Ramping Up Recruiting: 5 Best Practices for Virtual Job Fairs

March 25, 2021 | 1275 Views

Ramping Up Recruiting: 5 Best Practices for Virtual Job Fairs

Patrick Yearout, FMP, CHT

Director of Innovation, Recruiting, and Training | Ivar's & Kidd Valley Restaurants

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the vast majority of personal and professional gatherings have gone virtual in the past year: business meetings, training classes, family get-togethers, game nights, and even dates. Scheduling a Zoom session instead of meeting in-person may not always be the best way to connect, but it’s definitely a safer avenue for keeping ourselves healthy.

For many recruiters in the hospitality world, career fairs have also recently moved onto the internet. Rather than positioning ourselves in a crowded meeting room behind a table full of applications, job descriptions, and logoed giveaway items, we can now sit in front of a computer and ask our favorite interview questions like “What is your biggest weakness?” (OK, not really) to potential employees via a webcam and microphone. For those of you CHART members who are considering participating in an online recruiting event this spring as we ramp up for a hopefully reinvigorated summer season at our hotels and restaurants, here are 5 suggestions to ensure they are productive experiences for you and the candidates:

1. Determine the right virtual location

At the first virtual job fair in which I participated, I thought it was important to be in a secure, private, quiet space so I could conduct the interview with the least amount of disruptions, so I decided to set up in my home office. This decision resulted in some very quiet interviews – but really, they were too quiet, because I was unable to convey any of the energy and spirit of being inside one of our restaurants. So for the next one, I set up in an empty banquet room of one of our full-service locations and used a tablet as my streaming device. That way I could start off the interview in a quiet space and focus on the candidates and their answers, but then also take the tablet around the restaurant and show off the space, introduce candidates to potential co-workers, and provide a sense of the upbeat working environment at Ivar’s. If you don’t have an empty banquet room to begin the session, see if you might be able to borrow a manager’s office, or just find a quiet corner of the dining room or lobby, and then move on from there. And most importantly, always make sure your Wi-Fi signal works everywhere in the operation before you take the tablet around with you – you don’t want to accidentally disconnect one of your top prospects!

2. Plan your marketing materials

You may be asked to submit marketing materials (such as a company photos or a logo) to the vendor who is setting up the virtual job fair so they can build out a company page for you on the recruiting site. If that is the case, give your marketing department plenty of lead time to create such materials. Don’t go to the graphics designer at 4:30 the night before the fair with a long list of needs, because you might just end up interviewing candidates surrounded by a blank white field (which will only make the competing employers look more prepared and professional).

3. Prepare your responses

Time is of the essence when it comes to recruiting; many candidates are applying to multiple jobs and tend to respond to those who reach out to them first. So before the job fair starts, have your post-interview communication already drafted so you can make a few quick edits (such as adding a candidate’s name into the script) and then send it out immediately with any important follow-up information. One thing I like to do is offer candidates an e-gift card so they can visit our restaurants and try our food, and hopefully during the visit have such a great experience that they will want to work for Ivar’s. So before the job fairs, I work with our office manager and get all the e-gift card numbers ready so they can be blasted out as soon as I am finished with the interviews.

4. Ask about interview recordings

Make sure to ask the company that is setting up the virtual job fair if the interviews can be recorded, and if so, how will you get access to those recordings. Again, time is of the essence, and rather than waiting to set up a second and/or third interview with other managers in your organization, it is often much faster if you can send a link to those managers and they can watch the video of the interview you already conducted.

5. Promote the event

Finally, don’t rely simply on the job fair vendor to promote the event; you should be promoting it as well: on your company’s social media pages, with flyers in the restaurants (or flyers attached or inserted into to-go bags), posters, email blasts, communication with current staff in case their friends or family are looking for work, etc. The community in which you do business is probably going to pay more attention to an event with your company’s name on it than a generic firm like "American Career Fairs!"

In addition to the best practices listed above, all the standard preparations you would go through at an in-person job fair apply: dress the part, pay attention to the candidates, and be ready to talk about your company and its open positions (and share any recent success stories of new hires or promotions). Good luck to all the recruiters who will be participating in virtual job fairs in the next few months, and I hope you find your next generation of hospitality superstars!

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Comments (5)

  1. Wendy Popkin:
    Mar 25, 2021 at 04:37 PM

    I appreciate your perspective from your participation in virtual events, thanks so much for sharing these helpful tips Patrick! Do you find it more productive, in terms of quality/number of candidates, to be part of group job fairs in comparison to holding your own? If so, do you collaborate with local workforce boards, Chambers of Commences and/or other types of partners that tend to be most effective? Thank you, Wendy

  2. Patrick A Yearout:
    Mar 25, 2021 at 05:26 PM

    Hi Wendy! Because we are a smaller company with a limited support staff (some of whom were furloughed during the pandemic), we definitely preferred to use the resources of other organizations rather than trying to set up our own events. Also, we didn't sign up for fairs with any of the big national companies because of the high cost, but stuck with local institutions that were helping their constituents by connecting them with employers who were hiring in their communities. It ended up being much less expensive and we could better serve our specific restaurants that were looking for staff members.

  3. Wendi Scarborough:
    Mar 25, 2021 at 06:10 PM

    Hi Patrick! Great advice and as always, you are the epitome of a CHART ambassador by generously sharing the best practices you've developed as a result of your experiences. Were you looking for hourly employees or Management or both in these virtual job fairs? What was different in your strategy for each? Looking back, did you have better results with certain institutions to recruit hourly vs. Managers? Thanks!

  4. Patrick A Yearout:
    Mar 26, 2021 at 02:56 PM

    Thank you for the kind words, Wendi! It's nice to know the content is appreciated!

    We were looking for hourly staff during the times I participated in the virtual job fairs. Our management teams were still in tact and we did not need to recruit any from the outside (most are generally promoted from within anyway).

    Also at the time of my participation, many restaurants in the Seattle area were either still closed or had closed permanently, so there were a lot of restaurant staffers looking for work. I will say some folks were not too keen to rush back because of COVID concerns, and others were content with the amount earned from unemployment (at the time which included the $600 extra per week). But the unemployment payments were based on hourly wages and not the amount they made in tips, so there were a great number of front-of-house personnel eager to get back to work as servers, bussers, and hosts.

    As I mentioned in my other response, we declined to participate in the career fairs put on by the national companies - they were just ridiculously expensive and we had no idea what kind of candidates we would get. So we stuck with the community fairs which were almost always free for the employers. Some of them asked for donations, and others asked for a donated gift card to raffle off to candidates (which we gladly provided).

    Now these free ones did not always have a lot of candidates with restaurant backgrounds, which is one reason why I stressed in the blog post the importance of promoting the event through your channels so that restaurant job-seekers will understand it will be worth their while to attend. But we found that there were always some high-quality candidates in the mix and we ended up hiring several folks from each one I went to. The questions I asked were fairly standard for a regular interview, focusing on their hospitality experience and career goals.

    I hope that helps, but please reach out to me directly at patrick@keepclam.com if I can answer anything additional.

  5. Wendy Popkin:
    Mar 27, 2021 at 02:54 PM

    I appreciate your helpful and thoughtful replies to our questions, Patrick, thank you so much! (And isn't it a funny coincidence that the questions came from two Wendy(i)s!?)