The Naked Truth About Recruiting at Diversity Conferences

Companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to recruit talent at diversity recruiting conferences, but the results can be minimal. We need to address this problem if we are to be seen as business-problem solvers, and not just recruiters.

As many of you know, there are quite a multitude of diverse organizations that put on annual conferences, such as the National Black MBA Association, National Society of Hispanic MBAs, and the National Society of Black Engineers.

These associations have been around for years and have been very effective in supporting their memberships’ needs to identify great employment opportunities. Further, many have regional and local chapters that have annual scholarships and awards banquets, guest lecture series, professional development seminars, networking activities, corporate receptions, and numerous student development and scholarship programs. (Can you begin to see how great recruiters can do so well here? I thought so.)

For those of you who have never attended these conferences, think of them as job fairs on steroids; thousands of candidates looking for their next opportunities and hundreds of companies trying to do everything to recruit these candidates.

These conferences offer a great venue for companies to showcase their name, organization, and brand; to sponsor everything from case competitions and cyber cafes to having your name on the bag that is given to the candidates for all the freebies.

Most important, these conferences allow your organization a real opportunity to hire diverse talent from these memberships if you know how to do it effectively and you are willing to put in the time to plan an effective strategy that has a mature and effective back-end recruiting process to guarantee that no candidates fall through the cracks.

If this sounds like a better way to get things done, let’s see how to get there in two simple steps!

Step One: Understand Process Maturity

Year after year, I see recruiting organizations attend these conferences with little to no success at acquiring diverse talent, so let’s define success right here. Success is making hires. If there is no success, why is that?

For example, did you come to the event unprepared or did candidates simply fall through the cracks in the process?

To get to an answer, let’s start with six simple questions:

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  1. Is there an organized plan for the interviews or do they just seem to occur somehow amid the chaos?
  2. Is there any formal documentation or is there some code written on the back of the resume to determine the value of the candidate?
  3. Is there a follow-up process in place or should candidates expect never to hear from anyone until next year? (Candidates who do not know what to expect usually expect nothing and move on.)
  4. Is there an executive sponsor for these conferences who is actually held accountable for results or is it just talked about with no clear expectations as to what success will mean to the organization?
  5. Are there champions internally who will speak on behalf of all of these conference candidates, and is that champion promoting these candidates to the various business lines to increase ROI on the conference?
  6. Most important, what happened to the candidates who were interviewed two, three, or four years ago? Can they now be great hires for your organization, as they are now experienced and ready to handle more and greater levels of responsibility and challenges?

Is your organization now paying large agency fees to hire the very candidates that slipped between their fingers due to an immature hiring process? If so, this would be the ultimate waste of valuable resources and would never happen if a mature recruiting process were in place.

That’s why the recruiter who wants results needs to make the process changes that will yield a better ROI.

Now that you can see the value of a mature recruiting process, let’s look at Carnegie Mellon’s Capability Maturity Model so we can start to put a definition to it. (Where is your organization in this list?)

Simply stated, here are the five categories, according to Carnegie Mellon:

  • Ad hoc

    * Undefined processes

    * Unpredictable results (Not good)

  • Repeatable

    * Basic process definition

    * Limited consistency

    * Unable to measure results (A step up)

  • Defined

    * Defined processes

    * Most groups consistent

    * Ability to measure results (Getting better)

  • Managed

    * Well-defined processes

    * Organizational consistency

    * Managed results (Looking very good)

  • Optimized

    * Process optimization

    * Quality enhancement (Very few can claim this level)

Unfortunately, the recruiting model that I consistently see at conferences is to send a bunch of people to stand in a booth or behind a table and hope the right candidates walk by. Once the conference is over, everyone drinks beer, eats those greasy little cheese balls, and takes the stacks of resumes that no one knows what to do with back to corporate so they can get put in a drawer until next year.

By the above definition, this ad-hoc process is not very good. Now, let’s look at how to optimize.

