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Why Your Next Teacher Job Fair Probably Won’t Be Virtual

In March 2020, news of the pandemic struck just as peak K-12 teacher recruitment season was getting underway. As schools quickly pivoted to online learning, K-12 recruiters canceled in-person career fairs and reinvented them virtually.

This virtual job fair “experiment” served its purpose, allowing teacher job applicants to continue to get in front of recruiters—sans the handshake. Some recruiters lauded the convenience and broader reach online career fairs offered, predicting they would become a permanent, integral part of strategies to recruit new teachers. But the reality hasn’t matched these predictions for all recruiters.

While there are exceptions, most news from the K-12 recruiting world points to the pendulum swinging back to traditional, in-person recruiting events. Evidence of the pivot abounds, in survey data aimed at K-12 recruiters, anecdotes by college career center staff, and statistics on college- and university-hosted teaching job fairs.

But virtual job fairs, which remain a cost-effective way to reach a broader pool of candidates, haven’t completely disappeared.

Post-pandemic, many K-12 recruiters’ preference shifts back to in-person career fairs

The EdWeek Research Center annually surveys K-12 human resources professionals on recruitment trends. In one year, that data collection revealed concrete shifts in how K-12 recruiters prefer to meet teaching candidates.

In December 2022, 36 percent of survey respondents said they were attending in-person job fairs more than they had prior to the pandemic, compared to 33 percent using virtual job fairs.

Just one year later, in December 2023, it appears recruiters had more faith in the power of in-person career fairs than virtual alternatives. In response to the question, “Which, if any, of the following recruitment strategies are you using more now than before the pandemic?”, about one-third of survey respondents selected “attending in-person career fairs”; in comparison, just 17 percent chose “attending online career fairs.”

College and university teaching job fairs return in person to drive student engagement

This trend favoring in-person education career fairs extends to colleges and universities hosting job fairs for teaching candidates.

The American Association of School Personnel Administrators tracks career fairs held by its members. For 2024, among the 100-plus education job fair events listed in the AASPA’s database, fewer than 10 are virtual.

Kelly Coash-Johnson, executive director of the association, acknowledged that AASPA’s list of teaching career fairs isn’t comprehensive, though it does seem to indicate a strong trend toward in-person events—especially among colleges and universities, which make up the majority of job fair hosts AASPA tracks.

“Very few career fairs are virtual this year. Most have gone back to in-person,” Coash-Johnson said.

Like many other colleges and universities, the University of Maine at Farmington has pivoted back to in-person, on-campus hiring events. “Having the job fair in person better meets the needs of our students and employers. Our entire campus is a residential community. It fits our culture better,” said Cyndi McShane, assistant director of career services at the university.

This March, 100 percent of the public college’s approximately 70 soon-to-graduate education majors attended an in-person education job fair held at the university’s student center. For job-seeking graduating seniors, the event is mandatory. But, McShane said, school officials do make it worth participants’ time. In addition to connecting students to more than 32 Maine school districts and other education organizations, the event followed a morning of professional development that included a presentation by Maine’s Teacher of the Year.

Every year, the in-person event tends to feel like a giant homecoming for many of the district representatives who attend, explained McShane. Approximately 40 percent of the university’s total alumni base consists of education professionals, many of whom remain in the state after graduating. It’s not unusual, however, for school districts from other states, including Alaska and Florida, to routinely show up in Farmington for the career fair, McShane said.

Where virtual fairs fit in

“Everyone’s trying to figure out where virtual career fairs fit in. During the pandemic, they were a necessity,” said Chris Guzek, general manager at CareerEcho, a technology company that supports virtual career fairs, including those seeking to connect K-12 districts with job candidates via online platforms. Now, he acknowledged, colleges and universities have brought job fairs back to campuses in large part as a way to drive engagement among their students.

But when it comes to attracting a wider array of candidates—whether racially and ethnically diverse or neurodiverse prospects—virtual events continue to hold sway. Among the 100-plus teaching career fairs tracked by AASPA in 2024, fewer than 10 were virtual—but nearly half of those specifically targeted candidates of color.

Virtual job fairs also present a more cost-effective way to reach a broader pool of candidates. This is one of the reasons that the Michigan Department of Education continues to host job fairs virtually.

“Districts don’t have to spend money on travel, lodging, meals, and other costs to attend an in-person job fair. They can have access to information at their desk for candidates looking for a position without having to leave their district,” said Sarah-Kate LaVan, director of the state agency’s office of educator excellence.

Positive feedback on previous virtual job fairs from educational stakeholders also drove the department’s decision to continue them—even, LaVan noted, as several of the state’s colleges and universities have committed to hosting these events in person.

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