4 Ways: Disrupt Job Fairs to Recruit Talent
I want to know how the most important relationships you’ve built in your life began. Where were you? What initially attracted you to the person? How were you positioned?
When it comes to talent recruitment, I’m well aware that the recruiter to talent relationship is not the most critical one to be built, however, the recruiter typically represents the first internal relationship a prospective employee has with the organization. When I (accidentally) stepped into talent acquisition in 2012, I immediately grew a disdain and distaste for job fairs. Let me explain why.
First, I DESPISE the branded tablecloth. Not just because they are often wrinkled and hung awkwardly across career fair tables, but most importantly, I despise what they represent. I see the branded tablecloth as a shield - something recruiters hide behind and await for talent to approach. I call this passive recruitment, and I don’t think it works so well. And yes sedentary recruiters, you’re right, your highly valuable branded swag will draw the talent in — but can we get real about whether the approaching talent is truly interested in a relationship with you or if they’re just swag grabbing?
I’m so sick of swag. As a recruitment marketing manager, when it came to career fair time, I often found everyone requesting branded swag. Swag is fun - I get it, we all love adding stuff to our junk drawers, and I understand the bait, but I always pushed back a little on these requests. My point of view is, we’re here to discuss people’s careers, their potential EVERY DAY, their LIFE, we want to start relationships — drawing candidates in with a freebie in exchange for contact information and allowing the interaction to end there, it’s just wasteful and unproductive in my opinion. So I always challenged the great recruiters I work with to rethink their plan and we came up with some creative ways to rework the career fair… and yes, I’d order their swag as well with the agreement it was secondary in their strategy.
I want to inspire you (kind reader and hopeful talent attractor) to think differently. Listen, I know that career fairs are career fairs - I’m not sure where to start in requesting the organizers to rethink the platform, but you must have some sort of control in how you approach them when representing your organization. Here are 4 ways I reworked the career fair approach in order to fire up connections beyond swag grabbing:
1 - Untethered recruiters from the table; created a street team
This is truly going from passive to active recruitment. Where is the talent you want to engage with, really? At SXSW, I knew the talent we were seeking was not walking the job market. They were at the taco trucks, at the parties, in the sessions. I geared up our recruiters, encouraging them to “get healthy” for the week, wear their sneakers, carry a backpack, leverage twitter and the conference’s social app, and get out to where the talent was - join them. Rub elbows so to speak.
2 - Led with people first, brand second
I encouraged our recruiters to not depend on the brand and instead to be their social, engaging, curious, interested, human, selves. The shirts I designed typically read something curious on the front, or even “Let’s Work Together,” and I put the brand tastefully and subtly on the back. And on the backpack. Wearing the brand in front is distracting, immediately raises assumptions and can also turn off the prospective talent before the recruiter can tell a good story. This really depends on the influence of your employment brand. If you’re Google, you probably want to throw the logo everywhere.
3 - Provided great experiences over swag
If you’re hosting a networking event at your office, you might consider using that sweet swag budget to provide an experience over water bottles. For a technology networking event I spent our water bottle dollars on hiring a local hiphop artist to give an impactful spoken-word performance. After she performed, the volume of the room dramatically increased, people stayed until the very end of the event and they were curious what could be next. I can't imagine they'll forget it. Sharing a unique experience together? An awesome way to jumpstart a relationship.
4 - I sat on the floor
Yes, sat on the floor. In 2016 I transformed our career fair booth into a yoga studio. First off, it was striking within the usual chaotic flow of the career fair. I called it "zen disruption." Career fairs can be stressful - why not provide some relaxation? Secondly, it was inexpensive due to its simplicity. But most importantly, and surprisingly, getting on the floor with folks, taking off our shoes, and introducing ourselves, was a whole new level of connective communications. This was an awesome way to start a relationship, I look forward to writing more about this experience in the future. Zen is in - get comfortable. Talent and HR folks — if we are taking the time and spending the dollars to go to a career fair to find top talent, why are we hiding behind tables? Why are we still using our time and budget to order, ship and hand out water bottles? How can you rework the career fair to consider how you'll start relationships with your future employees? Please revisit my opening questions, then come back to these. You can do better. Go get ‘em!