5 Tips for Planning Career Fair Events

How can your career fair leave them smiling?
How can your career fair leave them smiling?
Natalie Behring/Getty Images

Thank goodness, job prospects seem to be improving. As of February of 2012, the United States Department of Labor reported that the number of applicants for unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest point in four years. However, many people are still anxious about job security and others are still looking for work. And maybe you want to help them.

Career fairs can provide an ideal venue for employers and job seekers to come together to share job information, apply and interview for jobs. At these events, employers set up booths with displays of information about their company or organization, offering a highly efficient way to connect future employees with potential employers.

Additionally, career fairs can turn a profit for the hosts. For example, some career fairs charge exhibitors thousands of dollars for prime locations at the fairs. Others charge attendees an entrance fee too.

Although career fairs have the potential to set up job seekers with employers, in downward economies the value of the job fair has been called into question. Long lines, overcrowded venues, and disorganized set-ups can make some career fairs ineffective. On the other hand, a well-planned career fair can be a success for employees, employers and the host. Let's look at some ways to increase efficiency.

5
Plan Ahead

First decide on the date and time to host your fair. You'll need at least five to six months lead time to work out the logistics of the event. Job fairs are scheduled throughout the year, but most occur from November through June. Although evening career fairs will give people who have jobs the opportunity to attend after the work day, during an economic downturn, career fairs can be day-long events attracting those who are out of work. A day to evening schedule (for instance, noon to 8 p.m.) will allow you to capture both markets.

After you've decided on the date and time of your fair, compile a database of contact information for potential employers so you can get in touch with them easily. Coordinating speakers and employers to travel to the fair requires advanced preparation. In order to get the maximum number of attendees, publicize the event well in advance by advertising in newspapers and on Web sites geared towards job searchers and employers seeking new talent. Send out press releases to get free publicity in newspapers and on TV.

Be sure to keep your budget and profit margins in mind. Of course, your budget will vary depending on size and scope of event. To determine the cost of a booth, align its size and prominence with the price you will charge for it. For example, the National Career Fair Web site offered a rate of $746.25 for an 8 x 10 foot (2.4 x 3 meter) booth at its fairs but you could pay extra for larger booths with prime locations, as well as advertising on its Web site and email blast list.

4
Location, Location, Location
Make sure your job fair location has enough space for people to move around without bumping into each other.
Make sure your job fair location has enough space for people to move around without bumping into each other.
Natalie Behring/Getty Images

In 2009, CNN reported that more than 4,000 people vied for entrance into a downtown Atlanta job fair. In addition to the downward economy at the time, the event's central location likely contributed to the event's popularity. The mantra "location, location, location" extends beyond real estate. Your career fair location is one of the most important decisions you'll make concerning your event. Pick a centrally located venue that's both convenient for employers and in a high traffic area that will attract many potential job seekers.

For large career fairs, convention centers are excellent options; many are located in bustling downtown areas with highly visible signage. Another option is a hotel conference suite or banquet hall, particularly good for mid-sized fairs. If you're on a budget, see if a school would be willing to host the event in a gym or auditorium.

Make sure that the venue can accommodate a registration area and has plenty of room for exhibitors and for people to walk around without bumping into each other. And take into account the parking situation at the venue. You won't want people to turn away from the fair because they can't find a parking spot.

3
Figure out Staffing

You're going to need a lot of people to help make your job fair a success. In advance, you'll need a marketing person to ensure job seekers know about the event, and to find sponsors; a logistics coordinator for the venue; a graphics designer and an employer coordinator to reach out to companies to participate.

On the day of the event, you'll need ushers to greet attendees, reception staff to register them, perhaps parking attendants, staff to build up and tear down the booths, and maintenance workers to clean up afterwards. Determine which positions can be filled by volunteers and which ones you might need to pay for. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) offers a helpful brochure on the responsibilities of these roles.

During a slow economy, there will be lots of job seekers but not many job openings so companies may not wish to participate in a job fair. Your employer coordinator can remind them that this is a good way to keep their name out there and network with future employees.

2
Decide Whether to Go Targeted or Wide
Here's an unusual targeted job fair: 11 adult entertainment clubs in San Francisco held a job fair to hire staff, ranging from bartender and cashiers to exotic dancers and waitresses. Hundreds of applicants showed up.
Here's an unusual targeted job fair: 11 adult entertainment clubs in San Francisco held a job fair to hire staff, ranging from bartender and cashiers to exotic dancers and waitresses. Hundreds of applicants showed up.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Based on the location and scope of your job fair, you should have a sense of the kind of audience who will be interested in attending. Determine the educational background and job experiences that the majority of potential employees in attendance will share. Once you’ve figured out who is most likely to attend, you’ll be able to invite employers, speakers, and exhibitors accordingly.

For example, if you’re hosting a career fair on a college campus, your audience will likely be first-time job seekers who will be graduating with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Invite employers who have positions available for employees with little or no professional experience.

Or your research might show there is a need for nursing staff in your community and so you decide to make it a targeted fair. In a targeted job fair, all the companies represented will be looking for candidates with specialized skill sets in a certain industry. Health care and technology fairs are common examples.

Finally, you could host a general job fair and seek out companies hiring in all kinds of fields like academia, finance, the military, retail, health care and education so that job seekers can cast their nets as widely as possible.

In addition to inviting a diverse group of potential employers, consider hosting representatives from schools and vocational and training programs. Many of these programs can serve as feeders into lucrative jobs in a variety of industries.

1
Maximize the Experience

In addition to connecting job seekers and employers, career fairs also offer excellent networking and learning opportunities. Even if job seekers don't receive an employment offer, you can ensure they obtain important information and valuable skills that will help them in the job search process.

While the booths of potential employers might seem to be the main show at a career fair event, workshops and seminars offer opportunities to learn job hunting skills and to make connections with employers and other job seekers. In fact these peripherals can sometimes be the most valuable part of the fair.

Invite career search experts to present seminars on the job search process, how to use maximize the Internet and social media to find employment as well as techniques to prepare for successful job interviews. Offer workshops on writing resumes and cover letters, or resume critiques. You can also host workshops and panel discussions where speakers deliver short presentations about their jobs and open up the floor to questions and discussion.

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Sources

  • ASHA Marketing Solutions. (Feb. 16, 2012). http://marketing.asha.org/marketing-opportunities/asha-career-fair/career-fair-booth-rates/
  • CNN. "Federal Job Fair a Bust, Atlanta, GA. February 12, 2009. (Feb. 16, 2012). http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-211986
  • The Morning Call Virtual Career Fair. http://www.mcallvirtualcareerfair.com/index.php?p=ex_rates
  • National Career Fair. "Career Fair Booth Packages and Pricing." (Feb. 22, 2012). http://www.nationalcareerfairs.com/exhibitors/booths/
  • The New York Times. "Economic Reports Show a Brightening Outlook." February 16, 2012. (Feb. 16, 2012). http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/17/business/economy/us-jobless-claims-are-lowest-since-2008.html?_r=1&ref=unemployment
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  • Targeted Career Fairs. (Feb. 22, 2012). http://www.targetedjobfairs.com/tjf/
  • USAID. "Job Fair Toolkit: A Practical Guide and Best Practices for Organizing, Conducting, and Attending Job Fairs." http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNADQ008.pdf
  • YMTA "Planning a successful career fair." (Feb. 7, 2012). http://ymta.net/CareerFairInfo/CareerFairPreperation.asp
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