The economic fallout from COVID-19 has been intense, particularly when it comes to job losses which, according to Market Watch, have totaled roughly 22 million. Reuters reports that just over half of these job cuts have been recouped, but still, many Americans find themselves out of work and concerned about making ends meets.
Online job fairs have provided a great opportunity for job seekers to network, and speak directly to recruiters remotely via video conference since in-person job fairs and other kinds of conventions have been canceled due to the pandemic. One job fair that is coming up is the Black Virtual Career Fair (BVCF) Series, founded by Lakeisha Poole, founder of Onyx Community Connection; and Michael DeFlorimonte, Executive Leadership Team, African American Employee Network (AAEN), which will have 500 jobs up for grabs from 30 different companies.
I recently caught up with the architects of BVCF to learn more about this year’s event.
TNJ.com: How did the Black Virtual Career Fair Series come to be?
Lakeisha Poole and Michael DeFlorimonte: Black Virtual Career Fair is a joint venture of two Black professional organizations: the African American Employee Network (AAEN), a communications network serving and supporting African American professionals in the areas of career development, information and events (education, networking); and Onyx Community Connection (Onyx), a Black professionals organization committed to amplifying Black excellence through regular business, social and community service events and communications. Together as BVCF, we leverage a syndicated network that reaches qualified candidates nationwide in our mission to connect Black professionals with corporate America, and assist in advancing their careers.
Lakeisha Poole and Michael DeFlorimonte: The key to finding Black talent is to look for Black talent, know where to look, and be willing to invest in the effort. We noticed companies were struggling with increasing their diversity pipeline and wanted to create a win-win opportunity for black professionals and companies. Our collective experience in organizing events for Black professionals, Employee Resource Groups, and diversity initiatives gave us a firm foundation on which to launch BVCF.
TNJ.com: What can attendees expect from this year’s event?
Lakeisha Poole and Michael DeFlorimonte: Attendees can expect to learn about over 500 hundred job opportunities throughout the country. We also have several companies offering remote opportunities. Besides the job opportunities, attendees will have a chance to speak (real-time audio, video or text chat) with company representatives and learn more about the work culture and benefits at the participating companies. The upcoming fair (October 7-9) features 30 companies, including our major sponsors Addepar; Apple; Merrill, A Bank of America Company; Stanford Health Care, Workday and Zendesk.
TNJ.com: Are there challenges that go along with organizing this kind of event?
Lakeisha Poole and Michael DeFlorimonte: Yes, it is always challenging to coordinate large scale events because of all the moving parts. However, the challenges are met with rewards when we achieve our goal in getting more black professionals hired. We also face the challenge of getting candidates, both passive and active, to understand the importance of registering early. Employers are given access to the candidate registration database in advance starting on October 2nd for the upcoming fair on Oct 7-9. They start looking for candidates early that meet their criteria and schedule interviews for the days of the fair. There are a limited number of slots, so while all registrants can visit the virtual booths and interact with numerous recruiters during the fair, a scheduled interview is advantageous.
TNJ.com: Was it always virtual, or is this the first year it is virtual due to the pandemic?
Lakeisha Poole and Michael DeFlorimonte: It has always been virtual, by design. We launched BVCF in May 2019 after receiving feedback from corporations who were not always satisfied with the connections they made from participation in traditional physical fairs. Sensing that passive (employed) candidates would be more comfortable with virtual fairs because of their convenience, access and somewhat anonymous nature, virtual was a natural fit. It is also attractive to employers because of their cost effectiveness and minimal logistics. Fortunately for us, we were able to complete a few successful fairs prior to the pandemic. “Virtual” is now commonplace, but our experience with Black professionals, diversity efforts, strategic relationships, curated databases and locating and attracting talent is key to our success.
TNJ.com: What kind of feedback have you gotten over the past 2 events from attendees?
Lakeisha Poole and Michael DeFlorimonte: Our exhibiting companies are often surprised at the number and quality of mid to senior level black professionals at our fairs, which they normally struggle to find through traditional sourcing channels.
TNJ.com: Do you have a particular goal this year or a desired success rate for getting job seekers placed in new positions?
Lakeisha Poole and Michael DeFlorimonte: Yes! We want all of our companies to discover great people that end up working at our exhibiting companies. In this business, success is defined by hires, quality talent and a growing pipeline. We also want our black professional talent to create relationships with the companies so they will be contacted in the future even if there isn’t a position match at the present time.
TNJ.com: What is one highlight that you derive from this career fair series?
Lakeisha Poole and Michael DeFlorimonte: We have over 500 positions available at our upcoming virtual career fair (Oct 7-9), and we’re excited by the number of companies showing interest in future fairs. We are planning 3-4 fairs for 2022, and the schedule should be available mid-October.
(*To register for the event, head over to the Black Virtual Career Fair website.)