In today's tight applicant market, job seekers are in charge. To meet their demands, recruiters have set aside old red flags and even some traditional sourcing methods. But do career fairs still make the cut?
Candidates want to be courted and, now more than ever, employers need to sell themselves to potential hires. Many young candidates, in particular, hope to land at a cutting-edge company — and a booth at a job fair may seem a bit old fashioned unless employers make a few modifications. Though a career fair is not always enough on its own, many employers have found ways to use this old-school technique to send today's job seekers the right messages about their organizations.
Do career fairs actually net hires?
Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster, doesn't think job fairs are an effective use of employer resources. "Generally speaking, career fairs — as a standalone — do not net talent," she told HR Dive in an email. "For the job seeker, it can be challenging to stand out among stacks of resumes and, for the employer, it's not time well spent." A former financial services corporate recruiter, she said she rarely made a hire from a fair.
But they can be useful for specific industries, roles and skill sets, she added. Employers can maximize the potential of a job fair by using them in conjunction with other innovative hiring solutions as part of an integrated hiring mix. "One way employers can maximize their time at a career fair is to pre-screen resumes of candidates so that they can arrange on-site interviews," Salemi said.
Mike Cooke, account executive at Montage, said that the traditional career fair has become outdated. "Consider the amount of time and money that is typically spent on a traditional career fair," he said to HR Dive in an email. Costs can include sponsorship fees, travel expenses and swag, plus the amount of time recruiters are spending at the event and sifting through resumes received — often with little positive return on investment. "Additionally, if a company isn't able to engage candidates' pre-event, the recruiter could very well be spending face to face time with a candidate that isn't a fit," he added.
Fairs can be a challenge for candidates, as well, Salemi said: "It's often hard to make an impact with a 30-second introduction to each employer — and that can be draining." Generally, recruiters should look at the career fair as only one aspect of their hiring toolkit.
Raising awareness instead of reaping resumes
For many businesses, career fairs offer an opportunity to showcase what they do and how job seekers can be a part of the team. They can illustrate what may be available to both students and those looking to change their career trajectory, particularly for employers offering jobs that do not require a traditional degree. For organizations not known as a hiring player in certain disciplines, especially tech, exposure can offer options. At a tech-oriented career fair, employers who may not have been considered in the past by any tech workers can entice them to look closer to home before jockeying for a slot in Silicon Valley.
"Career fairs are a valuable way to drive awareness for companies across a large subset of potential talent," Mike Rogers, senior director of maintenance and refrigeration at Tyson Foods, told HR Dive in an email. For Rogers, awareness is invaluable; industrial maintenance, a trade specialty with 85 different skills, has a critical skills gap. Nearly 40% of his maintenance and refrigeration hourly team members are 50-years old or older, keeping his team on the hunt for ways to build out the talent pipeline for trade-focused jobs.
Tech takes career fairs to the next level
To offer today's job seeker the recruiting experience they want, virtual career fairs are taking off. Connecting through video saves candidates and employers time and money. Individual connections are made in a private setting, without others vying for attention. These types of fairs cast a wider net to help meet inclusion efforts as well, Cooke said. "Virtual career fairs allow recruiters to reach a larger and more diverse pool of candidates — including students located on smaller and more rural campuses — that they wouldn't normally have access to due to time, cost and travel restrictions."
Joe Milner, talent acquisition manager at Pearson, worked with Montage's recruiting technology for their own virtual career fair. To attract a more diverse level of qualified entry-level talent, their hiring managers were able to interview a number of candidates at a quick pace. "Because they were able to talk with such a wide variety of candidates, our hiring managers were able to make job offers to candidates they normally wouldn't have spoken with or even considered at a traditional job fair or through other recruiting tactics," Milner said in an email.
The other experts agreed. Virtual career fairs save time and money and can be an effective way for employers and job seekers to connect, Salemi said, and while they don't work well as a stand-alone strategy, an integrated hiring mix is incomplete without them. Gen Z candidates are digital natives, so meeting these job seekers where they're already living — on their mobile devices and laptops — will be the best approach in attracting them to your company, Cooke added.