Why Career Fairs Need a Makeover

FEMA photo - Brittany TrotterCareer fairs are doomed, or are they?

When recently researching the topic as a co-author of the upcoming Handbook of Human Resources Management, I realized that there is little new insight or leading practices published about career fairs.

In order to find out more about the state of this recruiting channel I launched a sample poll in which 25 companies from across all major industries participated. Company sizes ranged from small (under 1,000 employees) to large ones (more than 100,000 employees). Geographically speaking responses came from Europe and North America.

Here is what I found:

  • Not surprisingly, 84 percent of respondents stated the type of events they participate in most are university career fairs.
  • Events organized by professional associations (76 percent) and in-house career fairs (72 percent) also ranked very high. The latter was also cited as the type pf event generating the highest ROI for organizations.
  • Newer types of recruiting events such as virtual career fairs and non-recruiting events (e.g. hackathons) didn’t make it into the top five.
types of recruiting events
Types of Recruiting Events (Source: talent.imperative inc 2014 Recruiting Events Survey, n=25)
  • In line with the fact that most surveyed companies attend university career fairs, the type of talent recruited are primarily college graduates. However, hiring for interns via career fairs did not make it into the top three.
  • STEM talent was targeted via career fairs — possibly due to the skill shortage in this field.
  • Many companies seem to attend diversity and military-veteran-specific events, but hiring that type of talent did not rank high.
Fig. 2: Type of Talent Hired from Recruiting Events                                                                                      (Source: talent.imperative inc 2014 Recruiting Events Survey, n=25)
Type of Talent Hired from Recruiting Events (Source: talent.imperative inc 2014 Recruiting Events Survey, n=25)

In terms of leading practices I love how Hershey uses immersive technology to increase candidate engagement at career fairs.

Six tips from survey participants on how to incorporate social media and technology into recruiting events:

  1. Connect with the audience through social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook) before, during, and after the events.
  2. Offer pre-event webinars on resume writing or interview skills.
  3. Create event-specific portals and provide tools for self-scheduling interviews.
  4. Design an app as an interactive way to engage potential applicants.
  5. For large, national events create landing pages specific to the event.
  6. Use iPads to collect contact information that can easily be exported into a spreadsheet.

One of the survey participants, Nicholas Tompkins, director of talent acquisition at The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, states: “Preparation for the event in terms of identifying the audience, potential targets, and appropriately sizing the event team are critical success factors. I have attended many events with low candidate turnout and high exhibitor body count — wasteful and expensive. When attending events with potential high quality candidates, bring decision makers who can make on the spot hiring/engagement decisions.”

Every talent acquisition organization should continuously analyze the ROI from all of its hiring sources — including career fairs. It starts with identifying key talent segments and the most effective ways to attract each segment. If recruiting events are part of the source mix, the next step is to define the types of events that make sense for each type of talent.

So, are career fairs doomed?

They have not evolved much over recent years unlike several other recruiting channels. According to the CareerXroads Source of Hire Report 2014, career fairs made up 1.4 percent of companies’ total hires in 2013. That was lower by 0.5 percent compared to 2011. Overall, career fairs fared worse than other hiring sources — only print ads and walk-ins generated fewer hires.

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And if budget allocation is any indication, 44 percent of recruiters surveyed through my poll spent less on recruiting events than in the previous year.

Fig. 3: Recruiting Events Budget Allocation                                                                                                   (Source: talent.imperative inc 2014 Recruiting Events Survey, n=25)
Recruiting Events Budget Allocation (Source: talent.imperative inc 2014 Recruiting Events Survey, n=25)

But maybe career fairs are not doomed, they are just ready for reinvention.

Hackathon-like events not only provide a way to attract scarce technology talent but can also serve as a way to assess coding skills in a very efficient way. This concept could be applied to other roles and skills.

Virtual events provide an efficient way to tap into a wider talent pool including international candidates or people with different abilities.

And as interactive and holographic event technology evolves, there may be a potential to reshape career fairs into something new, sort of a hybrid between social sourcing, networking, and live events.

What do you think? Are recruiting events doomed? Can you share an innovative career fair practice that the talent acquisition community may benefit from?

Nicole Dessain is a talent acquisition and design thinking “nerd." She loves to blow up long-held beliefs that stop us from preparing our organizations for the future of work. She feels lucky to have had an amazing corporate HR and consulting career that she has recently turned into her own startup, talent.imperative inc, a talent experience design consultancy. Her second, not-for-profit business, DisruptHR Chicago, was launched in 2016 and has inspired more than 1,700 HR and business leaders in the Chicago area. She serves on the advisory board of the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals (ATAP). You can find her on LinkedInTwitter, or via email.


9 Comments on “Why Career Fairs Need a Makeover

  1. Thanks for writing about a strategic communication channel (not just recruiting), Nicole. It is often forget its value, as unfortunately the 3rd graph shows.
    I agree with your six tips for the success of job fair. About the Hackathon-like format I think it is good to involve specialists at the career fairs – not just HR – better if the specialists are recently-hired o even interns who can tell the visitors about their expenrience in a stongly empathic way.

