By Dan Lindley

    A beefed-up virtual job fair launched last week by and Shaker Recruitment Advertising & Communications got good feedback from participating employers and job-seekers, according to Joe Shaker Jr., who helped organize the event. LIVE, which Shaker had billed as a one-day “virtual career-networking event,” drew more than 40 recruiters and more than 1,200 job-seekers (from a pool of more than 3,000 job-seekers who had registered). Though virtual job fairs aren’t uncommon, and have met with good success at many newspapers, this one was a little different, according to Shaker.
    Most such events feature employers’ logos, on which job-seekers can click to see a list of job postings. LIVE added a few extras, however. The site sported a 3-D look, for instance, although the on-screen experience wasn’t quite as lifelike as a Second Life virtual reality site or a video game, which would have required participants to download software. Job-seekers could also do a bit more than just check employers’ postings, as at most virtual job fairs; they could participate in live, Instant-Messaging chats with recruiters. Those chats, which could be initiated by recruiters or job-seekers, could take place in groups or one on one. More than 6,000 chats occurred during the day, Shaker said.
    On another part of the site, the networking lounge, job-seekers and recruiters could get together, almost as in a chat room, and start or participate in conversations on different topics. “I wasn’t sure if people would use it, but it turned out to be very popular,” Shaker said. The site also included an auditorium in which visitors could click to view any of three on-demand job-search videos created by the recruiting consultant Gerry Crispin.
    Response to the fair has been “very positive,” according to Shaker, who said that job-seekers most often noted that they were happy to save gas by visiting a job fair online rather than having to drive to visit a traditional job fair. He’d worried that job-seekers would miss the face-to-face contact of traditional job fairs, he said, but their enthusiasm over travel savings more than made up for the lack of face time. (In an attempt to add a personal touch, the site let participants choose icons as visual IDs from the site, create their own icons or upload photographs.)
    “We got good feedback,” Shaker said. “Most of them [job-seekers] said it was a great event and that they loved the fact that they didn’t have to waste any gas. It was good timing.”
    Since most job fairs serve as an initial contact point and winnowing process where job-seekers and employers can check each other out, and seldom lead to immediate hires, virtual job fairs could make even more sense if gasoline prices stay high.
    Job-seekers attended free, while employers paid for varying levels of sponsorship –  though the costs likely were much less than a traditional job fair.
    Many participants said they’d lined up one or two personal interviews by participating in the fair, Shaker added. He plans to follow up with employers to find out how many actual hires resulted from the fair.
    Shaker promoted the event in the Chicago newspapers it works with, on, through e-mail lists from the companies it works with and from rental lists, and via search-engine marketing. It outsourced the technology to set up the site. All told, it took two or three months to prepare for the big event. “It was time consuming,” Shaker said, “but at the end of the day it was worth it.”
    Besides, the online employment site for the Chicago Sun-Times and 16 other newspapers in Chicago and its suburbs, Shaker runs employment sites in seven other locations around the United States. Its next virtual job fair is set for Sept. 16. For a demo, visit .