Step Two: Plan, Predict, and Track

If you want to get more ROI on diversity initiatives, I urge you to consider the following as a direct line to more effective diversity hiring:

  1. Plan the event. Start the recruiting process two to three months in advance of the conference. Pre-set a number of interviews that have already been identified and screened; this gives the candidate and manager enough time to prepare for a great interview.
  2. Assign roles and responsibilities. Be sure each individual involved with the conference has a clear role and responsibility. This will be beneficial at the conference, as well as afterward, when someone asks that famous question, “Why didn’t (fill in the blank) happen?” Having set roles and responsibilities in place will alleviate a lot of finger pointing.
  3. Bring well-rounded employees. The selected representatives should be able to speak about the entire business, not just the vertical they fall within. as you meet all kinds of great candidates at these events.
  4. Assign a champion. There should be a person (i.e., a champion) on the back end of the process who owns the overall relationship with the candidates. This includes contacting the candidates who weren’t selected so they can move forward with other interviews.
  5. Make the recruiters accountable. The champion will not be able to do their job of communicating with the conference candidates unless the recruiters keep that person posted on the dispensation of all positions that involve those diversity candidates.
  6. Have the champion develop metrics. As the recruiters report back to the champion on positions that close, the champion can develop metrics including number of candidates interviewed, number of offers made, and number of offers accepted. Armed with this information, you are now able to see the results, tweak practices, seek improvement, and start to predict future outcomes.

As you can imagine, there are many more things we can examine pertaining to recruiting process maturity. This is just one example of why moving away from the ad-hoc stage toward the higher levels of intelligent process will support better and more effective hiring at all levels of the organization.

Shea Putnam is the Manager of Staff Augmentation with Innovative Management Solutions, a company that helps organizations increase their capability to manage their portfolio of projects. Throughout his career, Shea has been responsible for creating the delivery processes for many customized recruiting services. In addition, he has consulted with many leading companies from startups to Fortune 500 companies such as Dell, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Washington Mutual.


19 Comments on “The Naked Truth About Recruiting at Diversity Conferences

  1. What a complete scam. I have been in recruiting for more than 15 years and I have never been to one quality event for diversity recruiting. Hiring the best people and diversity recruiting do not belong in the same sentence.

  2. Jim,
    Interesting position. My experiences have been just the opposite over the past 30 years. I routinely attend Diversity hiring events and come away with a quality hire every time, sometimes multiple hires. I guess it all depends on the event and how one works it. I also think one’s mindset and approach going in to a Diversity hiring event is key. Perhaps you should give it one more shot and use the suggestions in the Article.

  3. Great recommendations Shea! The job fairs I attended in the past were exactly as you described them. There was push and shove to get to the front of the table only to get about 10 seconds of face time and little to no answers.

    The other thing that would make job fairs more meaningful is to have a list of openings for the company available before the Fair starts. Then the candidates can peruse the list and determine which one(s) to target. That will optimize everyone’s time.

  4. Over the past 10 years I have hired 10 to 15 employees from major diversity events. These events are effective if you plan correctly and have the right representatives at the event telling your story. Prior to attending these events our recruiting team has done a great deal of work to make the event seamless. It all comes down to having a solid brand in the industry and reaching out to candidates ASAP after the event. Once candidates know that your organization is an ’employer of choice’ and a great place for a person of color to begin their career they will become a diversity ambassador for your company. Recruiting becomes easy if friends tell their friends to attend your booth at these events. So at the end of the day it is all about your employment brand and how you treat your candidates and new hires.

    Lynn Arts
    Chief People Officer
    Trio Solutions, LLC

  5. Jim:

    While I would agree that some job fairs in general (including diversity job fairs) tend to attract active job seekers who may not have the qualifications you are seeking, I find diversity conferences targeting highly educated professionals just the opposite.

    I got the impression from your post that perhaps you did not read the whole article and assumed that Shea was discussing traditional diversity job fairs and that he was limiting the recruiter’s role to simply ‘standing at the booth.’

    If that is what your experience was, it is understandable that your efforts were not successful.

    For any career event recruitment effort to be really successful you really need to not only be careful with your selection of event, but also with planning and execution or you will be wasting your money.

    Great advice Shea!
    I like the phrase, ‘job fairs on steroids’
    Can I use it?

  6. Shea nice article! You make some very good points about being prepared, having an executive sponsor and ensuring people are accountable for results. There should be shared accountability for the candidate experience, follow up and hiring results. It is critical for everyone involved with the career fair to understand how to evaluate the competencies and transferable skills for the organization. Many times potential hires are overlooked at career fairs because someone in the booth was not able to recognize the person’s transferable skills and failed to pass the potential candidate along to a decision maker who may have recognized the potential hire. To get more ROI from these career fairs, companies need to stress the shared accountability for ensuring that not candidate is dismissed before they are properly considered.

