The Remote Playbook: Navigating the virtual job fair scene

The Remote Playbook is a regular column for people who manage and oversee remote teams. As a remote worker, CIO Dive’s Roberto Torres can help shed light on the issues and trends impacting the management relationship. Want to read more on a topic? Email him directly at [email protected]

College career fairs add an influx of talent into the hiring pipeline for organizations. Posted up at booths, company representatives await budding professionals for in-demand roles. 

In the age of COVID-19, lengthy in-person chats and resume handoffs faded for jobseekers. At least for now.

For the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA), the pandemic brought opportunity. On May 28, the agency threw a virtual job fair, using remote conferencing technology to connect recent grads with hiring companies.

“It provides companies with access to a talent pool they may not normally see,” said Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of FCEDA, in an interview with CIO Dive. The fair connected local employers with grads from 13 higher-education institutions, seven of them historically Black colleges and universities, as well as diversity-focused professional organizations. 

The virtual setting removes geographic barriers and expands the top of the hiring funnel. Managers looking for tech talent need to ensure most in-demand skills are targeted while adapting to the virtual setting.

The new way of hiring

Traditional job fairs, in a virtual iteration, are pushing forward across the country. National Career Fairs, one such organizer of virtual job fairs, will host over 100 virtual job fairs through the end of the year.

During the pandemic, the kinds of tech positions employers need to fill remains unchanged. Software engineers still top the list, with a particular focus on data and cloud, according to data from Indeed. Product managers and quality assurance engineers are also on the list. 

Top tech jobs on Indeed.com, June – July 2020
Rank Position
1 Software engineer
2 Senior software engineer
3 Software architect
4 Full stack developer
5 Developer
6 Front end developer
7 Development operations engineer 
8 Data engineer
9 Principal software engineer
10 Software test engineer

SOURCE: Indeed.com.

Joe Marhamati, co-founder at solar technology company Ipsun Solar, came to FCEDA’s most recent job fair — this one focused on mid-career professionals — looking for an IT administrator with broad skills. The company has done sales virtually for years, so it already had experience in building rapport and getting to know people from behind a screen.

Once or twice a week for the past three months, the company has made hires remotely. To identify talent effectively while remote, Marhamati said managers need to watch for signs of reliability in the virtual setting, much like during in-person interviews.

“Do they look presentable? Are they articulate in the way they carry themselves on Zoom? Basically all the things you look for in person,” he told CIO Dive. 

Hiring when you can’t meet in person

Spotting talent remotely, managers face three key hurdles, according to Salil Pande, CEO and founder at VMock Inc., makers of a talent assessment and development tool:

  • Finding the right kind of talent: “How do I reach out to candidates who are going to be of high significance to me, and who value the position that I have?” Finding a targeted set of candidates proves complex in the virtual arena. 
  • The technology itself: “I don’t think anyone has the technology which can truly solve the problem of virtual recruiting, where you can offer as good a solution as face to face,” Pande said.
  • Fair and balanced recruiting: Removing bias remains a challenge in the virtual sphere as well.

The first step to effective hiring in the context of remote job fairs is focusing on skill over pedigree, said Vivek Ravisankar, co-founder and CEO at HackerRank. Especially in new college graduates, the metric to watch is the candidate’s ability to grow, as opposed to what college they graduated from or what their GPA was.

HackerRank customers such as Twilio have created in-house programs to foster developers who don’t come from traditional professional backgrounds, such as those who are self-taught. Apprentices enter the six-month program to develop skills before shipping production-level code.

Free from time constraints, companies can improve their approach to virtual job fairs by spreading them out to a full week instead of a day, said Katy Tynan, principal analyst, employee experience at Forrester. Seeking to engage with top applicants, managers can tailor company touchpoints by role or area.

The pivot to distributed work allows companies the opportunity to rethink hiring strategies in general, said Tynan. This applies especially to tech jobs such as software engineers, who need to prove they have the skills to deliver value.

“Companies are thinking about their interview process end to end, what that’s going to look like, and how they’re going to evaluate people’s skills,” said Tynan. “Some of that might involve using technology or talent assessment tools they weren’t using in the past.”