With the U.S. unemployment rate hovering at 9.4% for May, it would
seem that companies could do without attending job fairs to attract job
prospects. Yet the large number of applicants flooding each advertised
position actually prompts many employers to attend job fairs, says Tom Smith, assistant professor in the practice of finance at Emory University's Goizueta Business School.  

“With so many people out of work, employers have a better candidate
pool, but there’s a lot of noise too,” he says. “Are these people
unemployed just because of the economy, or do they have other problems?
One way to cut through the noise is meeting with them and talking with
them briefly.” Smith adds that attending a job fair can be less
expensive for the company than posting an employment ad, and it is also
a way for the companies to advertise themselves to jobseekers.

This last point was echoed by Yolanda Hawkes, director of talent
acquisition for packaging company RockTenn, who attended Goizueta’s
Alumni and Executive MBA Career Fair in March, seeking to fill a
director of benefits position, among others. “It’s good branding and
you may get in front of someone who did not see your posting on an
internet site,” she says. 

Kerry McArdle, a Goizueta MBA alum and director of category planning
at Coca-Cola Enterprises who also recruited at the fair, agrees. “It’s
an efficient way to be exposed to a lot of people in a short time. This
job fair worked out well for us. We found people who were a potential
fit for the open position [category analyst] and for other positions at
our company.”

Vital to sustain the talent pool

Another reason recruiters still flock to career fairs, says Earl Hill,
senior lecturer in organization & management at Goizueta Business
School, is to maintain ties with prospective employees. “If you turn
off the pipeline when you have employees, it’s harder to start it up
again when you need people,” Hill observes. “Plus you never know when
you will run into a superstar.”

“I’ve had clients come back to me three or six months down the road
and ask if candidate A is still available,” says David Shelly, senior
vice president at executive search firm firstPRO and a Goizueta career
fair attendee. “So you can look at [job fairs] two ways: there may be
an immediate need, or you’re planting seeds for the future.”

Shelly’s clients have become more selective, he notes. “It used to
be that having six to seven out of 10 job requirements would get you an
interview. Now it’s gone up to eight to nine.” Nevertheless, he says
clients have a misperception that with so many job seekers out there,
they can take their time and lowball salaries. “The standout candidates
still get snapped up and command high salaries and multiple offers.”

One drawback to traditional job fairs is the sheer size of the
crowds, which can number in the thousands during a time of economic
downturn. “Often, you get a mix between people who are qualified and
those who just want to drop off a resume,” says Hawkes. “And you have
to assess someone in three to five minutes, which is hard.”

Indeed, Goizueta prefers to involve its students in forums, where
companies post for specific positions and students apply ahead of time
for them. “This is more concrete and focused,” says Wendy Tsung,
associate dean and executive director of Goizueta's MBA Career
Management Center. 

At Goizueta’s Alumni and Executive MBA Career Fair, about 115
students and alumni participated in a “speed dating” format, where a
small group of candidates spoke with two or three company
representatives for 20 minutes and then moved on to another table.
Danielle Rubenstein, associate director, alumni career services, says
this style of job fair offers an opportunity for more intimate
conversation than the traditional standing in line. 

The format seems to have paid off. “People are still in the
interview process with some companies, but it looks like at least 10%
to 15% may have gotten jobs through the fair,” she says.

Jobs are available

 In truth, job fairs continue to flourish because
employers still have positions to fill. According to firstPRO's Shelly,
there is still a need for employees in the supply chain job market.
Another recruiter at Goizueta's Alumni and EMBA job fair, Marcia
Englefield of AXA, a financial protection company, says her firm is
seeking financial advisors. Englefield, a Goizueta MBA alumna, is
actively participating at other job fairs, as well, and she says she
thought finding eager candidates would be easier. “Interest is up, but
the position is 100% commission-based, so some people, even if they do
not have a job, may not want to take the risk.”

Tsung notes that while companies’ hiring goals for MBA grads have
decreased overall, there have been increases in the areas of healthcare
and nonprofits.

“A lot of students think getting an MBA is a safe haven on the
sidelines until the market gets better,” she continues. “But that’s not
the reality. Recruiters are looking for people who are extremely
proactive, self-starters who really have a passion for their area of
specialty. Jobs are out there. You just have to find them.”

For those hoping to stand out at a job fair, recruiters offer these tips:

  • Research the companies and the positions they
    are recruiting for ahead of time. “Having to explain what our company
    does lessens the time we have to talk about you,” says Hawkes. Not to
    mention the poor impression it gives the recruiter.
  • Bring a resume and an addendum, advises
    Shelly. The latter is a page with 5­­–10 bullet points showing career
    highlights that directly relate to the position you are interested in.
  • Pitch two specific previous experiences that
    directly relate to the position you want. “If someone says to me,
    ‘here’s something I did before at another job or in class that will fit
    in with your needs,' that would really stand out,” says McArdle.
  • Before getting in line, pick up some of the
    glossy material at the company booth and take a few steps back, advises
    collegegrad.com. Not only do you have some valuable pre-interviewing
    material in hand, you also have an opportunity to hear the conversation
    between the recruiter and another job-seeker. This is excellent
    preparation for your turn at the booth.
  • Don’t give up. Get the recruiter’s business
    card and follow up if you don’t hear anything. “Have faith and be
    persistent,” says Hawkes.