  7. I have no way of knowing whether this is the case with those who have posted negative comments about diversity job fairs, but I’ve heard that complaint before and I find that the poor results often have more to do with the recruiting organization than the diversity job fair itself. The disconnect that some recruiters have is that they expect these job fairs to solve most and sometimes even all of their diversity hiring problems. They work for organizations which have little to no commitment to creating a diverse workforce. Many regard diversity hiring as a separate type of hiring. Today’s candidates, especially diverse college students and recent graduates, can smell such organizations a mile away and stay just as far. They have no interest in working for organizations which regard racial minorities and other diverse candidates as ‘different’ than their mainstream employees. Showing up at a job fair occasionally and hiring the occasional racial minority does not make your organization diverse. Fully integrating diversity goals and practices throughout your organization does and that integration will result in your organization landing the best candidates not only at diversity job fairs, but in all of its hiring efforts.

  8. This is a timely discussion. I also like the term ‘job fairs on steroids’, Tracey, as it presumably applies to ‘diversity conferences targeting highly educated professionals’. Do you have a list of these conferences for Hispanics?

  9. Hola Abel,

    I have attended ‘ La Raza’ ,The US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the National Hispanic MBA Association annual conferences, just to name a few. By far, the National Hispanic MBA Association annual conference has been the best venue for sourcing both potential qualified bilingual professionals, as well as potential clients. Hope this helps.

    Un caluroso saludo,

  10. Hi Abe:

    Thanks for thinking of my calendars. If you are interested in finding out about upcoming diversity career conferences or job fairs I send out two lists. see below.

    To receive updates of diversity career conferences send an email to:

    For a list of diversity career fairs, send an email to:

    In the meantime, hear are a few upcoming events that seem interesting.

    February 1-4. 18th Annual National Society of Minorities in Hospitality National Conference. Seattle, WA

    February 8. National Society for Hispanic Professionals Dallas Diversity Job Fair. Dallas. TX.

    February 15-17. Black Engineer of The Year Awards Career Conference. Baltimore, MD

    February 21 ?25. 2007 Joint Annual Conference of the National Society of Black Physicists and the National Society of Hispanic Physicists. Boston, MA

    February 23-25. 35th Annual H. Naylor Fitzhugh Conference at Harvard University. Boston, MA

    Tracey de Morsella
    The Multicultural Advantage

  11. As the Managing Partner of a search firm, while also in the final stages of completing an Exec MBA from Mercer University (Stetson School of Business and Economics – Atlanta, GA), I have been quite shocked over my observations of the one and only diversity conference that really matters: The National Black MBA.

    I must admit that I have been very surprised that many of the companies at these conferences are truly not after recruiting top talent – they are doing what they can to meet an internal quota. I have several minority friends that admit that it is an injustice, but since they benefit from it, little is done. However, there is, from time to time, deviation from the mean at this conference. There are some great companies that are truly after finding the right people, regardless of race, creed, or religion.

  12. Interesting thread. Time to weigh in.

    As for Jim Davis’ comments about hiring the best candidates and diversity recruiting not being in the same sentence, I couldn’t disagree more. Hiring the best candidates should INCLUDE considering those from statistically disadvantaged groups. Notice the word ‘consider’. Thats what diversity recruiting is all about. Ensuring that all qualified candidates get an equal opportunity to compete for a role; even those who generally wouldn’t get an invite to the party like African American Engineers who for example only make up about 2% of the market and stand a 1 in 50 chance of being considered for any given engineering role.

    Kudo’s to Tracey for her timely info on where and when to find these events.

    Joshua made a reference to the one and only diversity conference that matters The National Black MBA. While I really can’t address their conferences as they actively discriminate against search firms (personal experience), I can add that there are others that do not have that practice like the Consortium, SHPE, Hispanic MBA and others. We attempted to sponsor a booth at the NBMBAA event here in San Diego last year and found that we were not welcome as a diversity search firm. The comments from the representative (to be fair she is no longer there) were and I quote ‘We do not do business with you people’. Not sure where that came from. Sent them a letter. No response so I can only assume they do not do business with diversity or general market search firms. What a shame. Only the candidates lose in that one.

    I have held diversity job fairs in the past (One World Multicultural Career Events) and they have been very successful for both the attendees and sponsors (we allowed competing search firms) Such that the repeat rate of sponsorship was nearly 90%.

    At the end of the day these events should be about two things essentially, giving minority and female candidates a chance to get their credentials in front of a major employer in a meaningful way and giving the employer a chance to consider these candidates. Thats it. If you think you are serving some other purpose by attending these events like ‘marketing’ your company as a diverse employer, I’m afraid you have to actually be DOING the former to achieve the status of the latter.

