Madison executives start local hiring movement

Feature Virtual Job Fair Panel

The civil rights movement was ignited by Rosa Parks’ refusal to take a back seat. The women’s movement was reenergized by the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. After the most economically disruptive year in recent memory, a national staffing firm with a local franchise is trying to launch a hiring movement with a national — and virtual — job fair that will include Madison on Wednesday, Jan. 27.

The local component of the 2021 Spherion Let’s Get to Work National Job Fair, which is titled “Let’s Get to Work Madison,” is being organized by Diana Schafer, Madison franchise owner for Spherion, and Margaret Leitinger, vice president of operations for Spherion. Over the past year, the two Madison residents have seen family, friends, and clients struggle with the employment impacts of the pandemic, and they hope the virtual job fair inspires a rebound.

“One of the things we wanted to do is kick off 2021 with excitement, with positive energy,” Schafer says.

Quest for hire

Head Shot Diana Schafer

Diana Schafer

That energy will be supplied by more than 200 offices that will have virtual booths. For a four-hour period on Jan. 27 (10 a.m.–2 p.m.), job seekers can virtually visit the Madison booth and sample local job opportunities, and visit booths representing other communities to see what positions are open in different localities. In Madison, Spherion has connected with nearly 50 local businesses to compile a live index of jobs that will be broadcast during a virtual fair, which is free for residents. Attendees will be able to speak directly with the hiring local employers, which includes a list of who’s who in Madison: Promega, Exact Sciences, American Family, and the state of Wisconsin (especially the Department of Health Services).

Job seekers will be able to register up until the day of the event and even while it’s in progress. “The strategy was to get some positive energy out there, and that’s why it’s a ‘Let’s Get to Work National Jobs Fair’ because there are a lot of open positions, and we want to create some excitement and convey that it isn’t all doom and gloom employment-wise,” Schafer says.

Margaret Leitinger Headshot

Margaret Leitinger

Organizers also want to facilitate an event that would be easy to register for and to navigate. “I’m personally excited about it because there is a lot of technology that’s going to be utilized that we haven’t used before,” Schafer notes. “There has been a lot of work in the making so that the candidates can navigate quite easily and visit a virtual booth. There is going to be a lot of simulation to a real event. They can sign up for an immediate video interview, or they can stick with the chat functions.”

In addition, participants will be able to gain insight about the job application process, hone their interviewing skills, and receive tips on resume writing. Schafer has encountered job seekers who haven’t searched for work for many years, and they aren’t necessarily aware of some of the changes that have taken place with regard to resume writing and other aspects of the job hunt. “For someone who hasn’t been in a job search for 10, 15, or 25 years, they remember the things that were important 25 years ago,” she notes. “One of the things that we were always told was to keep your resume to one page. So, you have someone who has been in the workforce for 25 or 30 years, they are trying to cram everything into one page, and that’s not necessary anymore. Especially with people submitting their resumes electronically, having a two- or three-page resume is perfectly acceptable because you want to be able to showcase your experience and accomplishments.”

In addition, the internet and social media have made researching prospective employers a lot easier. In the past, job seekers didn’t have such information at their fingertips, but now they can find things such as online reviews about how employees feel about working for a given employer. “That’s one of the things that we encourage,” Schafer states. “We’ve got you set up for an interview, so do your homework. Look online. Look at blogs. Look at articles written about this company so that you can be more prepared.”

Remote possibilities
There will be a lot to decipher at the Jan. 27 job fair, and one thing that’s particularly interesting about this event is that so many of the advertised positions are not only remote now but will continue to be remote, or at least have the option of staying remote. “One of the things that we’ve seen is that job seekers are looking nationwide at positions,” Schafer notes. “I was talking to a candidate who is working remotely by supporting COVID-19 tracing for the state of Alaska. I mean, it’s crazy, but for the job seeker, it’s great because it’s not just a brick-and-mortar office that they have to go back to. It opens up possibilities.”

The virtual job fair, being presented on the platform Premier Virtual, is not likely to be a one-off event. Spherion and other staffing firms that organize them could hold more job fairs, including smaller-scale versions, as long as the pandemic is throwing the labor force for a loop. If the virtual fairs prove to be as valuable as organizers believe they will, they might continue when the pandemic is finally in the rearview mirror.

Schafer advises job seekers who register for the forthcoming job fair to think about how their skills are transferrable to other industry sectors. “Just because a health care company has a position of interest, but someone doesn’t have health care industry experience, that shouldn’t preclude job seekers from feeling they are a possible candidate,” she notes. “If they are looking for organizational skills and there is someone who has supervisory experience, those are completely transferrable.

“Sometimes, people are gun shy to apply for positions because they feel they don’t have the industry background, but employers are very open to keying in on transferrable skills. It’s better to apply and then see what happens versus hesitating because you’re unsure.”

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