Dropping in on a careers fair that's out of this world

TMP Worldwide, the host of the UK's first virtual careers fair on the 3D digital world of Second Life, sa

TMP Worldwide, the host of the UK's first virtual careers fair on the 3D digital world of Second Life, said it wanted to do something innovative and Recruiter, which teleported in its own avatar to report on the event, can vouch it did.

There was a candidate dressed as a fox, the chance to ride a jet-ski and even the odd sighting of a winged creature. "It's just like [open-ended video game] The Sims," said one candidate we spoke to as she sat outside the imposing computer-generated replica of the Royal Bank of Scotland's Gogarburn HQ in Edinburgh.

For any newbie, the fair, which took place on the recruitment and communications specialist's own island, was a surreal and fascinating experience, but early indications are that it also proved to be a fruitful exercise for both candidates and companies on a more serious front.

Over the three days, the major corporates who took part, which included KPMG, The Royal Bank of Scotland and Yell, conducted more than 90 interviews with candidates in the guise of their computer-generated avatars.

Isabelle Hung, head of national resourcing at international directories business, Yell Group, told Recruiter that she was pleased with the standard of people she met. "I interviewed someone with 25 years' experience, a girl in the middle of an MSc and people with good marketing and IT skills," she said.

Phil Owers, deputy managing director of TMP Worldwide, told Recruiter that one of its aims was to offer companies the chance to have a presence somewhere completely different. "We're not saying this is going to take over from traditional recruitment," he said. "We're creating a different experience and are saying 'here's something you can try'."

While the objective was to do something innovative, Owers explains that TMP also wanted it to be a well-targeted exercise for the companies taking part, so it set up the www.i-jobsforreal.co.uk website where candidates could register with the organisations they were interested in. They were then pre-screened by those companies and the successful candidates invited to attend the event at an appointed time.

Avatars were met by TMP representatives as they landed on the island. There were fewer candidates milling around than at a conventional careers fair, but this was largely because avatars were turning up at their appointed time and going straight into interview rooms for their one-to-one meetings.

The interviews were conducted across instant messaging (IM) and the instantaneous form of communication made for an efficient but relaxed exchange of information, says Hung, with candidates less intimidated than they would be in the real world. "It seemed to take away some of the traditional barriers," she said. "They would ask about working at Yell, but also get to questions about salaries much quicker and without having to build up to them."

Yell's strategy to use Second Life as a way to build brand awareness among passive jobseekers seems to be paying off. Hung reports that having read coverage of its initial Second Life campaign, some of the people she spoke to had got themselves avatars with the principal aim of using Second Life to find out more about Yell.

So what next? Owers said TMP will conduct surveys with those who took part. One aspect worth reflecting on is whether the targeting exercise encouraged more newbies than Second Life veterans on to the island and, if so, did this deprive companies taking part of the ad hoc talent that frequents the virtual world? TMP's US event took a similarly targeted approach, whereas the French fair was more open. Owers explained that with the UK event they tried to do a combination of both by making the third day more open. As the event was still ongoing at the time of writing, the effect of this isn't known.

So would those firms taking part consider a more permanent presence in this virtual world? "Maybe in the main recruiting months we could do a refresher," said Hung. "I don't think what we're seeing is for the near future, but certainly as Generation Y gets bigger."

The event also helped to give her an insight into how to best communicate and develop relationships with candidates in the future, confirming the importance of methods of communication such as IM. "Many of these people don't bother with email - they just use IM," she said.