Virtual careers events v In-person careers events: The key differences

Everything you need to know about online careers fairs and other careers events – from how virtual fairs work to who’s running them.

Most students will attend at least one graduate careers fair (sometimes called a jobs fair) during their time at university. Generally held on campus, careers fairs allow you to meet a number of employers, postgraduate course providers and careers advisers all in one place on the same day.

However, the coronavirus has made in-person events on this scale impossible for now. The good news? Graduate job fairs (and other careers events) haven’t been cancelled – just moved online. Before now, only a handful of virtual fairs existed but, due to Covid-19, there will be many more in autumn 2020.

What does a virtual fair look like?

The exact layout and features of a virtual careers fair will depend on the platform the organiser is using, but you’ll often find:

  • a home page with details of the fair
  • a ‘main hall’ where you can access all of the exhibitor ‘stands’
  • an ‘organisers office’ staffed by the fair organiser, e.g. for help with tech issues
  • a CV clinic
  • Seminar sessions, e.g. webinars and panel Q&As

A typical exhibitor stand might include:

  • a bio about their organisation or institution, its student and graduate programmes and courses
  • answers to FAQs
  • videos for you to watch, e.g. of current graduates talking about their experiences
  • links to their careers’ websites, course information and social media channels
  • job and placement vacancies

You can then interact with exhibitors on a one-to-one basis via a chat box (where you can instigate a conversation and only you and the employer can see your messages). There is usually also the option to request or register your interest in a video or audio call with the employer – but it is ultimately up to them whether to accept and call you.

You can also interact with exhibitors at the live sessions they’re participating in. At some virtual events, any questions you ask or comments you post in the chat during these sessions can be seen/heard by the other attendees.

Tip: Some fairs will open in advance for you to express interest in exhibitors and book into CV Clinics. Make sure to check the event details and any communications you receive so you can maximise your time at the fair

Virtual fairs v in-person: what’s different and what’s the same?

While the state-the-obvious difference is that you’re not talking to exhibitors face-to-face, there are other significant differences and similarities to take note of.

  • At a physical fair, exhibitors don’t have access to any information about you before speaking – and they leave the approaching entirely up to the students. At virtual fairs though, exhibitors can see the profile you’ve filled out, and they can reach out to students whose profiles meet their requirements.

Tip: Make sure to complete your profile as much as possible to maximise your visibility to exhibitors

  • Just because exhibitors can reach out to you at virtual fairs, doesn’t mean you should wait for them to make the first move. You’ll need to be proactive and initiate conversations with the exhibitors you want to talk to. If you’re feeling shy or nervous at a physical event, an exhibitor might see you hovering and start chatting to you, but that won’t happen at a virtual fair.
  • You can still ‘attend’ a virtual fair as many times as you want to during opening hours, for example, you can leave and log back on or check for notifications later if you need to work around lectures and other commitments. However, virtual eliminates the need to be in a specific location – even if it is only a ten-minute walk from your halls of residence. You can log in on your device from wherever you are.

Tip: Make sure to check the technical requirements for the virtual fair you are attending as some may have recommended browsers etc.

  • In a virtual environment, there’s no capacity constraints and no need to stand around in a queue to speak to an exhibitor. You can send a message, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they are free. You should still exercise patience and manners while waiting for a response from an employer, though. Give them time to work through their messages and, if it’s getting close to the end of the fair and you haven’t heard back, follow up politely.
  • As with in-person fairs, there are several virtual fairs that serve different student audiences. While some fairs cover all careers and types of opportunities, others are specific to a career sector (e.g. law, business, the creative industries or engineering and technology) or a type of opportunity (e.g. internships or part-time jobs and volunteering).
  • The careers fair freebies students have come to know and love – stationery, water bottles, stress balls, portable phone chargers, chocolate fountains – won’t be a feature of virtual fairs. However, some exhibitors are known to run competitions prizes in place of the usual freebies.

Tip: Read our six tips for succeeding at virtual careers fairs for more guidance on what to do before, during and after a virtual fair.

Who is running virtual fairs?

Most universities are planning virtual careers fairs for the 2020/21 academic year. You can check the gradireland events page to see when your university fair is taking place. gradireland are running their gradireland Graduate Careers Fair on 30 September and 01 October 2020.

What other virtual careers events might there be?

You can expect other types of careers events to become virtual. Check what online events your university careers service is arranging this year, such as skills workshops and employer presentations.

There may also be virtual networking opportunities outside of your university – such as those run by professional bodies specifically for their field.

Head to our events page to register for the gradireland Graduate Careers Fair and to see all the upcoming university events for this academic year.

A version of this article first appeared on

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