News Release: Faculty Experts, Finance and Economics

Jun. 17,  2009

Seeking Work? Why HR Recruiters Embrace Job Fairs

From Knowledge@Emory

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.  

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