An Insider’s Guide to Successful Job Fairs

Job fairs have always struck terror into my heart, what with the misery of air travel, the bad food, and the strange hotels. I can never seem to find my way without getting lost in the badlands of places unknown (perhaps my wife is right and I should learn how to read a map). But personal feelings of dread aside, job fairs can be a good method of finding new candidates and a valuable part of an effective recruiting program. There are only two catches:

  1. You need to follow some simple guidelines that will maximize your success.
  2. You must accept as a prerequisite that 98% of the candidates who attend will not be appropriate for your organization’s positions.

If you can accept these simple realities, you are on your way to achieving results. For starters, let’s look at how NOT to do job fairs. If you wish to be successful in the utilization of job fairs (success defined as making one or two offers, with three being even better), you must never, ever do the following:

  • Go to the job fair alone
  • Shake hands with a thousand people
  • Listen to 600 stories
  • Collect 300 resumes
  • Return to your office, toss the resumes on the desks of the hiring managers, and follow up in a month.

This is a surefire way to see that no offers are made and that you have wasted your time and money. Fortunately, if you are looking to towards the greatest possibility of being successful with your job fair, there are only three things for you to do: Plan, execute, and follow-up. You must, however, do them well. If you do them with great care and attention to detail, you will probably be more successful than you have ever been in previous job fairs. (I once hired six people at a job fair. The waters parted and the angels sang.) Planning

  • Choose the right job fair. Good planning for the wrong job fair is of no value so do your homework.
  • Spend a bit of money on a print advertisement. Tell the world about the job fair and that you will be there. Mention the positions you are looking to fill and reference your website for further information. (By the way, print advertising is not dead!)
  • Ship all of your collateral and set up materials one week before the job fair begins. It cost less money to do this as opposed to overnight shipping, and you can confirm by phone that it has arrived. (Ever do a job fair and the materials never made it to the hotel? Not a good thing!)
  • Make all of the hiring managers aware of the job fair. Be upbeat about the prospect of being successful. If you’re not confident, they won’t be confident either.
  • Bribe a hiring manager to come along. Very often, they will do so just to get out of the office and eat some of those greasy cheese balls and beer that are a part of the first night’s reception. A strong, conversant, engaging hiring manager is essential to the success of a job fair because they can meet the candidates you feel are interesting, qualify candidates right on the spot, and even use a cell phone to set up interviews back at the office. Regardless of what anyone tells you, a hiring manager engaging a live candidate for ten minutes is better than that same hiring manager just looking through a pile of resumes. (I had two hiring managers at the job fair with me the time I hired my six candidates.)

Execution

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  • Arrive at the job fair at least thirty minutes before the candidates are to be admitted. Be sure to be well-groomed and dressed appropriately.
  • Make sure that your space is neat and clean, with all of your organizational collateral laid out for candidates to review.
  • Having a bit of food is also a good idea. I recommend ordering a cheese platter in advance. It doesn’t cost much and it will certainly be different, because everyone else will have chocolate and that gets old very quickly.
  • Have an action plan. Unless the place is dead, the hiring manager should only chat with candidates who have gotten past the recruiters and are considered strong and viable candidates.
  • Remember your “manners” when chatting with candidates. The setting may be different, but the laws of interviewing still apply. Keep your questions legal and appropriate.
  • Try to greet every candidate personally and spend a minute or two if possible. Your company may be one thousand miles away, but at the job fair, you are the company. Good PR never hurts.
  • Have clear job descriptions of every position you are looking to fill. One technique that works very well for me: Rather than taking the time to see if the candidate fits the position by asking lots of questions, hand the candidate the position profile and ask them if they have the experience listed and the ability to do the job as outlined. They will generally tell you the truth and you can proceed from there.
  • Have a list of candidate resumes that fall into three categories: 1) the candidates you clearly intend to bring in for interviews, 2) the candidates who need further consideration or perhaps a phone screen from another hiring manager, and 3) the candidates you will not be bring in for interviews.

Follow-Up I must put in a special word on follow-up. This is the area where most people falter. It is a sad situation, because you and your organization have invested so much to get to this point. Rapid follow-up is critical to reaching your ultimate objective. I urge you do the following:

  • At job fairs we very often tend to promise candidates we will call them. If you promise to call a candidate, do just that. Even if you change your mind on pursuing a candidate, do not drop the candidate. Make the call and tell the candidate that you have identified candidates whose credentials and experience more closely align with your specific needs. They might not like the news, but they will understand. If you never follow up on your promise to call, that is something they will not understand.
  • Many people believe that the big eat the small. That is not necessarily true. The fast eat the slow. If you are interested in a candidate, chances are that others are as well. Get the candidate in for an interview as soon as humanly possible. Do not allow any system or organizational piece of bureaucracy to slow you down. Excuses do not make hires. Fast and intelligent action makes hires.
  • Get back to all candidates as soon as possible on the status of their candidacy as it relates to the position for which they have interviewed. That does not mean that you send a postcard eight weeks after they were interviewed. If there is no interest, call the candidate after the interview. I would never consider sending something in the mail. It is tacky to hide behind paperwork. Make the call. Candidates will appreciate the personal touch, and both you as well as your company will stand out from the crowd.
  • Provide feedback to the organization that runs the job fair and let them know where they can do better the next time. They want and need your suggestions; they will not be successful if you are not successful.

It requires a certain degree of attention to detail, but if you follow the advice I’ve listed above, you’re certain to meet with a much higher rate of success at the job fairs you attend.

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See twitter.com/howardadamsky if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at H.adamsky@comcast.net

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