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The following, based on observations gathered over several years, is intended to increase recruiter effectiveness at career fairs and therefore increase the organization’s ROI.

Before the Career Fair

Advertise your presence before the fairs: This seems obvious, but many employers don’t advertise and instead rely on word of mouth and the advertising the career center provides. This may be sufficient for your company, but the companies that have a “big” presence do so by making themselves known to students. Often the career center can help you with how to advertise your presence before the fairs. They may suggest:

  • Student newspapers
  • Flyers on campus
  • Flyers in student-oriented business establishments near campus •Student radio stations
  • Information tables in high-traffic areas on campus
  • Sponsoring the career center’s e-newsletter to students
  • Sponsoring the career center’s web site/events
  • Working with the career center to have class announcements in specific areas (e.g., engineering companies will want announcements in engineering classes).

Do your research and connect to the campus: Take the time to review the campus’ academic offerings and learn about the majors from which you plan to recruit. Showing this level of interest in their academic preparation will likely impress students and can help you connect better with them.

Before attending the fair, let the academic departments know you’ll be recruiting for their majors at the fairs by sending an e-mail invitation to the department chairs and their office managers. Working with the career center on the invitation e-mails increases the likelihood that they’ll be well-received by faculty. You can even ask faculty members to forward the e-mail to their students. Don’t expect that they’ll give you student e-mail addresses; this is typically prohibited on college campuses.

Increase traffic with incentives: In your advertisements, announce special incentives to students who come by your career fair table. Perhaps this requires they present the ad itself, or repeat a phrase. The incentive attracts them and then you hook them with great recruiting.

At the Career Fair

When at a career fair look around. Which recruiting tables have the most student interest? Which have the least? Is there a pattern to this? We think so. Effective tabling requires more than freebies or bright colors. Here are some basic tips on improving your career fair presence—and therefore, increasing your career fair ROI.

Show up!: This sounds silly, but it has several meanings. Of course, attend the fair from start to finish. There’s nothing more disappointing to a student who has prepared to meet with a company than being stood up. (And the student will communicate that to other students.)

Many students have classes that end close to the end of the career fair day—so, stay to the scheduled end, and be prepared to stay even a bit longer. Many times we have watched top candidates get missed because a recruiter decided to leave early. For many companies, one solid prospect makes the day and the trip worth it.

Showing up also means bringing energy and presence. You are attending the fair to meet students and recruit qualified prospects. Bored and disengaged recruiters send a clear signal to students: “Don’t talk with me; I’m only here because I have to be.” At one fair at another university, there were 24 tables and 23 were bustling, with students talking to or waiting to talk to recruiters. But at one table, the recruiters were sitting down, leaning back in their chairs, arms crossed. The message was clear to potential candidates—this organization didn’t want to be there. Our message: Be present and engaged—don’t spend half your day on your cell phone, sitting with closed body language, or doing work on your laptop!

Show each student with whom you speak that you are seriously interested in him or her as a candidate. Be present with them as they ask questions. Help them understand your opportunities and take time to explain everything. Remember that many of these candidates are young and inexperienced job seekers. The recruiter who assists prospects cultivates them, and with cultivation comes a harvest.

Showing up also means knowing about the opportunities you represent and being able to speak about them with students and with authority. Students sense when you don’t know. Right or wrong, they may make snap decisions based on their perception of you—and if they think you don’t know anything, then they may write off the very opportunity that could bring out their best. Help them avoid such a fatal error—be informed.

Send the right recruiters: Recruiting is challenging work that requires organizational knowledge that is both deep and wide. It also requires enthusiasm, interpersonal presence, the desire to bring new professionals into the organization, and the ability to stay active all day. Recruiters need to convey that they want candidates, especially from the school at which they are recruiting. Again, students observe recruiters before they approach tables. If recruiters at a career fair table are passive, disengaged, sitting behind their table, students will walk right past them. If recruiters don’t take the effort seriously, students notice.

Have the right number of recruiters: Having too few or too many recruiters at your table poses problems. Just one recruiter may not be able to handle traffic adequately, while a crowd may intimidate the young and nervous college candidate. Check with the career center for suggestions, but, at Georgia State, we’ve found that two to three (in most cases) works best.

Be up front: The engaged recruiter, the one stepping up to students and introducing him- or herself, tends to have many more contacts and, therefore, more prospects. We suggest that recruiters stand either on the side of their tables or in front—ready and able to greet students and step up to them. Trapped behind the table simply allows students to walk by. (And many will because they are nervous and want you to make that first move.)

Use your interpersonal skills: While this sounds elementary, it is critical. You are trying to attract prospects, and can bolster your efforts if you:

  • Shake the student’s hand and introduce yourself.
  • Ask for the student’s name and learn to pronounce it properly.
  • Remember that many students are nervous and shy—be aware of this and engage with them with sensitivity.
  • Use student names in your conversations with them—show that you are getting to know them.
  • Coach them about how to apply—be an advocate.
  • Explain how online applications work (if relevant to your organization).
  • Explain the jobs and internships; answer questions and ask questions.
  • Try to remember your student contacts and if you see them later in the day, acknowledge them (this goes a long way with a young person).

Dress appropriately: We encourage our students to dress for success. Why shouldn’t we hold the same expectation for ourselves? This may not mean suits and ties and business outfits, but it certainly includes the dress code of our workplaces. In fact, if there is a dress expectation at work, model it at the fair. This will also give students insight into your organization.

Handle resumes and online applications with sensitivity: Often students complain to career centers about employers who refuse resumes, but are attending the fairs to recruit candidates. Many companies can only take applications via online systems and do not accept resumes in person, and if this is your situation, here are some suggestions:

  • Accept the resume for discussion purposes.
  • Explain the online application system, procedures, steps, and job requirements.
  • Briefly review the resume with the student and ask some questions about his or her interests and background.
  • Reiterate your explanation of the online application requirement and procedures.
  • Return the resume and explain how the student may submit it online with the application.

Complaints tend to melt away when recruiters take the time to explain the application process and make it clear that they take the candidate seriously.

Be able to discuss actual job openings and/or internship opportunities: Often students come away thinking a company has no opportunities for them unless they are told specifically. Have job descriptions and handouts available. If you have multiple jobs, make a list.

Engage students with your display: There are a wide variety of approaches and styles to choose from, but if the display is interactive and engaging, students will be attracted. If it consists of flyers and brochures, expect only those who recognize your operation to stop by. (Also, be sure to follow the school’s rules regarding displays, which are there to meet fire codes and promote harmony among attendees.)

After the Career Fair

Post-fair activities do help with your recruiting efforts. Here are some ideas:

  • Host a networking reception to immediately following the career fair.
  • Pair your information sessions with the career fair, either the day before or the day after.
  • Directly link on-campus interviewing with fairs and information sessions to develop a strong campus presence.
  • Follow up! Just as we want applicants to follow up with us, many students would like employers to follow up with them. If at all possible, let the student know of his or her application status. Keep tabs on strong rising candidates. Let applicants know when you are back on campus and that you hope to see them at the fair. If they aren’t viable candidates for you, let them know. Help them become stronger candidates in general by offering real-world feedback. They will listen.