How to Run a Virtual Recruiting Event That’s as Good — or Better — Than an In-Person One

January 4, 2021

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At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless organizations had to make a tough decision: Cancel their planned in-person recruiting events, or take them online. For the LinkedIn recruiting team, this situation proved a huge challenge — but there were positive sides to it too. Not only has it forced them to get comfortable with running a virtual recruiting event, but it’s greatly democratized candidates’ access to the events, extending the team’s reach.

“For our recent Hispanic Heritage Month event,” says Loni Olazaba, director of inclusion recruiting at LinkedIn, “we partnered with We Are All Human, a nonprofit organization, and we had people from all over the world listening in. We would never have been able to reach that set of people if we had done it non-virtual.”

“Cost is another benefit,” says Lauren Saunders, head of talent attraction at LinkedIn. “Not only the cost to us, but also to the candidate. Sometimes, the people you want to reach can’t attend an in-person event because they can’t afford to take time off work or travel to the location. The ability to open up our events, regardless of someone’s location or socioeconomic status, has been an incredibly inclusive way for us to give talent the chance to get involved.”

These benefits make it likely that many companies will adopt a hybrid model in the future, even when in-person gatherings are a safe and viable option once again. So, even if you’ve been hesitant to run a virtual recruiting event before now, it’s worth mastering this skill — because this type of event is likely here to stay. 

To help you get started, here’s a step-by-step guide to planning and executing a successful virtual recruiting event, based on the lessons the LinkedIn recruiting team learned along the way.

Step 1: Set your strategy and choose the right tech

At the end of last year, the LinkedIn recruiting team had 75 events planned for the following quarter. The global COVID-19 lockdown gave them an opportunity to pause and reevaluate their strategy, ensuring they were investing their time wisely. 

“We had to ask ourselves hard questions,” says Lauren. “Rather than just doing things because we’d done them before, it gave us an opportunity to reflect on what was important in our event strategy. We didn’t just make them all virtual — we asked ourselves, which events will have a huge impact on our talent acquisition strategy if we don’t do them?”

Some of the events that the team knew wouldn’t work as well in a virtual environment included large-scale gatherings designed for different groups to break off and engage in the activities most relevant to them. Other events were planned as collaborations with partner organizations, and when the partners canceled, it no longer made sense to move forward. In certain instances, the team also decided to postpone important events until they could figure out how to deliver them effectively. 

On the flip side, some of the events that were easy to transition included fireside chats and more intimate gatherings, such as roundtable discussions with a senior leader and a select group of candidates. But that’s not to say that the only events possible in a virtual world will be seen by a small audience. LinkedIn’s recent TransformHER event — a three-hour professional conference for women of color — attracted over 1,600 attendees throughout the duration of the livestream, with the recording later garnering more than 100,000 views.

“One of the cool takeaways from TransformHER was the life it had after,” Loni says. “We had a strong turnout for the event, but it's still going on our platform.”

The type of event you’re hosting should also determine the technology you use. The LinkedIn team has used a variety of tools and solutions for their virtual recruiting events — including LinkedIn Live and video conferencing platforms —depending on factors like whether they want to engage candidates in conversation or give a presentation.

“We've used a bit of everything,” Lauren laughs.

Step 2: Get specific about your target audience

Another factor that helps the LinkedIn team choose the right technology for its virtual recruiting events is the audience they want to attract. The team has found that it pays to get highly specific about who they’re trying to target, which can sometimes result in smaller, more niche events than they might have run in previous years.

“If you try to be too much to too many,” Lauren explains, “you dilute your content — and the experience.” 

The team has also refined how it markets its events and sets audience expectations, especially for events that are open to anyone. A vague description could leave people disappointed, damaging your brand. On the flip side, you also need to make a compelling case for why your target audience should invest their time, since you can’t rely on incentives like free food or a look inside your company’s offices.

“Have content that is very relevant to your audience, with good speakers,” Loni says. “To get people to sit in front of a computer and give you their time, the content has got to be worth it.”

Step 3: Have a back-up plan in case of technical mishaps

When they first transitioned to virtual events, the LinkedIn team — like many companies in the same boat — worried about the potential for technical difficulties. Over time though, they’ve realized that while choosing the right tools can help minimize mishaps, people are fairly forgiving when they happen. After all, after several months of working remotely, most people are used to a few technical difficulties.

