Career fairs have always been a mainstay for companies recruiting graduating students, but their effectiveness has come into question for many of the brands we work with. Employers are starting to see a drop in the number of students coming to career fairs, and this could be for a few reasons:
(1) Some employers are no longer accepting resumes at career fairs,
(2) Students are able to apply and get a great deal of information online that was not available in the past, and
(3) Conversations at career fairs between recruiters and students have become a bit less enticing since employers cannot provide information to students that may give them an advantage in the hiring process.
NACE has an article about this on their website that digs deeper into this issue.
I attended a career fair recently intent on learning more about how companies are promoting themselves to students. I was put-off by some of the things I saw there. It wasn’t uncommon to see recruiters sitting behind their tables working on their Blackberries instead of being out in front, engaging students in conversation about their company. Why would a student want to stop and talk to a company recruiter that’s not paying attention to the crowd around them? Some of the companies were sending the message that the attendees were just a number that didn’t matter. It was very disheartening. A few other things that were surprising included uncomfortable silences in conversations between recruiters and students (aren’t the recruiters supposed to be good communicators?) tables looking very “flat” (booths need a 3-dimensional appearance), table skirts that look beat up and old, and booths that only have the generic name label as a branding element. Although I did see one company staple a cloth logo on a pennant to the booth label behind them, it was crooked and took away from the brand quality.
So, a couple words of advice for companies participating in a campus career fair this fall:
Stand up. Be in front of your table versus behind it. Be there to look people in the eye and talk to them.
Know what’s happening on campus. Pick up the student newspaper when you arrive on campus to find out what’s making news on campus. Even better, check out the student newspaper or university “media” website before showing up. Have some stories that are relevant to the students. Have more to talk about than yourself. Your goal is to make the student feel comfortable and create a personal connection.
Be proactive. If you are handing out something, design it with student in mind and personally hand it to them. Stop the insanity of saying “take this and that” and point out the important information they should look at more closely when they have time. In most cases the pieces you have to hand out are designed to build the overall brand and tie everything together. If they only get one piece of the picture they are likely to miss the big one – why they should want to work for your company.
Tips. Give the students recommendations for the best way to get into your applicant tracking system (ATS). Let them know how to avoid falling through the cracks.
Be nice. Even if a student doesn’t have the educational background or experience you’re looking for, make a positive impression. Word of mouth resonates and students will share their experience with your company, especially a poor one. Allow them to be advocates for your company by encouraging them to spread the word.
Dress the part. If your company dress is formal then a suit is fine, but you should represent the reality of your company. If your office is casual, dress that way. One trend I’ve noticed is recruiters wearing school-branded gear – golf shirts, hockey jerseys, etc. This not only shows your support for the school but encourages conversation. If you do go with the football jersey, you’d better know what’s happening with the team (see “Know What’s Happening on Campus” above).
Engaging booth. Add some stands, images, signage, etc. that provide something that’s not flat against the table or wall behind you. It really does stand out when people walk around and creates a more engaging feel. Remember that the first impression of the booth and people working the booth are what help drive students to stop and talk to you.
Up next – Tool 3: Virtual Career Fairs