  13. Oh Carl:

    You hit a nerve. 🙂 While it has been a while since I have worked in executive search, I remember how frustrated and even angry I used to get when some of my clients would try to give me a week to find a specific race and/or gender to fill a specific position. No matter what I said to dissuade them, it was almost impossible to make them see that you do not fix a problem or mistake (employment discrimination) with a tweak on the mistake (targeting specific underrepresented groups for specific positions).

    Offering to provide a diverse slate of candidates was often met with incredulous and negative responses. Most members of these groups DO NOT want that. It only serves to marginalize them in the workplace. They want a fair chance to be considered for the job. This other recruitment ‘strategy’ only serves as window dressing for a very real and serious problem and ultimately justifiably alienates and angers many White males. It does not fix the problem. It creates incredibly bad new ones… and ironically, people from underrepresented backgrounds will usually continue to be discriminated against within those same organizations.

    Will they never learn? Sigh….. It is good, however to see that some people get it.

    Tracey de Morsella (climbing down from her soapbox)
    The Multicultural Advantage

  14. The Black MBA Association is Not The Only Game in Town

    Joshua, the Black MBA Association is not the only game in town. Even of you are focused on MBA professionals, that is simply not true. However, I understand why you believe it to be true. For example lets look at some university sponsored MBA conferences and related alumni events

    When I lived and recruited in Philadelphia, I attended so many of The Wharton Whitney M. Young Conferences for African Americans leaders that many still think I am an Alum. I always networked at these events with the same corporate recruiters who seemed happy with the outcomes at every event, so I think they must be doing something right. Harvard, University of Illinois and several other schools have similar events that are alumni magnets.

    Three are also some excellent programs that have alumni programs and events with top rate talent that I like to tap for talent when I can. They are Inroads, Management Leadership for Tomorrow and Leadership, Education and Development.

    While I only recently have heard of it, I suspect the MBA Diversity Alliance might be a resource to keep an eye on. ( Member schools include: Cornell, Duke University, NYU, University of Southern California; and Yale University)

    Trust me. The Black MBA Association is Not The Only Game in Town

    Tracey de Morsella
    The Multicultural Advantage

  15. Good information on Diversity conference sourcing, Tracy. And, of course, Joshua is wrong about the Black MBA’s being the only game in town. (You know, Joshua seems talented and he is getting a fine MBA in HR. One day he might be a ‘talent aquisition’ guru for some firm and calling the shots. I wonder where his aim will be)

    Speaking of having an agenda and calling the shots, it is not the first time I have heard on this forum that a recruiter was ‘angry or frustrated’ over being asked by a customer to find a diverse candidate. Whereas Carl goes happily to find a diverse candidate (and I go happily to find Spanish speakers) some go into the task ‘angry and frustrated’. I wonder which source might do the better job?

  16. Abe,

    I think you misread what I wrote. Maybe, I did not make clear what my intention was, or perhaps I have misunderstood what you wrote. I owned an executive search firm that specialized in diversity placements, so why would I have a problem with diversity assignments? I was good at the job and I liked what I did. Lets hope so, because I’m still working in this industry after 10 years.

    My anger was not at a client asking for candidates from diverse backgrounds, but at clients who ask for specific sex and race and then giving me less than a week to do it. Do you really think the answer to employment discrimination is to exclude all except for one ethnic group and/or sex from even being considered for a job? Can you not see the inherent problems with such a policy.

    Let me present an example. This happened to me, by the way. Your client calls you and says I want you to send me five female Asian candidates for a benefits manager position. I need them because so many of our scientists are Asian. Your deadline is Monday. I check my database, and I find plenty of people, African American, Hispanic, White, Asian, male and female who fit the bill. But, I can not even contact most of them, because they are all either the wrong sex or race. To me this is wrong.

    Lets look at this from what might have taken place inside of the company. Employees know there is an opening and the word is out that they will only seriously consider Asian females. Ken Smith, a rising star in benefits, had applied. He had the right stuff, he told himself. ‘That job should be mine.’ ‘they are not even seriously considering me’ When the Asian female they ultimately selected goes in and tries to manage Ken and others who knew how she got the position, how successful a manager do you think she is going to be? I think it will be hard to overcome the hostility and the questioning of her abilities. If she stays beyond two years, it is practically a miracle. The problems she might face will most likely affect her productivity. Lack of faith in her abilities will likely make promotions difficult. However, if she had been considered for the position among a diverse slate of candidates and been the most qualified, things would have been entirely different.

    This scenario is also a branding and culture nightmare. Many White males who know the company is hiring people like this, are going to remember and tell their peers. Whenever a minority is hired, they are going to think the qualifications have nothing to do with it. This is bad for the company’s reputation and not particularly good for building productive multicultural teams.

