For upcoming college graduates, finding employment in their chosen fields can be a daunting experience. To say the process is exhausting would be an understatement. Countless hours are spent in the hot sun, “pounding the pavement” and passing out resumes, only to find that the hiring managers are out sick that day or in a meeting or to be told that the company is just not hiring at the time. Technology has offered a few alternatives to this tedious process, such as job search apps and career websites. Even Facebook has a jobs option now. But these options come with their own set of annoyances, including scammers and borderline-harassment from insurance companies offering commission-based sales positions for which the job seeker never applied. This frustration often leads college graduates to give up and take menial jobs for which they are overqualified, thus leading many to question the value of higher education.
On the other side of the equation are job recruiters who must spend hours sorting through resumes and make judgment calls based on nothing but words on a sheet of paper. If only there were someone who could step in and act as a matchmaker between the job seeker and the recruiter. This is where career fairs come in.
There’s no need to “pound the pavement” when all of your potential future bosses are gathered together in a single location. And because they are there for the express purpose of recruiting, they are ready and available to talk to you.
With other job search strategies, there is little to no feedback. The job seeker will submit a resume or application and hopefully be contacted for an interview. But they rarely, if ever, receive any feedback from the companies who choose not to move forward with their applications. However, at a career fair, they get to skip straight to the interview process; and, if not hired, are at least given some advice for improving their chances in the future.
Not all college graduates are the same. Nontraditional students who have families to support are often forced to work full-time jobs while attending school and raising children. Obviously, they will have less time for participating in activities to pad their resumes. As a result, that piece of paper may be insufficient to represent the true value they would bring to a company. For this reason, many of these students are passed over before getting the opportunity to be interviewed. Career fairs, however, give all job seekers the opportunity to demonstrate their worth in person.
The primary disadvantage of career fairs is the sheer number of applicants present. As a result, it can be very easy to get lost in the crowd. Consequently, applicants should come prepared to make a lasting impression.
Also a result of the number of applicants in attendance is the anxiety that may accompany such a large gathering. Job seekers who are uncomfortable in crowds may become overly stressed and give the wrong impression to prospective employers.
The hiring process can be expensive for employers; therefore, the ability to interview and hire multiple candidates in a single day can reduce some of the costs associated with recruitment.
For employers, career fairs are more than just an opportunity to recruit new talent. They are also a social networking opportunity. Companies get to set up a booth, hand out brochures, and talk about their company, while surrounded by other professionals, who may also be potential customers or clients.
Hiring managers who have to judge candidates, based solely on their resumes, often have seemingly arbitrary criteria for eliminating applicants. This often results in passing over applicants, who might have unique qualifications, which are not apparent based on their resume alone.
While cost was also listed as an advantage; for some companies, the cost of attending the job fair may outweigh the savings. Some of the costs associated with participating in a career fair are participation fees, salary for the employees working the booth, and costs of promotional materials.
While it is true that college students come from a variety of demographics, one characteristic shared among most, if not all, career fair attendees is that they are upcoming or recent graduates beginning a new career. Therefore, companies looking for experienced candidates will likely be disappointed with the applicant pool.
While there is no question that career fairs benefit both college students and potential employers, they are also beneficial to the universities who frequently host them. In order to attract new students, colleges need to have high employment rates among their graduates. Therefore, it is in their best interest to serve as matchmaker between their students and prospective employers. Career fairs also provide a form of positive publicity for the schools.
Most college career fairs are scheduled in September and with good reason. Students are more likely to attend because classes are just starting and they have not yet become overwhelmed with assignments and due dates. Likewise, employers will have more available positions during the career fairs that occur earlier in the academic year. The day of the week is also important as employers, who have to travel to attend, usually prefer the middle of the week to avoid weekend travel. Travel time should also be taken into account when planning the hours and duration of the event. Ideally, career fairs should begin mid-morning and last only a few hours.
Promote the career fair to both students and employers by using social media, local news outlets, or even a dedicated website. Another great way to get the word out is through student and alumni email blasts.
Reach out to local businesses and professional connections. Provide a clear outline of what to expect, what’s included in the participation fee (if there is one), and how participating will benefit the companies. And, finally, make sure to follow up to confirm which companies will be attending.
Just as job search apps and career websites have replaced the need for going door to door with resumes, face to face career fairs may soon be a thing of the past. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, companies were forced to move many of their operations online. On-site jobs became remote jobs; and, for many, this was an improvement. Thus, it makes sense that career fairs would also move online. Virtual career fairs have many advantages over in-person events. Hosting career fairs online makes them more affordable for all parties involved – particularly attendees who would otherwise have to travel. Online events are also more accessible, allowing for more participation from both job candidates and recruiters. Transitioning to a virtual setting also allows for a more relaxing experience, and puts at ease candidates who might otherwise suffer from anxiety due to large crowds.