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Inaugural Virtual Career Fair for Veterans Gets a Salute from Employers

Chicago-based energy provider Exelon was among the 24 companies across the United States that participated in the October event. About 1,100 veterans visited Exelon during the job fair, 205 of whom were in states where Exelon has openings.

Companies around the nation, such as Chicago-based energy provider Exelon Corp., are going virtual to help decrease the unemployment rate among military veterans. Under its commitment with first lady Michelle Obama to ensure 10 percent of its new hires are military veterans, Exelon recently participated in the first-ever virtual career fair for veterans with service-related disabilities.

“Hiring veterans is not just something good, but it also really makes sound business sense,” said Griffin Goldin, senior analyst for Exelon’s national and strategic programs. “We find that their drive and commitment to excellence, integrity, leadership and teamwork are skills we really value. For utilities, sometimes we have emergency situations that can mean life or death.”

Exelon was one of 24 companies across the United States that participated in the Oct. 31 Virtual Career Fair for Veterans with Disabilities, which was hosted by San Francisco-based virtual communications firm ON24 Inc. and recruitment firm Veteran Recruiting Services, in cooperation with the Department of Labor and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Other employers included Progressive Insurance, Amtrak, Lowe’s Cos., Intuit Inc., the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Waste Management Inc., WellPoint Inc. and Xerox Business Services. The career fair attracted 8,000 disabled military veterans.

Online job hunting isn’t a novel concept, but the trend of virtual career fairs has many companies and recruiters focused on “hiring our heroes.”

The unemployment rate in October for veterans of the second gulf war was 10 percent, while the unemployment rate for the general population during the same period was 7.9 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says.

A snapshot of the hiring landscape for veterans shows that 75 percent of veterans surveyed say their military skills are valuable in civilian careers, shows Monster.com’s May 2012 Veterans Talent Index. Only 29 percent of respondents were confident about finding work that suits them, down from 44 percent in November 2011. The index found that top keywords searched by veterans reveal an interest in customer service, security and management positions; top keywords searched by employers reveal accounting, computer software engineers and computer systems analysts are in demand.

Goldin, a member of Exelon’s corporate talent acquisition team, says the virtual career fair for disabled veterans enabled Exelon to more effectively reach potential job candidates without the normal recruitment expenses of travel and facilities. With $33 billion in annual revenue and 27,000 employees, Exelon has business operations and activities in 47 states, with Baltimore, the mid-Atlantic region, Chicago and Texas being its main areas.

Exelon, which participates in every stage of the energy business, from generation to competitive energy sales to transmission to delivery, is recruiting disabled veterans for jobs such as engineers, initial license trainees, equipment operators, nuclear security trainees, first line supervisors, meter readers, utility trainers and maintenance technicians.

Annual salaries for these jobs range from $40,000 to $60,000, Goldin says. About 1,100 veterans visited Exelon during the October job fair, 205 of whom were in states where Exelon has openings. Goldin says 657 of the candidates were willing to relocate.

“The virtual career fair allows us to target candidates from all of these key areas without the associated travel costs, and allows candidates to access our open jobs and ask questions,” Goldin says. “They are also able to join our online talent community, which is how we track candidates. This not only allows us to reach this great group of candidates, but it’s also very efficient for us.”

During the career fair, recruiters for each key position were available, Goldin says. “With a typical career fair, we wouldn’t be able to have this diverse group of recruiters to promote each position. It’s usually very hard for us to get a group together that really represents our whole community.”

ON24, which specializes in webcasting and virtual events, says employers that participate in virtual career fairs save an average of 90 percent annually in recruitment costs.

“Companies spend a lot of money on traditional recruiting strategies, and sometimes [they are] … not that effective,” says Denise Persson, chief marketing officer for ON24. “Virtual job fairs give companies a larger talent pool to choose from, and it’s a faster way to recruit. This broader reach also helps companies with brand awareness.”

Advancements in technology have also sweetened the virtual career fair for employers and job seekers, Persson says. Today’s virtual career fairs are becoming more interactive, including video interviews and live chats. Job seekers can even log on to such fairs via mobile devices, further streamlining the employment matching process.

Another benefit of virtual job fairs for employers and disabled veterans and other job seekers is the elimination of geographical boundaries.

“We like to think of the disabled-veterans career fair as an event that delivers on the promise of virtual communications technology,” says Tricia Heinrich, senior director of strategic communications for ON24. “For veterans with service-related disabilities, this gives them equal access to these jobs.”

Andrea Siedsma is a writer based in Encinitas, California. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.