    The scenario I outlined is not unique. Other diversity recruiters, who I think are good at what the do have problems with this type of ‘diversity’ recruiting.

    So let me correct you on the misconception that I do not believe diversity recruiting is a good thing. I believe diversity recruiting is necessary, and I enjoy what I do very much. However, the strategy the described above is part of the cause of much of the backlash we see and in the end, no one benefits from its use. There are other, more effective ways to build a diverse workforce.

    Tracey De Morsella
    The Multicultural Advantage

  17. Tracey: I am not so sure I missread your post. It was:

    I remember how frustrated and even angry I used to get when some of my clients would try to give me a week to find a specific race and/or gender to fill a specific position. No matter what I said to dissuade them, it was almost impossible to make them see that you do not fix a problem or mistake (employment discrimination) with a tweak on the mistake (targeting specific underrepresented groups for specific positions).

    It doesn not sound to me like your major concern was the short lead time.

    And you are right, there is danger inherent in such a policy. But the client should know what he needs and why. If the client has explained the need to my satisfaction, I would fill that need. I do not second guess his branding or his group’s dynamics. The chef asked me for blue cheese not cheddar. That I do not have blue cheese..that I do not like blue cheese..that in my opinion blue cheese won’t go well with his chalupas is of no consequence. I give him blue cheese….but won’t eat those chalupas!

    But more to the point. Why is the client seeking a specific diverisy candidate. Probably not because he has TOO MANY. Let’s say he has a pool of 50 auditors. The ethnic diversity is fine (fat chance) but of the 50 auditors, only 5 are women. The client knows that demographics say there are plenty of female auditors in the pool. How did the pool get that way? OFCCP can only suspect, but they would want the client to fix it. Then you get the call to identify female auditors (well, before this post). I think that you should have dialed and smiled.

  18. Abe:

    I had a problem with them regularly approaching diversity that way. Had they had a different approach, that would not have been business as usual.

    I did not say that it was the time frame that was the issue. However, giving me only one or two business days to find these candidates did bother me after 6 times oin three months. Offering non-competitive salaries to these candidates was another issue I had, but I did not mention that; or that some people in the HR department and a few other departments told me repeatedly that the reason they were under fire so much was that they had some pretty dubious hiring practices to begin with. Contacting me at the end of a search, and not the beginning, regularly, seemed to be a reactive way to handling the problem. Some serious legal problems ultimately forced them to change their ways.

    You say ‘I do not second guess his branding or his group’s dynamics.’

    As far as I’m concerned, recruiters should at least be working to understand their client’s branding and his group’s dynamics, if they want to better service the account. As far as I know, there are no branding programs that would intentionally promote such practices, nor to my knowledge are there group leaders who would desire such a dynamic on their team. It’s a disaster and there are numerous case studies to back that up.

    My clients wanted consultive services. I trained, consulted and did retained search for them. I dared to asked those types of questions (at least privately) so that I could have a better idea of what candidates would best fit their needs, guide them with their decision making and help them with their job descriptions.

    Most consultants I know, in many fields, help their clients with their problems, identifying a clients problems areas and helping them to resolve them when possible. At the very least, understanding the problems, makes you an informed recruiter and enables you to speak knowledgeably about their concerns.

    Keep in mind, I was just expressing how I felt about practices of an unnamed company years later on a forum for HR professionals. But according to you, doing so makes me a less of a recruiter. Ironically, I thought ERE was the exact place to discuss such issues.

    You say, ‘I think that you should have dialed and smiled.’

    I’m not even sure my actual actions matter to you, but that is exactly what I did. I was looking up people while I was still on the phone. But it is my opinion and questioning the actions of my client that is leading you to publicly judge my abilities as a recruiter.

    I say, why are you judging my abilities based on this opinion. I talk to recruiters all the time about practices a client has that they might not like, it does not mean that they are not good at what they do or able to give their all for that client.

    I realize I’m long winded, but its not everyday someone publicly questions my recruiting abilities publicly.

    Tracey de Morsella
    The Multicultural Advantage

  19. Tracey: Now you are ‘frustrated and angry at me too, and for that I am truly sorry. That was not my intent. What I wrote was…oh, heck, you know what I wrote.

    My old figers cant handle long posts. Too many ‘high and tight’ fastballs for too long. I know, Yvonne, you can’t understand my posts most of the time, but maybe one of you Yankee fans might expalin about the significance (and yield) of pitching (working) ‘high and tight’.

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