The roller coaster started for David B. (name has been changed to protect the person’s confidentiality) in the summer of 2015.
Happily employed at a major technology company for more than a decade, David’s job suddenly disappeared. Having been comfortably employed for such a long time, David said he didn’t really know how or where to start finding his next job.
David began to scour postings at his former employer for similar job openings. Unfortunately, none proved to be a good fit. Then, it was out into the broader job market, making contacts at other companies and participating in two to three interviews per week, either in person or over the phone.
“I didn’t make too much progress with that,” David said. “It was a real emotional roller coaster.”
Success for David would come after learning about Virtual Career Fairs (VCF) hosted by Lee Hecht Harrison. David’s former employer had partnered with LHH to provide career transition support and the VCF is one of the most potent tools available to help connect employees with hiring companies and move on to their next jobs.
Right away, David noticed one of the main advantages of the VCF: none of the noise and anxiety of trying to meet prospective employers at a traditional job fair, which is typically held in a big, busy meeting room or hall. “You don’t need to drive all the way downtown and pay for parking. There were no distractions from being in a large group of people. You didn’t need to stand in line with a bunch of other people waiting to talk to a recruiter.”
The other major advantage David noticed was the amount of information available to candidates prior to the actual VCF. David said that at in-person career fairs, you may know the identity of companies participating but you have very little information about the job openings they may have, or the culture of the organizations.
At the VCF, David said there was an opportunity to preview the available positions while also getting a good sense of the culture of the organization doing the hiring. This allowed candidates to really focus in on the location of job openings, and the culture of the organizations doing the hiring. In this way, David said, he could focus his search on job openings that appeared to offer the best practical and cultural fit.
Eventually, David made a promising connection with a recruiter from Physio-Control, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of external defibrillation and automated CPR devices. He had a 15-minute online conversation with the recruiter, with a promise to have a follow-up phone conversation within a few days of the VCF. The process moved effortlessly from this first contact, to a phone interview and a high-level screening with a Physio-Control engineer on technical qualifications. Finally, there were several hours of in-person interviews with the hiring team. The process concluded when David was offered, and accepted, a position with Physio-Control.
“The whole experience was really great,” David said. “It was much more convenient and productive than an in-person career fair. There is much less stress, you only have to talk to the companies you want to talk to. Overall, it’s just a better way of making a career connection.”
David’s last comment—about the importance of making sincere connections rather than just posting or finding open job postings—is quickly becoming a differentiator in the career transition space. This is particularly true in the area of virtual career fairs that have proliferated in the past five years as job seekers acquired the technology and skills that have allowed them to fully embrace virtual networking solutions.
However, there is a growing rift between virtual career fairs that offer participants a genuine opportunity to build ongoing relationships, and glorified online job-posting boards. A virtual career fair is only effective if it serves as a conduit between talent and talent-hungry organizations. However, that is an accomplishment that is much easier said than done.
The flaw for many virtual career fairs, and in fact for many players in the career transition space, is a gap between the people providing the transition support and the hiring and talent acquisition managers. In other words, the people working to place transitioning workers have little or no contact with the people trying to find new sources of talent.
LHH has been able to bridge this gap by using our Virtual Career Fairs to work with both the candidates and the talent/hiring managers in concert. That means while the candidates are being counseled on how to find and approach potential employers, we are also working with those employers to help them identify the exact people they need to augment their talent pipeline. This allows LHH to develop intimate knowledge of both candidate and hiring organization, something that is simply not available to most other virtual career fair hosts. By focusing the VCF not just on current job openings, but on future openings as well, both the individual candidate and the hiring organization have the best chance of making a connection.
Employers have also responded positively to LHH’s virtual platform, which allows for more focused, more intimate connections with fewer of the distractions that afflict more traditional career fairs.
Cheryle Elder, principle recruiter at Physio Control, said the LHH virtual career fair offered a lower-cost, higher-contact experience that in some ways was more productive than in-person interviews. The simplicity of the virtual platform, combined with the quality of the candidates, allowed for a true, non-biased interview experience.
“We were able to block out a lot of stuff and provide undivided attention to the candidates,” Elder said. “Then we could focus on recruiting for talent and cultural fit.” However, the biggest advantage was LHH’s focus on the VCF as a talent development strategy, Elder said. Physio-Control previously calculated the total cost of finding talent at 20-30 percent of base salary. Using the VCF platform, Elder said “Recruitment costs were greatly diminished. We went from days or weeks of effort to just a few hours of time online to find great people.”
In addition, VCFs represent other value-added opportunities beyond lower recruitment costs. That was certainly the experience at Pharmacyclics, an emerging, fast-growing pharmaceutical company that partnered with LHH to use VCFs to help stock their talent pipeline.
“A big part of the value of the VCF for us was as a branding venue,” said Ken Baker, head of Talent Acquisition at Pharmacyclics. “It has increased visibility for our company. These events gave us a voice, a stage. This was really important for our company because we are small and relatively unknown in the industry.”
Pharmacyclics, which is focused on developing and commercializing drugs to treat oncology and immune-mediated diseases, was recently bought by AbbVie. The growth of the company over the previous four years had been intense, with Pharmacyclics adding more than 100 positions per year. Baker said that created a significant challenge in talent acquisition. At the same time, Baker said he was aware that there were layoffs in other big pharma organizations, which created an enormous pool of top talent waiting to be mined. The challenge, he said, was finding an efficient way of connecting with this pool of talent and putting Pharmacyclics on their radar.
“Most people in the industry simply did not know about our company, our exponential growth and our need for talent,” Baker said. “The VCF gave us a profile with thousands of potential candidates that we might not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet. It allowed Pharmacyclics to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our peers and compete for talent.”
Baker also reiterated the point made by Physio-Control about the cost-effectiveness of the VCF. “My recruiters and sourcers are always scouring the world for talent. The VCF gave us an opportunity to search across a larger group of people and disciplines in one place.”
Where previously the traditional or virtual career fair experience had been an elaborate game of pin the tail on the donkey, LHH has been able to find a virtual model that dramatically shrinks the gap between top talent and hiring organizations. That makes for lasting, meaningful and mutually beneficial connections.
Too many players in the career transition world rely on technology alone to deliver on all of their objectives. Matching the right candidate with the right job involves a careful, well-designed blend of technology and human intervention. This allows individuals and organizations to focus on the intangibles, like culture and fit, as well as tangibles, like skills and experience.