Why don't job fairs work?

Sept. 4, 2007
Discover the most common pitfalls for job seekers and employers to avoid.

After hosting the fourth Skilled Maintenance/Facilities Engineering Job Fair on July 19, at the MPACT Learning Center in Greensboro, N.C., I realized that many job seekers and employers still have lots to learn about how to optimize performance at these events. Many of the 1,200 candidates and 52 employers who participated were delighted with the event, while others wasted the opportunity to network by committing common mistakes.

The biggest root cause contributor to the inefficiency is lack of knowledge and experience with job fairs. So, to help job seekers succeed, I offer the five most common job fair mistakes to avoid:

  1. Not bringing enough resumes. You’ll need at least 40 copies.
  2. Wearing too casual attire. Being too casual can be construed as lack of interest or ambition to attain the job. Wear a suit and tie.
  3. Meeting only with employers who market to consumers. While lines formed for Miller and Goodyear, many candidates walked past Degussa Stockhausen and other companies whose names aren’t as familiar. Talk to every exhibitor.
  4. Arriving too late to spend quality time with employers. For example, the MPACT Job Fair starts at 4 p.m. and lasts until 7 p.m. Arrive at 3:30 p.m. to meet with employers while they’re still fresh.
  5. Expecting employers to call them. Each candidate should pursue opportunities by taking the initiative and persistently following up with desired employers.

Now for the five most common mistakes employers make at job fairs:

  1. Fail to clearly express needs to job fair organizers. In advance, send the organizers your job orders, pay scale ranges, types of qualifications and job descriptions. The more fair organizers know about your needs, the better they can fill them. Your information also could be used in media promotion to increase the candidate pool.
  2. Fail to stand out over other employers. To be noticed by attendees and help them connect to your company, put your product on display. To identify potential talent that can solve your biggest equipment issues, bring some of the small equipment that commonly breaks down, like motors, steam traps, etc.
  3. Fail to connect with candidates. Bring enough staff. Have greeters to collect resumes, another staff member to filter potential qualified talent and a decision-maker to ask the most qualified the tough questions and set up follow-up interviews.
  4. Prejudge candidates too soon. Recruiting skilled maintenance technicians is a tough job. Many times, the best technicians are great at doing the work but rotten at conveying a polished image, a spiffy resume or communicating their knowledge. Meanwhile, many incompetent technicians have great resumes, suits and can talk for days, but won’t be good workers. That’s why it’s important to have an open mind and have multiple exposures to potential candidates to make sure you find the best candidates.
  5. Fail to follow up quickly. After the job fair, sort through the stack of resumes and invite the best candidates for preliminary interviews. Do this quickly, as other employers are competing for the same talent pool. To make sure candidates are considering you first, e-mail them invitations within 24 hours of the job fair.

Finally, here are the two biggest mistakes job fair organizers should avoid:

  1. Failure to promote the event. Getting media support is critical to gain awareness and attendance. A media consultant helped me develop my press release so that it contained information the media wanted to see in a format attractive for them to view. Also, send several announcements. Provide job descriptions and pay scale ranges of employers. Give the media lists of confirmed employers that will attend. Remember the cliché, “if it bleeds it leads,” so if you want your event to get billing over the latest violent crimes, develop strong relationships with media.
  2. Failure to design the event for real employers. Amazingly, many job fairs are designed backwards. They’re designed to attract candidates and a full day is allocated to make it easy for them to attend. They also charge employers and not the candidates. Therefore, most job fairs become dominated by temporary agencies. If you have quality, big-name employers and promote it, candidates will come from hundreds of miles away.

I stand ready to help you with recruiting maintenance talent. Please feel free to contact me to brainstorm.

E-mail Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at [email protected].

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