“It's less about ‘How do you stop those hiccups from happening?’ and more about ‘What are you going to do?’” Lauren says. “How do you make contingency plans? What's your backup? How do you handle it in that moment when it goes wrong?”

Lauren suggests thinking through some of the things that could go wrong and proactively coming up with solutions — just in case. She also recommends having plenty of hands on deck when you go live. Not only can these people jump in if things go awry, but they can also help answer attendees’ questions, moderate the chat section if you have one, and provide general support to keep things running smoothly.

Step 4: Develop a plan for keeping your audience engaged during a virtual recruiting event

Keeping audiences engaged and interested is the key to any successful event. But during a virtual event, you have to be extra intentional about how you approach engagement, because you can’t rely on attendees feeling stimulated from the location or conversations with their peers. And with many candidates already experiencing virtual fatigue in their day-to-day work, the last thing you want is for your event to feel draining. 

To overcome this challenge, the LinkedIn recruiting team aims to build fun, interactive elements into every virtual event they run. For example, at the TransformHER event, the team brought a DJ on at the end to play some music. During the event, they also had people teaching Brukwine dancing and encouraged attendees to dance along. 

“Everyone stopped for 10 minutes and did a bit of a workout in their seat,” Lauren says. “It got the blood flowing and made it not feel like we were watching a movie for three hours.”

The team has also found ingenious solutions to giving away swag. At some events, they run competitions and offer a digital prize, like sending a code for six free months of LinkedIn Premium to the first 50 people who complete a certain action. Physical swag is a little more complicated, since data protection regulations prevent them from collecting people’s addresses. To get around this, they now send people coupons, allowing them to order the freebie themselves if they want that coveted t-shirt.

Step 5: Be clear about what will happen after the virtual recruiting event

After the event is over, it’s critical to have a follow-up strategy ready to go if you want to keep candidates warm and build a relationship with them. If they don’t hear from you for months after the event, they may lose interest in your company — or feel like their time was wasted.

“You have to proactively identify nurture touchpoints,” Loni says. “Come to an agreement with your executive staff, your directors, your hiring managers — whoever's involved in the nurturing — about who is responsible for what, and map out your approach.”

The specific touchpoints you use will vary depending on your ultimate goal. If you want to build deeper relationships with a few high-potential candidates, you might schedule coffee chats with members of your executive team. If pipelining is your goal, you might add them to a LinkedIn Group where you can share relevant content with them over a longer period of time. Whatever your plan, be sure to set appropriate expectations at the end of the event. 

“You want candidates to know what to expect post-event,” Lauren says. “You might say, ‘Over the next two weeks, the recruiting team is going to be reviewing your resume, and we'll get back to you.’ If it’s a really small event, maybe it's days. But be clear on what they can expect and when, so they don't feel like we just go quiet after the event.”

Having a clear nurture strategy mapped out can help you establish what success looks like and how you’re going to measure it. The metrics you track will ultimately depend on the goals you were trying to achieve. If your objective was building brand awareness, it might be as simple as tracking the number of attendees and your Net Promoter Score (NPS). If your goal was pipelining, you could track how many warm leads recruiters added to their nurture pipelines after the event, how many attendees applied for jobs, or how many were hired at the end of the day.

Establishing your criteria for success upfront is also key to managing stakeholders’ expectations. “An event that’s about pipelining or brand awareness is probably not going to yield hires for some time,” Lauren says. “You want to make sure, then, that your stakeholders don’t turn around in two months and say, ‘Well, where are the hires from this event?’ Because that wasn't what we were going for — that wasn't the call to action.”

Final thoughts

Virtual recruiting events, like in-person events, come with pros and cons. But by following a few best practices and having a clear strategy in place every step of the way, you can enjoy more of the pros, and less of the cons.

“Start small,” Loni advises, “and have pre-event, mid-event, and post-event strategies pre-baked before you even move an initiative forward.”

“Don’t underestimate how much work it still takes to do a virtual event well,” Lauren adds. “You still have to allow yourself time. You have to build that full strategy. You have to do the advertising, the upfront work, and the back-end work after the event. Make sure you’ve got enough hands on deck to make it a success.”

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