When I first started out in HR ten years ago, I attended job fairs that were packed with employers. Job fairs were so big that it would have been nearly impossible for a job seeker to visit every table. Now things are different. At many of the fairs I’ve been to, employer attendance is way down, which means tables are mobbed by job seekers throughout the whole fair. It can be hard in this environment to connect with people enough to determine if they might be a good fit for your company. My many job fair experiences have left me wondering if job fairs are an effective tool for finding good candidates.
A quick Google search reveals loads of articles full of job fair advice for job seekers, but what about employers? How can you wade through the sea of job seekers to find the gems? Is attendance at job fairs worth the effort? I think it is, provided that you figure out how to best make job fairs work for you and your organization. Here are three tips to make your next job fair experience successful.
Keep it Small
A lot of local career centers plan events for job seekers where they invite a small number of employers. I attended an event like this last week. Job seekers signed up for meetings with employers they were interested in, and each employer was given office space to do interviews. I find these events much more effective. The number of job seekers in attendance is more manageable, and career center staff usually help direct attendees to employers that might be a good match for their skills. Rather than talking to 100 people in an afternoon, a mini job fair may involve talking to 30 people.
Take the time to let career center staff know what your company does and what openings you have prior to the event. This will help them better direct qualified applicants to you.
The smaller number of attendees also means that you have time to do mini-interviews with people. I’m hiring for grocery store jobs, so customer service skills are important. In a few minutes, I can carry on enough of a conversation with someone to assess their skills. Do they make eye contact? Did they smile and greet me when they walked up to my table? Figure out what skill is most important for the jobs you’re hiring for, and find a way to assess this in a mini-interview. If a candidate makes a good impression, you can call them in for a full interview after the job fair.
Plan Your Own Job Fair
One of my company’s stores is located in a small and somewhat isolated coastal city. Sales at the store have been increasing steadily, which has led us to add a number of new jobs. We have struggled to build a big talent pool, especially for the jobs that require experience. We usually rely on walk-in applicants and ads on job posting sites, but these sources don’t always bring in enough qualified candidates. I attended a job fair in the city about a year ago, but attendance was low, and none of the people I met were qualified. So, I took matters into my own hands last week and planned my own hiring event in order to increase the talent pool. I was hoping to meet candidates for current openings as well as people who might be a good fit for future hiring needs.
My company uses an online application system. One of the biggest complaints from our applicants is that applying online is impersonal. They want the ability to put a face with a name, so I designed my event with this in mind. My goal was to give candidates the chance to come make a good impression and increase their chances of being called for a future interview. Prior to the event I collaborated with my company’s marketing department to get the word out through the local newspaper, the local chamber of commerce and our store. All of our advertising encouraged people to apply online before the event.
On the day of the event, I set myself up at a table near one of the store’s front doors. For the full two hours of the event, I had a steady flow of people. I had my laptop with me, so I was able to pull up applications and review a candidate’s work history with them. I wrote down the names of people I met with and noted whether they were a yes, no or maybe.
The biggest advantage to an on-site hiring event at your company is that candidates show up already knowing about your company. Applicants at my event showed up because they wanted to work at my company. They already knew about us by shopping at our store, or they took the time to read up on the company before arriving at the event. I didn’t have to waste time explaining what the company does.
Regardless of the type of event you attend, it’s important to follow up with the job seekers that might be a good fit for your company. At the very least, this may be an email or phone call to gauge the job seeker’s interest. Ideally, you want to invite the person in for an interview and have them meet with the hiring manager. Don’t wait for job seekers to contact you, follow up with them within a few days of meeting them at the event.
In the End…
If you prepare and approach them with a plan, job fairs can be a good way to connect with candidates who are an ideal fit for your organization. The key is to focus on setting up job fair experiences that yield great candidates.
Do you have any good job fair tips? What works for you when searching for candidates at job fairs?
Article by Stephanie Hammerwold
Stephanie Hammerwold, PHR has worked in human resources for ten years. She is the owner of Hammerwold & Pershing Consulting. Her HR experience includes working with small businesses as well as grocery, manufacturing and distribution companies with more than 400 employees. She specializes in recruiting, training, employee relations and writing employment policies. You can connect with Stephanie through LinkedIn
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