Don’t work Job Fairs? That Could Cost You Thousands

CPC Business Development


If you are a regular subscriber to professional organizations’ e-lists, you may have read comments that describe job fairs as “…a waste of time and money….” It doesn’t have to be that way.

I’ll suggest why you might want to support job fairs (you’ve already seen a powerful hint in the title) and how you prepare for, conduct, and leverage these events to put clients on your calendar, money in your pocket, and something back to your community.

Everything you read here is based on 12 years’ experience. During that time, I’ve attended most major job fairs in my market and many in neighbouring cities. When I use the phrase “job fair,” I mean events run by government agencies, chambers of commerce, colleges, and the like. I’m excluding events run by individual companies to fill only their positions.

Start by finding the fairs. If you wait until the fair is advertised, it may be too late. As a general rule, the larger the fair, the greater the value. So call people who run the biggest meeting spaces in town. The local civic center should be at the top of your list, but don’t neglect the larger hotels and major college campuses. Your goal is to find the date the fair is scheduled and the organizer’s name. It’s the organizer who plans every detail of the fair.

Show the organizer how you can add real value to the venture. Specifically, how you can help draw more job seekers, and perhaps more employers, to the fair. Here are the selling points in a nutshell. When job seekers know they can get their career questions answered by an expert, they’ve just got another powerful reason to attend. When employers know you can help them find and hire the best candidates, the return on their investment may go up sharply. If the organizer can’t pay you for your services, he or she will usually waive the fee for your exhibitor’s space. Do try to arrange for a table job seekers can’t miss.

You can probably offer much more at a job fair than you think. The main draw is your willingness to give feedback to job seekers about their résumés. Please don’t critique what you see. And discourage the fair organizer from referring to what you do as “résumé critiquing.” After all, fair visitors are nervous enough without being disheartened by even the most well-intentioned advice. Résumés written by job seekers can always stand improvement. However, I’ve also never seen such a document that didn’t have something upon which I could compliment the author. You goal is to close the sale, or at least arrange for a later appointment. Use the same sales techniques you always use.

You can break up your feedback sessions with workshops. You won’t have difficulty finding appropriate topics. Whatever you offer, it’s vital that your participation is described in the ads for the fair. That’s particularly true for the workshops. You may print flyers about your workshop, the organizer can place signs at the fair reminding attendees about your presentations, and someone can make public address announcements about your sessions — none of those measures work nearly as well as advance publicity.

You may also suggest workshops before the fair to help employers get even more value from their participation. What you charge for these special seminars is up to you. But charge what you are worth. Remember, if you can forestall a single bad hire, you’ve saved a company about $10,000.

The planning is almost done. But I want you to have a vital tool to make your next job fair venture a success: uninterrupted time. Of course you’ll block time in your schedule for the fair itself. However, don’t forget to set aside time to prepare for your participation prior to the event. And, most important, block time after the fair: you’re going to need it. After a relatively small fair in May, I found myself following up with 50 new, potential clients. Because I met my promise to call everyone who said he or she wanted more information, I closed 10 sales and gained more than $4,000.

You’ve found the fair and joined the organizer’s team. Now it’s time to get ready for the day itself by putting together your “job fair kit.” Here’s what it might contain:

  • The banner attracts people to your table or booth. You’ll find some of your fellow exhibitors have very professional, attractive displays. Later, if you do many fairs, you may want to invest the several hundred dollars these items cost. But for now, start with a well designed document you produce on your computer. Have your local print store enlarge and laminate it. You can attach your banner to your table with pushpins.
  • Promotional material captures interest. Bring your book of testimonials and a sample “before and after” résumé. Write some one-page articles on appropriate subjects and have stacks of these for people to take with them. Of course, your company’s name and contact information are right on each sheet.
  • Sign up sheets get clients. While you are busy with one fair goer, make it easy for others to leave their names, phone numbers, email addresses, best times to call, and the fields that interest them. Circulate similar sheets during your workshops. Throughout, gather as many résumés as you can. They, too, are wonderful tools to get follow up appointments. And be sure to have plenty of pens on hand. At the end of the day, you will have a list of people who want you to call them.
  • Business cards — and lots of them. I hand out several hundred by the end of the fair.
  • Your schedule – it can help you book appointments on the spot. Then cement the deal with a supply of the standard forms you use when new clients sign on. These might include scheduling instructions, contracts, receipts, and the like.
  • Your nametag will set you apart from the flimsy ones the organizers give other exhibitors. Use the nametag holder from your last convention with words and layout you design. Later, you may want to spend just a few dollars to have a permanent nametag professionally made.

Before you take your kit to the car, you need to make some phone calls. Contact all the local recruiters to see how you can help them. They don’t need additional job seekers, but if they are trying to fill specific positions, you may well encounter just the applicant who has the skills (but not the right résumé) recruiters need to get their commissions. Offer to hand out recruiters’ material to qualified applicants. And do take time to introduce yourself to the recruiters who attend the fair. After all, you are in the same industry and there may be ways for you to help one another.

There are also ways your job fair participation helps your clients. The organizer should give you a list of companies, positions they seek to fill, and names and phone numbers of representatives who will attend. I needn’t point out how valuable that information can be for your clients — and for clients’ résumés that need updating and interview skills that require polishing.

The day of the fair has arrived. One last phone call — to update your voice mail to invite callers to meet you at the job fair — and you’re ready. Arrive a little early so you can set up your booth, check the arrangements you requested for your workshops, and meet other fairgoers. Many organizers will have coffee and juice on hand. Grab a cup now and think about taking some cans of soda to your booth. You’ll be doing lots of talking. As to the rest of the day, nothing but fun.

Because you’ve set aside time the day after the fair, you can update your voice mail, get a thank you note off to the organizer, make an entry in your organizer to remind you about next year’s fair, and start calling your follow ups.

Later, the revenue that comes to you from job fair clients should underline a simple truth: Not going to job fairs is the real waste of time and money.

Don Orlando, MBA, CPRW, JCTC, CCM, CCMC, was a career coach long before that field had an established name. He wrote CMI’s Code of Ethics and PARW/CC’s CPRW examination. He writes, speaks, and researches in the field of career coaching and résumé writing and has served as a mentor for many in this field. He has run his own company, the McLean Group, since 1992. You may email him at, call him at 334.264.2020 (Central time), or fax him at 334.264.9227.

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