While they seem "old fashioned" they are still (imo) the best way to get in front of employees, to find out what the market looks like, and network. Employers show up with signage, free trinkets, and a smile trying to entice potential candidates to work for them.
Unfortunately, I've seen some employers/vendors do some truly stupid things at job fairs. Perhaps it's lack of knowledge, perhaps it's lack of caring (or both) - reality is, at a job fair, as an employer, you're being evaluated by candidates. So beware.
Here's a few things that I've witnessed at job fairs that really need to stop:
- Don't have a sparse table.
This is a recruitment event and a marketing event. If you don't have signage, swag, and look "meh" compared to the other vendors - it leaves a bad impression. You want to look legitimate. Invest in some pretty stuff to make your company look awesome.
- Don't tell people you're "not hiring."
If you're not hiring, why are you there? Reality is, you're always hiring. Job fairs are all about perception and branding. Perhaps you don't need a "Underwater Basket Weaver" right now but maybe in a few months, you will. Tell them about your company, give them info about how great you are. Word of mouth is the best way to show that you are the employer of choice.
- Don't set high expectations.
You're going to have freshly graduated high schoolers, people in the pajamas, someone will inevitably say "I just want a job" Adjust to the level of experience/aptitude of the person in front of you.
- Don't go alone or not at all.
Some job fairs can have some serious foot traffic and if you're the only person at the booth you lose potential candidates cause they don't want to wait to talk to you. Face to face is always better. You need the help. In addition, if you buy a booth but no one shows up, this reflects poorly on your business.
- Don't come across sales-y.
Make eye contact. But don't pull the vendor-in-the-mall "Hey, Can I ask you a question?" bit to the candidates. If they're interested in you or your swag, they'll come to you. Otherwise you seem desperate - and desperation smells like cat pee.
- Don't leave without walking around.
Get to know your booth neighbors, walk around and ask questions to the other vendors, check out their booths. Network. It's an opportunity for you to get a pulse on the market. Are you keeping up with the Joneses?
- Don't visit your competitor as a job seeker.
I'll admit, I've done this before. It seems silly but it happens. Just ask. If you're my competitor and you want to know, come introduce yourself and we'll talk. If I'm trying to hide anything that is public information - then we have bigger problems.
- Don't judge.
Ladies can be heavy equipment operators. Not all foreigners are looking for green card sponsorship. Don't give in to your natural prejudices and stereotypes. When you're talking to a candidate ask them questions about their experience before categorizing them as a "laborer" or "bookkeeper gal."
- Don't shoot from the hip.
Know what jobs you have open, forecast your needs, and create an "opening elevator pitch" that is succinct but natural. It's usually best to start with a) here's what we're looking for b) what experience do you have and/or c) here's additional information on us. Tailor it to your presentation style. But if you make it up as you go you run the risk of sounding stupid.
- Don't over promise and under deliver.
Give a realistic job preview. Realistic job preview. That means you tell the good, the bad, the ugly. They need to know if it's long hours or requires travel. Perhaps the candidate walks away, but at least that's one less candidate-to-employee who becomes a turn over statistic. I'd rather hit them with the pros and cons up front so they have a reasonable idea of what to expect. Don't get called out as a liar. I can't count the number of times employees said to me "But the recruiter to told me..."
If you're a job seeker check out my post on Ten Things to NOT do at Job Fairs (for Candidates).