Why Career Fairs Need a Makeover

FEMA photo - Brittany TrotterCareer fairs are doomed, or are they?

When recently researching the topic as a co-author of the upcoming Handbook of Human Resources Management, I realized that there is little new insight or leading practices published about career fairs.

In order to find out more about the state of this recruiting channel I launched a sample poll in which 25 companies from across all major industries participated. Company sizes ranged from small (under 1,000 employees) to large ones (more than 100,000 employees). Geographically speaking responses came from Europe and North America.

Here is what I found:

  • Not surprisingly, 84 percent of respondents stated the type of events they participate in most are university career fairs.
  • Events organized by professional associations (76 percent) and in-house career fairs (72 percent) also ranked very high. The latter was also cited as the type pf event generating the highest ROI for organizations.
  • Newer types of recruiting events such as virtual career fairs and non-recruiting events (e.g. hackathons) didn’t make it into the top five.
types of recruiting events

Types of Recruiting Events (Source: talent.imperative inc 2014 Recruiting Events Survey, n=25)

  • In line with the fact that most surveyed companies attend university career fairs, the type of talent recruited are primarily college graduates. However, hiring for interns via career fairs did not make it into the top three.
  • STEM talent was targeted via career fairs — possibly due to the skill shortage in this field.
  • Many companies seem to attend diversity and military-veteran-specific events, but hiring that type of talent did not rank high.
Fig. 2: Type of Talent Hired from Recruiting Events                                                                                      (Source: talent.imperative inc 2014 Recruiting Events Survey, n=25)

Type of Talent Hired from Recruiting Events (Source: talent.imperative inc 2014 Recruiting Events Survey, n=25)

In terms of leading practices I love how Hershey uses immersive technology to increase candidate engagement at career fairs.

Six tips from survey participants on how to incorporate social media and technology into recruiting events:

  1. Connect with the audience through social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook) before, during, and after the events.
  2. Offer pre-event webinars on resume writing or interview skills.
  3. Create event-specific portals and provide tools for self-scheduling interviews.
  4. Design an app as an interactive way to engage potential applicants.
  5. For large, national events create landing pages specific to the event.
  6. Use iPads to collect contact information that can easily be exported into a spreadsheet.

One of the survey participants, Nicholas Tompkins, director of talent acquisition at The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, states: “Preparation for the event in terms of identifying the audience, potential targets, and appropriately sizing the event team are critical success factors. I have attended many events with low candidate turnout and high exhibitor body count — wasteful and expensive. When attending events with potential high quality candidates, bring decision makers who can make on the spot hiring/engagement decisions.”

Every talent acquisition organization should continuously analyze the ROI from all of its hiring sources — including career fairs. It starts with identifying key talent segments and the most effective ways to attract each segment. If recruiting events are part of the source mix, the next step is to define the types of events that make sense for each type of talent.

So, are career fairs doomed?

They have not evolved much over recent years unlike several other recruiting channels. According to the CareerXroads Source of Hire Report 2014, career fairs made up 1.4 percent of companies’ total hires in 2013. That was lower by 0.5 percent compared to 2011. Overall, career fairs fared worse than other hiring sources — only print ads and walk-ins generated fewer hires.

And if budget allocation is any indication, 44 percent of recruiters surveyed through my poll spent less on recruiting events than in the previous year.

Fig. 3: Recruiting Events Budget Allocation                                                                                                   (Source: talent.imperative inc 2014 Recruiting Events Survey, n=25)

Recruiting Events Budget Allocation (Source: talent.imperative inc 2014 Recruiting Events Survey, n=25)

But maybe career fairs are not doomed, they are just ready for reinvention.

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Hackathon-like events not only provide a way to attract scarce technology talent but can also serve as a way to assess coding skills in a very efficient way. This concept could be applied to other roles and skills.

Virtual events provide an efficient way to tap into a wider talent pool including international candidates or people with different abilities.

And as interactive and holographic event technology evolves, there may be a potential to reshape career fairs into something new, sort of a hybrid between social sourcing, networking, and live events.

What do you think? Are recruiting events doomed? Can you share an innovative career fair practice that the talent acquisition community may benefit from?

Nicole Dessain

Nicole Dessain is a Talent Acquisition and Design Thinking “nerd”. She loves to blow up long-held beliefs that stop us from preparing our organizations for the future of work. Nicole feels lucky to have had an amazing corporate HR and consulting career that she has recently turned into her own start-up, talent.imperative, a talent experience design consultancy. Her second, not-for-profit business, DisruptHR Chicago, was launched in 2016 and has inspired more than 1,700 HR and business leaders in the Chicago area. Nicole is a former head of talent strategies and Accenture management consulting executive with a rich history of bringing innovative thought leadership and an entrepreneurial approach to elevating leading organizations’ talent acquisition practices to the next level. She has successfully quantified the value talent brings to organizations and led strategies that resulted in “Best Places to Work” designations for her clients. Nicole loves to share her passion for talent acquisition and design thinking by writing and speaking about it. She is a co-author of Springer's "Handbook of Human Resources Management" and a HuffPost contributor where she features stories about innovators at the intersection of strategy, culture, and talent. Nicole has been quoted in the Chicago Tribune, HR Magazine, Workforce Magazine, and Talent Management Magazine. She has presented to live and virtual audiences including SourceCon, DisruptHR, SHRM, ERE, TLNT, and ISPI. Nicole currently serves as adjunct faculty for Northwestern University’s “Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change” program and as lead for The Association of Talent Acquisition Professional’s (ATAP) Sourcing Metrics Committee.