While the traditional model of speed dating queues of lanyard-clad job seekers may not seem like the easiest way to net talent, career fairs provide meaningful opportunities for companies to network and promote themselves among industry colleagues, competitors and job candidates. As over 90% of college career centers host job fairs for their students each year, career fairs and similar hiring events remain a particularly popular arena for recruiting promising talent.
With the widespread adoption of video conferencing technologies over the past two years, virtual career fairs have emerged as cheaper and more accessible alternatives to in-person events. Beyond lower overhead, successful virtual career fairs offer benefits of improved engagement, communication and measurability compared to traditional events.
Preparation is Key
Whether in-person or virtual, companies looking to make the most of their career fair should make thorough preparations to identify hiring goals, develop clear communications on information about their services, culture and open positions to share with attendees, and send recruiters, hiring managers and employees who best represent company knowledge and culture.
To improve the efficacy of finding quality candidates within long queues of prospective talent at the booth or in a breakout room, companies should consider pre-screening job-seeking attendees vis-a-vis reviewing resumes to identify potential fits for open roles. Likewise, company reps could personally reach out to qualified candidates prior to the event to arrange interviews with appealing attendees in advance.
Making Great Candidates
The fruits of career fairs ripen in the discussions between a company’s recruitment or HR representatives and the eager prospects attending the event. Though brief, these conversations can function like micro-interviews, allowing company reps to take the temperature of each candidate and learn about their character, experiences, and potential fit at the company.
As with preparing to run a traditional interview, company reps attending career fairs might prepare for these conversations through brainstorming some specific character traits or personality buzz-words that reflect company values or qualities essential to open roles, and keeping these on hand for reference.
In general, the qualities that make an exceptional candidate stand out at a career fair are likely the same that might set that candidate apart from their competition in a traditional hiring process. Companies hosting or attending career fairs should prepare interview questions that look for the same willingness to learn, self-faith or confidence, aptitudes for teamwork, communication, collaboration and general “fit” with company culture in a candidate met at a career fair as they would otherwise.
What to Look For in Potential Candidates
If you’ve been tagged to represent your company at a career fair, here are three non-superlatives to look for in the talent pool:
Observe the appearance, attitude, conduct and body language of potential candidates. Without judgment, taking note of the way candidates dress, speak and behave might provide insight into their consistency, maturity, pride or even intentions in attending the career fair. That said, as you talk shop with the suits and ties, be sure to hold space, too, for the t-shirts and tattoos–you never know what each candidate may have to offer until you give them an equal opportunity.
Similarities aside, career fairs aren’t interviews. Though companies may look for potential fits for specific roles, remember that career fairs are more about outreach and promotion among peers than immediate hiring impact. Engage genuinely with attendees and embrace unorthodox backgrounds–even if a candidate lacks specific skills listed in a job description, well-rounded resumes suggest high learning potential and adaptability that are hallmarks of innovation.
If diversity of skill makes an innovative mind, diversity of perspective makes an innovative team. Active inclusion of a variety of backgrounds and worldviews in any collaborative organization encourages creativity in problem-solving and nourishes an engaging environment.
When vetting the qualities of potential candidates at a career fair, listen to and take interest in the unique lived experiences of each job seeker you meet. Consider the personal and social backgrounds of teams already at your company, and then go find some fresh faces–much knowledge and many valuable lessons can only be learned off the beaten path.