A New Kind of Job Fair: New Challenges, New Solutions

How do you connect with potential employees when you can no longer hold public gatherings or meet face-to-face? Our Human Resources team decided to take hiring online. During normal times, our Human Resources team visits several local job fairs and hosts an annual fair. Switching gears to deal with our current situation, Human Resources hosted its first Virtual Job Fair, discovering that it was a great option for Somerville Public Schools. The modified structure of the Virtual Fair encouraged candidates to focus their interest on specific schools or departments and gave them an opportunity to really connect one-on-one with our staff. Based on survey responses, every SPS administrator and teacher who participanted wants to repeat the experience. Director of Human Resources Mariana MacDonald says, "It was such a successful event, we almost immediately decided to organize another Virtual Job Fair in June."

STRUCTURing a Virtual Job FAIR

In the words of Healey School Principal Mary Ellen Cobbs, “The traditional job fair is typically loud, overwhelming and does not avail itself to conversations. Having 5 to 6 minutes with candidates, after thoroughly reviewing the resume, let me know immediately if I wanted to further the conversation. Moreover, I had three people working on my team in addition to myself. In two hours we were able to screen 52 candidates -- impossible in a traditional forum.”

The Human Resources department had a short two weeks to shift gears from a public, person-to-person event to an online event. It was a lot of upfront work. Says Human Resources Administrative Assistant Jean Cabral, "the back end of things were challenging due to the fact that this was a new project and we didn’t have a lot of time to complete it.” Ms. Cabral headed up a team of human resources, curriculum, technical, and communications staff to put together a website, strategize scheduling, provide technical support to participants, and do the legwork to create the first Virtual Job Fair.

Interested job-seekers submitted resumes through our online application software, then scheduled meet-ups with staff from schools or departments that interested them. On the day of the fair, applicants and SPS staff met through a popular online video conferencing platform. Over 600 people participated, more than twice the usual 250 participants for the traditional SPS Job Fair.

“The Virtual Job Fair front end was great. I thought the whole thing, using School Spring to connect applicants to appointments, and the waiting room set up was great. Better than previous fairs in every sense,” says Argenziano Principal Glenda Soto. Principal Soto adds, “HR did a lot of work behind-the-scenes that was probably difficult but it was very smooth from my perspective.” 


During a traditional job fair, potential applicants drop off a lot of resumes, and say a quick hello to potential employers. With the online format, applicants focused their conversations on schools or departments that interested them and had more time to talk, ask questions, and answer questions. Moving the job fair online simultaneously deepened the conversations with applicants and lowered the stress for applicants and hiring managers. 

Logistically, Ms. Cabral also points out that a virtual job fair was easier on applicants and staff. No one had to worry about parking on Somerville streets, the fair did not take space away from a school facility, there was no time spent setting up and breaking down for the physical event, and attendees did not wait in long lines to talk to administrators. The online format made it possible to schedule on a weekday, increasing the pool of staff available to assist principals with interviews. An online job fair also eliminates travel time, encouraging out-of-state job seekers. Healey Principal Mary Ellen Cobbs says the virtual fair will “diversify our applicant pool and potentially our educator force . Boston is a popular place to live, and securing a job in a wonderful district like ours might just be worth the move.”

Hiring managers are already talking about using this new job fair model and improving on it. They are looking at the virtual job fair as more than a way to deal with a difficult situation, but instead as a model to streamline the process of hiring and recruiting the best people.

Somerville High School Principal Sebastion LaGambina points out that the virtual job fair is “a great way of conducting an initial screening of applicants.” He continues, “you could do an initial screening of 25 applicants in just over three hours and it’s a much better way to screen applicants than just reading twenty-five resumes.”

Sometimes efficiencies and improvements come about thanks to staff innovations during difficult times. Thanks to all our staff for continuing to work hard to find solutions to fit our Somerville Public Schools community.


R. Ronen, Communications Specialist