I work with organizations that want to Recruit, Onboard, and Retain Top Talent.  As a professional recruiter since 1981, I have worked close to 300 Career Fairs; and spoken formally prior to the Career Fair at many of them to groups of candidates on Getting the Most Out of a Career Fair.

The purpose of this post is to guide company recruiters to squeeze the very last great potential candidate out of the crowd.

My first contingent client was a very little known (at that time) long distance firm, MCI. In 1992, my business began the recruiting model known as Contract Recruitment. Appropriately, my first contract recruitment client was MCI.


Companies planning to participate in Career Fairs or sponsoring their own Open House (internal Career Fair), need to plan at least 4 months ahead for their first organized participation. Once the best practice model is completed and practiced, the preparation time will be cut in half.

Talent Acquisition mirrors the sales process perfectly. Therefore, the people participating in the planning, and at the event, need to have a recruiting/sales mind. They are not used car salespeople nor are they long-term enterprise sales professionals. Recruiters simply need to be nice relationship building people – who are not afraid to close a candidate nor counter a counter offer.

The first step is to determine what materials your company needs for its booth. Do you have a trade show display? Depending on the size of your booth and staffing, you may be able to simply use a tablecloth. However, if your marketing team has a display, it is far better to use it.

Does your company have a “toy box”? These are giveaways with the company name and website imprinted to attract people to your booth (I call them bait…). Depending on the location of the Career Fair, your company may use chapstick tubes, pens, stress balls, etc.

My client and I decided to attend the Comdex Career Fair in Las Vegas in the 1990’s to attract engineers. We had a nice booth, decent giveaways, and really cool jobs. Unfortunately, directly across the aisle from us was Gateway. They were passing out their famous Holstein stress cows. We saw the backs of heads for 3 ½ days. We did chat with the engineers – after they received their stress cows. Sometimes you cannot control your environment, especially in someone else’s Career Fair. We did recruit a few special people.

Your preparation must include posting your available positions at least on your website. Too often, the postings on the company website are not a priority. It would also be wise to promote your attendance at the Career Fair on your website homepage for a week in advance, at the very least. Depending on your needs for new employees, your company may purchase drive-time radio spots. Remember, your potential employee may be streaming music from SiriusXM, MP 3, or another source – But someone they know is listening to the radio.

The final preparation is to select the staff to represent your employment brand at the Career Fair. If the Career Fair is local, I try very hard to bring a hiring manager or two with me. More about that in a minute.

Participation at the Career Fair

It is important to arrive at the facility where the Career Fair is being held at the earliest allowable time, find your company’s space and set up your booth. Also, if your place is out of the flow of traffic, you may request a better spot if you arrive early.  I cannot count how many times, I have requested – and gotten your booth because you had not yet arrived.  If a hiring manager is attending, ask them to arrive 30 minutes prior to the Career Fair start so you may prep them on the best way to work a Career Fair.

Now a few RecruiterGuy secrets:

1)   Set your table at a right angle to the flow of traffic. This practice removes a barrier between you and the candidates. More importantly, this gives you a “room” where candidates may pause without being jostled by the crowd in the aisle.

2)   Place your “bait” at the back of your booth, next to the display. Now candidates must enter your space instead of doing a “drive by” and grabbing a handful of toys/stocking stuffers/bait. Then you may decide if they are the quality of candidate you want to engage.

3)   Once your booth is set, walk around the Career Fair. Quickly you will recognize who read this article and understood the importance of the information. They are your direct competitors for the best candidates.

This is the reason you arrive early. Well, sometimes there is some food too…

Remember, the people staffing your booth represent, and more importantly, may create your employment brand in candidates’ minds. Therefore, they need to engage with the candidates – not hand them a card and say, “Apply online.” (How many thousands of times have I seen/heard that?) What kind of impression would that leave with you?

Behavior in the Booth

Remember the importance of your brand as an employer. Everyone participating in the booth needs to be coached on that importance. How many times have you seen “recruiters” sitting behind the table barrier either sulking because they did not want to be there or looking at a computer reading email or worse? Once is too many for that company. If you feel a Career Fair is a big waste of time, you will make it so.