    Finally, it is not a great innovation but I think recruiters and company representants need to be more engaging with the young visitors. Too many times I see people sitted behind their desk waiting for the “Hello, can I let my Resume?” question. This is not the right approach to make the job fairs ROI high and maybe it is the reason of a decreasing budget allocation to them.

    1. Andrea – great points! Definitely, taking hiring managers and/or alumni to career fairs is key. And I agree that we need to ramp up the “experience” factor at these events similar to what Hershey has done.

  2. Nicole:

    I work with employer relations in a university career services office. Employers are consistently asking us to assist them with connecting with our students and we try to find unique opportunities for them.

    Many people believe that there will be a change in campus career fairs. In addition to the large all campus events, we will begin to see smaller events focused on majors or industries. The focus will be on building connections and communities with employers, students, faculty, and staff.

    Farouk Dey at Stanford University has done significant writing related to how career services can best serve students and employers as everyone’s needs change.

    The link to the Hershey information was not working. Can you comment with the link?

    Karl Aldrich

  3. Nicole – great article, and thank you for describing the exact services provided by Recsolu. Career fairs are not going away. If anything our data shows that more companies are using them as part of the recruiting process than ever before.

    The key difference is that top employers view career fairs as just one of the steps in a recruiting process. Previously many companies would start their recruiting efforts at a campus/affinity group at the career fair. Now, the career fair often serves as the last step before an offer, or an invitation to a Super Day. This is why you are seeing the numbers as a source go down… smart companies are utilizing them as massive touch points.

    Companies are also getting smarter on which events they attend and who the send there based on metrics. Our clients can easily understand which events led to hires, and which were a waste of money.

    This puts the onus back on the career fair organizers.

    As Karl references, Farouk Dey and his team at Stanford have done an incredible job putting on events that increase the likelihood of attracting the right candidates to the right events. Other diversity conferences have suffered incredibly because they have not responded back to employer needs.

    There will be a big shake-up in recruiting events, but they will increase in importance.

    Learn more at https://recsolu.com

  4. Great article, Nicole! I don’t think recruiting events are doomed, but rather on the verge of a renaissance. With even the modest upticks we’ve seen in recruitment these past few months, we’ve seen a lot of our clients willing to revisit methods, both new and old, to engage with candidates and to find ways to stand out from competitors for talent. Hosting or participating in events seems to be making a resurgence as companies look to move past the ATS system and actually connect with candidates in real-time.

    We help our clients with both traditional, in-person events, as well as digital (or virtual) events and we’ve seen higher interest and participation over the last few months. We’ve also seen a rise in recruiters and hiring companies looking to use these events in new ways or structuring their events differently (by holding meet-ups or the aforementioned hackathons).

    One example of an unique event configuration we’ve managed: Hos a Digital event first that screens for, and precedes, an in-person event that is invite-only and/or higher-touch. In particular, we see huge potential for college recruiters to hold events online before they’re on campus so they can set interviews on campus ahead of time, allowing them to make more of their time on campus. Virtual also expands the reach that a college recruiter has to more, and more distant schools, just as it allows other recruiters the chance to recruit candidates around the globe without leaving their desk (or home or coffeehouse!).

    With rising travel costs, we’ve also seen a number of Associations hold hybrid events where candidates can attend in person or online depending on which version suits them.

    And we know that a lot of hosts – of both digital and in-person events – are working to invigorate their events with new features, points of interaction and post-event reporting. So, while we’ve worked hard to simplify the mantra of our Virtual career events – easy to use digital space, customized with pertinent content and an array of ways to recruit and communicate live – we’re also seeing the need at add interactive features like polls, live presentations, networking areas, meaningful resources, contests, prizes, badges and social integration to augment the event experience for all involved.

    Hope this helps!

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  6. Great article, Nicole. You hit the nail on the head. Career fairs are not going away. For smaller employers, they still serve as a great way to build their brand awareness among students, and a critical venue to connect with massive audience. For larger employers, career fairs now become one step in an integrated campus recruiting strategy.

    Many organizations have encountered challenges in tracking ROI from specific career fairs or recruiting events because the sheer amount of paper resumes & sign-up sheets involved far outweigh the recruiters’ capacity to properly process and track.

    Rakuna’s mobile app solution helps recruiters to seamlessly capture candidates’ resume and information at their finger tips, and Rakuna’s dashboard gives campus recruiting team immediate insight in ROI from each recruiting event.

    Learn more at https://www.rakuna.co

  7. Physical career fairs are not doomed. As mentioned, they need to encompass the right mix of job seeker/student vs employer from a quantity and quality perspective. Outreach and event marketing by the event holder is key and is the most difficult part of event organization. Done right, career fairs can be hugely successful. Virtual career fairs can add to the effectiveness as they are region liberated and are much lest costly to attend. Thus, they can be held more frequently and have a more targeted audience. Our organization has had repeat success using the eCareerFairs tool set (http://virtual.ecareerfairs.com). The platform is spot on, but more importantly their staff has guided us with best practices which ensured our success.

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