more meaningful exchanges and actual hires.
2. Virtual career fairs offer pre-selection and self-selection.
The bored-looking recruiters that staff many traditional career fair booths leak their feelings of frustration because the folks that approach them are not qualified, (At least not in their estimation.) Virtual career fairs avoid this awkward mismatching situation by providing pre-selection opportunities ahead of the day of the career fair and self-selection (via targeted invitations) ahead of the event. Black virtual career fair also provides information about the job opportunities available ahead of the event so participants know which companies to target ahead of time. This saves time for everyone.
3. Diversity-focused virtual career fairs offer remote work opportunities to Black professionals previously excluded due to location bias.
Location has been a barrier to finding and retaining Black talent. Virtual career fairs allow Black professionals to learn about opportunities across the nation, including remote opportunities. The increase in remote work positions attract Black talent outside of the expensive coastal cities where many employers are headquartered. This opens up the talent pool and provides a way for candidates to experience working for a company before having to commit to moving (if they have to move at all).
4. Virtual career fairs allow Black talent to avoid or escape toxic work environments.
Working in a healthy work environment is a particular concern for Black professionals, who may fear isolation, racism and general workplace toxicity because of past experiences. Virtual career fairs offer participants an opportunity to learn more about the inside work dynamics of organizations. In addition, diversity-focus virtual career fairs provide companies an opportunity to show (not tell) their commitment to diversity, inclusion and belonging.
5. Virtual career fairs help Black talent find growing companies that are serious about diversity.
Virtual career fairs help Black talent connect with recruiters from industry leading companies that are hiring. Instead of letting diversity and inclusion slip off the business agenda, participating companies are committed to diversity and inclusion.
Lakeisha Poole is a founding partner of Black Virtual Career Fair, an online recruiting events platform that focuses on connecting qualified black professionals with recruiters from industry-leading companies committed to diversity. To register for the upcoming fair – GENERAL + TECH on December 10, go to https://virtual.blackvcf.com/en/