College career fairs give recruiters instant, personable access to hundreds of student candidates in one location. But, if you approach them without a goal and a clear path to execute against that goal, you’ll leave tired, flustered, and unsure of where to start the follow-up process.
At Better Weekdays, we’ve found a winning formula for attending college career fairs. Our tactics may not be perfectly suited to your goals, but you should be able to find some actionable principles or processes that you can incorporate into your approach. For each point below, I’ve listed our tactic in an ideal case, and a less-than-ideal case.
1 – Engagement starts before the event.
IDEAL: Touch base with the career services office at the campus about 2 weeks in advance. Tell them about the number one position you are looking to fill, and who you think would be a great fit (skill sets, personality traits, work experience, GPA, student organization involvement, etc.). Ask them if they know of any student candidates that fit the mold. If so, ask them to facilitate an email introduction. From there, you can coordinate a time with the candidate to meet at your booth.
You’ll learn several things about the candidate:
- Are people are willing to vouch for him/her?
- Can they respond via email in a professionally appropriate tone?
- Are they prompt?
- Can they show up on time?
- Do they know how to prepare for a meeting?
Less-Than-Ideal: OK, so maybe (for whatever reason) you weren’t able to obtain any student emails ahead of time. Not a huge deal. The next best thing is to find an aspect of the career fair that you can sponsor. For example, we’ve sponsored student headshots and partnered with the career services team to send a bulk email to students letting them know about the service.
2 – Have a brand-relevant reason for swag.
IDEAL: Before the career fair season starts, have a decently in-depth discussion with your brand/marketing teams to collaborate on some compelling swag items. For example, our flagship application – The Whether – inspires our student audience to dream about sunny skies on the horizon of their career pathways. Every piece of swag we bring reinforces our brand story.
Items we’ve included in our arsenal:
- Circular business cards with a compass theme
- Bright yellow t-shirts (always a crowd favorite)
- Water bottles
Further, we don’t just GIVE AWAY swag on a whim. Candidates have to earn it. Sometimes we play Jenga (great for Engineering schools). Sometimes we play trivia. Sometimes we require shameless social media promotion (great for Marketing students). All in good fun. All in the name of a memorable experience.
Less-Than-Ideal: OK, so maybe you’re stuck giving out the bulk-order pens and water bottles from three years ago. Not to worry, a little creativity goes a long way. For example, if you have t-shirts, have two students compete for them by holding an impromptu race to see who can get theirs on first (over their clothes, of course). Again, all in good fun.
3 – Share the wealth.
IDEAL: The goal is to meet people. As recruiters, we’re all in the same boat: talk to as many QUALIFIED students as physically possible in the next few hours. The truth is, they (students) outnumber us (recruiters) considerably so. We make it a priority to meet as many recruiters during setup as we possibly can. We learn about their ideal hire and the position(s) they are trying to fill. After that, it’s all about listening and sharing. We listen to the students, keep the ones we can see fitting our team, and redirect those that would be better-suited for other recruiters. We never want to be the end of the road for well-prepared candidates; whether we can hire them, or not. In many cases, we will personally walk them over to another company booth and make the introduction. This tactic definitely pays dividends – other teams now send us several well-qualified candidates at each fair.
Less-Than-Ideal: In case you didn’t show up in time to meet some of the other recruiters, take advantage of the lulls during the day to meet some of the recruiters in your area. Even just one introduction makes a HUGE positive difference for that student. They will remember your passion for helping them.
Let’s pause for a moment and recognize that no matter how helpful we are, if we don’t present ourselves well at the fair, we’re destined for a fruitless afternoon.
Here are some recruiter NO-NOs that we’ve seen:
- Sitting down. NO! Fold up your chairs and stand in front of the table.
- Waiting for a student to approach you. NO! They are wearing name tags for a reason. Call them out, and get them excited about your team.
- Spending an hour at lunch. NO! Not only are you missing the chance to find the next generation of leaders at your company, you’re also putting undue stress on your associates.
- Leaving early. NO! Some of the best conversations we’ve ever had took place in the waning minutes of the event.
- Skipping the fair. NO! Nothing reflects more poorly on your employer brand than to have an empty booth and your company name in black Times New Roman on a piece of paper. Students see that crap. If you can’t make it, ask career services to remove your name from the booth.
4 – Follow up with everyone.
IDEAL: Take an afternoon to plan your follow-up strategy. It should look something like this:
- Have a pre-defined set of rules for resumes that you will accept and those that you will reject.
- Send an email to those you reject to let them know quickly. Tell them why. Give real feedback to justify your answer.
- Send an email to those you would like to interview.
- Pay special attention to the candidates that respond quickly to your first message. They are interested in you. You can’t teach passion. Interest is an indicator of passion.
On the day of the career fair, have a subtle way of ranking your resumes. you don’t want to keep the out on your table. Put them in folders out of sight. Folders should be labeled according to your first impression.
For example, we have three folders:
- YES, YES, YES! These are reserved for the top two or three candidates that we can hardly contain ourselves around.
- Worth an Interview. The majority of your resumes should go here.
- Nope. We don’t condone writing people off this early, but sometimes you can just tell that it won’t do anyone any good to drag it out.
Less-than-Ideal: If you don’t have a process for follow-up, then be sure to put one in place ASAP. No excuse for this one.
If you’d like to have a discussion with our team about how your company can build an inbound recruiting engine that engages Millennial candidates more effectively, please be sure to reserve some time on our calendar.