About one year ago, I was recruiting for my first union electrical contractor in Utah.  The Career Fair was in a large exposition center.  Fortunately for me, my only competition was in the next aisle directly in my line of sight. As people began to swarm in. I took a quick peek in his direction.  The poor recruiter was sound asleep in his chair – obviously sleep deprived.  Therefore, I did the only kind thing I could.  I let him sleep…while I collected candidates who also did not disturb him.

Therefore, your booth should be welcoming and engaging. Smiles all around, excitement about your workplace, and focus on the candidate (each one) are all important. During slow times, learn more about your hiring managers’ current and near future candidate needs. I always ask if while sourcing for their current positions I came across a super candidate who does not fit their current positions, what would that person look like? That question has led to many hires of top talent.

More RecruiterGuy secrets:

Why would you want managers to work the Career Fair with you?

1)   The word gets out quickly among the candidates that ABC Company (my client) has a hiring manager in the booth! That attracts the best candidates quickly. Even whisper to the organizers prior to the Career Fair that you have a hiring manager or two attending. They will sing it to the world for you!

2)   Coach your managers why they are there:

—Attract the best candidates

—Take those candidates out of circulation from your competition by interviewing them out of the hall immediately

—Possibly filling their position immediately – or suggesting another opening and manager where they should be directed

—Only give their personal business cards to candidates who have their interest

Candidates sweat blood trying to create the resume that best represents their skills (you have too!). Please respect that effort and accept their resume. You may certainly ask an admin to enter the resume into your applicant tracking system or do it yourself. Thank them for their resume and suggest they may also want to apply online too. Your response here is a Direct Reflection of your Brand an as Employer – “if they don’t listen to me when they are recruiting me…”

More importantly, if the candidate is someone that may interest you and introduce to the hiring manager, you NOW have talking points in your hand. Otherwise, you will need to hope they post and pray before you see their information. Unfortunately, many companies have conditioned candidates that they will apply online and never hear from the company again – so they have decided not to waste their time.

This is important – Never write on a candidate resume! Not even in code – or, especially not in code. If someone writes on a resume, shred it after using the information. You may use a post-it or paper clip for notes but destroy them when you are done.

If I am working the same Career Fair as your company, feel free to break down your booth early. Invariably someone who is working and arrives late finds the hall starting to dismantle. Recruiters are no longer focused on the candidates, just getting out of there. My clients have hired some super candidates because I welcomed them while other recruiters had their back to them, or worse, had already left. Obviously, towards the end of the Career Fair is a great time to meet serious candidates who already have jobs.

After The Career Fair

One priority is to retrieve the resumes that your manager(s) snagged. I had a manager with a mischievous look show me his jacket inside pocket that contained several resumes. Since the Career Fair was on Saturday, I told him to copy the resumes on Monday morning. I would drop by his office to pick them up. That way we were co-conspirators; and his trust in me grew. I ensured they were entered into our applicant tracking system. We hired two of those candidates.

The next morning, call candidates that you are very interested in interviewing. Ask if you answered their questions. I guarantee they will be excited to hear from you! Ask for their availability for either a phone screen or onsite interview. If you want them to interview onsite, forward the link to your online application or send them a paper application so that step is completed prior to the onsite visit.

Why call the next morning? Remember, the other companies who read this article and are your competition will do so. My clients have interviewed those candidates and received an acceptance from them before other companies bothered to get in touch with them. If you are spending the time preparing and attending a Career Fair, aggressively pursue the good candidates that attend.

Being a little selfish, there are a few other Career Fair secrets that I have saved for my clients. However, if your company follows these fundamental steps, your recruiting experience at Career Fairs will improve.

Career Fairs are great branding opportunities for your company.  The Recruiters at the event create your corporate brand. Ensure the right people attend and work the Career Fair!

Looking forward to seeing you!

(Published with permission from www.RecruiterGuy.com RecruiterGuy Blog)