Advice for Recruiters: Faring Well at Job Fairs

by Kenneth T. Gaffey

Most job fair organizers provide an area for the exhibitors to get a soda, cup of coffee, or a quick snack during the "show." It certainly gives your voice a needed break and infuses you

with the essential nutrients a staffing professional needs: sugar and caffeine.

However, what is most interesting is the range of comments you will hear about the same job fair. One representative appears "pumped up" due to the excellent candidate flow and excellent candidate quality. Another representative is livid due to the total waste of time this fair has become and is giving the organizer or vendor account representative a non-positive sales moment.

How is it possible to have two such extreme reactions to the same event? To figure this out, walk out onto the floor and observe the two representatives at work. And ask yourself the question, "If I were a candidate, would I walk up to that company?"

Most company representatives come to a career fair with no recruiting plan, no marketing strategy, and little or no understanding of the basic principles of sales and marketing. This is the first mistake, because in the 1990s, successful staffing will only come as the result of a recruiting plan based on the elements of a successful sales campaign.

Plan before you go to the fair.

Make sure you know whom the other companies are who have committed to attend the fair. If you are a firm seeking I.S. professionals, you want to ensure that a noteworthy number of the other attendees are I.S companies. Keep in touch with the vendor and determine how many other companies are committed to attending. A job fair that cannot attract companies may also have difficulty attracting candidates.

Make sure there is an advertising campaign in place that will attract candidates.

Be wary of those vendors that rely heavily on their database and Internet to attract candidates. The database probably consists of the candidates that attended the last show. The candidate they attract through the Internet is probably the same candidate you are attracting with your own Web site. Look for an advertising campaign that includes newspaper, radio, direct mail, and co-sponsorship with professional organizations if you expect a successful job fair event. In this age of electronic recruiting, newspapers, magazines, and radio are still very powerful tools. Consider running a companion ad of your own and update your own Web site with job fair information. Many candidates still prefer the face-to-face opportunity. If the organizer has a program book, put an ad in there as well. Doing a job fair may range in cost from $1,500 to $6,000 based on the event format. Doing it well will cost 20% - 25% more.

Work with your job fair team before the event.

It is a good idea to bring four people to the job fair. Or, four people per shift in case of a multiple day or all day events. Have a team meeting a few days before the event. Each person should have reviewed the open job requisition information before the show. Each person, staffing representative or hiring manager should have their "designated specialties." In essence, those areas they can discuss in detail and with authority. Have a workflow plan in place to prevent the net result of a day's screening becoming an unmanageable pile of paper. Try using file folders with a simple break down of need by profession (Programmer, Finance, and Quality Assurance) or by Hiring Manager/Department (Operations, Marketing, and Technology.) Bring routing slips to the fair. As you finish with each candidate, write a few quick notes, pull any staples from the resume and place in the appropriate folder. Pulling the staples may seem like a small detail, but the next day when you can just load resumes into the copier already containing routing information, you will be glad you did this small step. All these details need to be discussed before the fair. If you do not arrive as a team with a plan, there will be no time at the fair to become a team.

Consider the "look" you want to express and then insure this is presented.

There are companies with great booths that do poorly at job fairs. Conversely, there are companies with no booth that do extremely well. At the job fair, you have an average space of 8' X 10' to create an impression and sell your image, use it well. Here are some simple "Don'ts":

  • Don't use the table as a wall between you and the candidates. Push it back against the back of your booth. Put your display on top of it and have a small table running along the side of the booth to hold brochures, give-away items and materials you want to be available to candidates. The information you do not want the candidates to see should be to the rear of the booth.
  • Don't sit in the chairs provided by the vendor. Ask that the chairs be removed. If you are tired, take a break.
  • Don't talk and gossip among yourselves while standing in the booth. Nobody likes to interrupt conversations and many candidates will see your lack of interest as a sign of rudeness or apathy towards recruiting. Make eye contact, smile, nod your head to candidates as they pass. Be prepared to hand them recruiting materials. Look like you are "in the game."
  • Don't catch up on work in your booth.
  • Don't use your cellular phone. Everybody has one now; nobody is impressed with how important you are. Candidates may feel that if you are too busy to talk with them, they will go to one of your competitors and get a job.
  • Don't make rude comments or make faces at candidates after they pass your booth. Other candidates will see your immature attitude and may decide not to risk your judgement on them.

Dress up your booth and yourself.

Order balloons for your booth. Rent a popcorn machine. Get colorful handouts, and if possible, useful or interesting give-away items imprinted with your company recruiting Web site address. If you are a business attire environment, dress accordingly. If you are business casual, or totally casual, wear company polo or tee shirts. Make sure you can be easily identified as a company representative. The image you project is the image people will run to, or run from.

Sell and market your opportunity outside your booth.

On occasion, send one of your team members out armed with recruiting material. Have them wander up and down the aisles, out into the lobby area and in good weather even out into the parking lot. These orbits get the word out that you are there and eager to meet candidates. As the candidates wander the aisles of booths, they will feel obligated to come up to you. Or, they will feel like the "ice" has already been broken.

React quickly at the fair and you will hire quickly.

Be prepared to set up interviews on the spot. Candidates are impressed when you can do this and the word will spread. If you have a hiring manager in the booth, encourage him or her to leave the booth and find a private area to conduct a detailed screen. Have applications and other interview materials for the candidate to take home. Remember that this "hot" candidate will see five or ten companies that will want to hire him or her.

Save yourself a lot of phone calls.

After the show, make one complete set of copies of all resumes. Give this to one individual to make mailing labels or type email addresses into your email system. Send EVERYBODY an email or acknowledgement card, telling him or her what happens next in your process. They will have your name. They will call. Contact them first. At the fair, be honest. Tell all candidates that processing this many resumes will require a week. That will give you time to contact them first. Empower the "hot" candidates to contact you directly within 48 hours. This will prevent you from losing a good candidate due to backlog, or lost resumes.

Get accurate data on job fair performance.

Do not judge the job fair by how many hires you make. You may have a slow process, have salary issues, or just not be an attractive employer. The real measure of success is how many candidates you saw that you wanted to interview. The other issues are ones you need to address; the fair organizers cannot be held responsible for your staffing problems. In addition, track the source of "walk-ins" over the four weeks following a fair. Many of these unknown source candidates are in fact candidates who did not go to the show, but saw your advertising, or picked up a copy of the fair brochure. They may have borrowed recruiting material from a friend who did go to the fair. There are many other ways for your job fair message to have been spread. For the candidate who posted on your Web site, did (s)he find the URL on a pen with your company logo (s)he borrowed from a friend who went to the show? For a period of four weeks after the fair, ask all unidentified source candidates, "How did you hear of us?" Give the job fair full credit to measure its full value.

There is no good reason not to go to a job fair. Job fairs give you an opportunity to make your unapproachable company approachable. If you are unknown, you can immerse your recruiting message in the candidate flow generated by known companies. If you are trying to express a new image or corporate direction, a fair is a great place to start. You can observe other companies and see how they are getting their message out to the candidate pool.

The market is not in your office, you will never see it develop and change with your head down answering emails and voice mails and wishing for a few good candidates. You will not keep abreast of the candidate pool, technology, and talent competition staring at the four walls of your cube or office. Everything gets stale if kept indoors. Get a fresh perspective, take your recruiting message out for some fresh air. Take it to a job fair.

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Provided by Kenneth T. Gaffey, Staffing Specialist for Fidelity Investments

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