Have you ever left a job fair feeling like your top accomplishment was the distribution of your company’s latest promo item (stress ball, anyone?) to people who will likely toss it the minute they get home?

In theory, exhibiting at job fairs provides a boost to the candidate search and hiring process. In reality, job fairs require thorough preparation and out-of-the-box tactics to be an effective recruiting strategy.

If you are planning to attend job fairs in 2019 and come away with more than empty boxes, these tips are for you.

Target the right events

Before signing up for any job or career fair, research all of the events in your local area, or within a particular industry, such as healthcare or tech. Find out which events historically attract the candidates that best match what you’re looking for and stick with those. Say no to big-name events that may have a larger number of job seekers, but will be less likely to have the specific types of candidates you need.

Job and career fairs present significant opportunities for organizations; however, you might also consider other, less traditional venues for networking and finding prospective employees. For example, festivals bring together large numbers of local residents, some of whom will be good candidates for your open positions or will know someone who is. It’s another way to get some visibility for your organization, especially if your office is not in a major metropolitan area and you depend on local talent. Look for local Chamber of Commerce business expos or arts and crafts festivals – any fun event that brings the community and local businesses together can be a great place to extend the awareness of your employer brand.

For companies recruiting across states or countries, consider hosting virtual job fairs via a virtual event platform. Digital job fairs combine the power of the internet with some of the advantages of traditional job fairs to save costs and reach people who otherwise cannot attend due to timing or distance.

Design your space

Does your company have the necessary marketing materials to make your booth stand out and to distribute information to prospective employees? Standard items to have on hand include name tags, business cards, a tablecloth or banners, informational sheets and, of course, pens and other knick-knacks as incentives for people to stop by your booth. Craft the look and feel of your booth to match your company’s brand. The materials should distinctly promote your organization, meaning they should, at the very least, display your company logo.

Having branded materials is essential, but showcasing your brand takes more than free pens. To stand out from other employers at a career fair, think beyond the standard materials to something that will connect with your intended audience.

Does your company let you wear casual clothes to work? Then pass on the suit and consider branded t-shirts with your company’s tagline or values printed across the front.

Is your company technologically advanced? Bring a couple of your best products, or related tech gadgets, for people to experience for themselves.

If you’re recruiting seasonal workers for November start dates in September, dress up your space with winter decorations to really stand out from other employers.

Offer something of value in exchange for resumes or interview sign-ups. For example, bring a camera and a small backdrop and offer free headshots attendees can use on their LinkedIn profiles.

Prepare your team

This is the stage where you decide which team members to send to best represent your company. Recruiters and other human resource personnel are the most obvious choices. However, if other employees are enthusiastic about the company and enjoy networking, by all means, invite them along. Your best employees can often make the best recruiters, especially if they work in the area for which you are recruiting.

Preparing in advance by formulating talking points for your representatives will help your team understand what is most important to share with prospective employees. What information can you share face-to-face that cannot be found on your website? What are your best employee perks and benefits that make you a competitive employer?

Prep the recruiters so they’ll balance their time between asking probing questions to prospective hires and discussing open position(s) and what your organization does and values. Give each representative a tablet or notebook to take notes on exchanges with individual candidates. That will help capture relevant information about potential candidates on site and avoid trying to match conversations with candidates after the event.

Make the best impression

Once your marketing materials are packed and your team prepped, it is time to head to the event. Keep in mind, just because other companies recruit a certain way does not mean you have to follow their lead. Customize your approach to match your company’s culture and make a lasting impression.

  • Typical job fairs and other events provide a table for exhibitors. Do not place that table between you and the people you are trying to engage! Place the table to the side of your assigned area so that people can enter the space to speak with you. You and your company will be more approachable, and it will be easier to interact with attendees.
  • If you have a recent corporate video that you think captures the corporate culture well, set it up on a monitor at your booth and play it on a loop throughout the event. In addition to promoting your company, the light and movement of the video will capture the attention of people walking down the aisle.
  • Limit distractions such as work emails and incessant mobile phone notifications. Suitable candidates will pass you by if you’re intently engaged with your phone.
  • Team up with your marketing staff to ensure the event is promoted over your corporate social media channels. Capturing and sharing event photos and videos might be the exception to the previous rule!

Follow up

While your impressions are still fresh, organize your notes and categorize application forms and resumes based on the eligibility of candidates. Invite the best candidates to formally interview and tour your workplace right away; chances are they applied to other companies at the fair, and they could be won over by another business if you delay the interview process.

It might seem exhaustive to follow up with everyone who submitted their business card or resume, particularly if you have already found the perfect candidates to interview. However, remember that all those who stopped by your booth and listened to your pitch gave your organization a shot and offered you their time. The least you can do is send an email thanking them for stopping by your booth. It could be they know someone who is the right fit for your organization, or maybe they’ll be the right fit for a new opportunity in the future.

The incredibly low unemployment rate has recruiters scrambling to fill the candidate pipeline for hiring managers. The opportunity to find viable candidates in a sea of job-seekers makes college job fairs and industry-specific career fairs a tactic worth considering. But to get the most for your time, plan carefully and fully embrace and promote what makes your organization unique.

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