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How to Wow an Online Job Interviewer

September 12, 2014 | Telepresence Options

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Story and images by Anne Fisher / Fortune

Virtual career fairs are a lot like the traditional kind, but the differences are important. Here's how to get ready.

Dear Annie: I'm just starting my senior year in college, and the career center at my school has announced a virtual career fair, taking place in a couple of weeks, where students can "meet" a big group of potential employers online. I've been to a couple of in-person career fairs (I got a great summer internship at one of them last year), but I'm not familiar with the virtual kind. How do they work? Besides having a resume to upload, is there anything else I should do ahead of time? -- Wondering in Wisconsin

Dear W.W.: Great question. Virtual career fairs aren't new, but they're rapidly growing in popularity, in large part because they're a cost-effective way for employers to size up large numbers of far-flung candidates without having to put recruiters on airplanes.

"I've gotten about 75% more invitations to virtual career fairs in the past year than ever before," says Chris Brown, vice president of human resources for West Corp., the parent of video conferencing company InterCall, which has also hosted a couple dozen online fairs.

Everyone from veterans' groups, to career sites like Monster, to colleges like yours is sponsoring virtual recruiting events these days, Brown notes, but "Millennials are really leading the way on this. They're much more comfortable than previous age groups with doing everything via phone or laptop."

In some respects, a virtual job fair is similar to the face-to-face kind. Once you register for the event and log on at the appointed time, you'll find you can download information about the employers who are participating, watch videos and, at preset times, stream live presentations. Instead of the usual career-fair booths, you'll find chat rooms where you can drop in and ask questions.

"Often there's also a Skype component, where you can sign up for a job interview," says Brown. "The online setting gives you options for different ways of learning about a lot of prospective employers at once."

To make the most of that smorgasbord of choices, do some research in advance on the companies that will be there, just as with an in-person job fair, and choose a few you're especially interested in "meeting." Brown suggests checking out company websites too.

"Often, employers make a lot of information available before the fair starts, so you can go in ahead of time and look around," he says. The person who's available in the chat room during the event may not be the right one--you may be looking for an engineering job and find yourself chatting with a marketing recruiter, for example--so "the more specific you can be about what you're looking for, the better that recruiter will be able to connect you to the right person at the company."

Brown offers a checklist of suggestions on how to stand out:

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