Career Fairs are not Dead!

I’ve heard a few employers say they are shifting their recruiting strategy away from career fairs and/or moving toward virtual career fairs. This flies in the face of research done by Mary Scott, President of Scott Resource Group, an independent consulting firm specializing in university relations and recruiting.

The way students view career fairs and their expectations HAVE changed and this is largely due to technology and the millennial approach to life in general.

Technology – instant access to web sites and job postings have allowed students to do their homework before the fair and know about a company before meeting the recruiter. Further, apps developed strictly for career fairs (UConn is introducing one for the first time this year) make it even easier for students to plan their time wisely, research and “star” the employers they’re interested in, and look at a company on the spot, if the booth is appealing and catches their attention. Gone are the days of collecting paper and learning more about what a company does at the fair. Students have become sophisticated enough to know what many companies do before approaching the recruiter. They’re asking more pointed questions and want to know more about specific work-life, job responsibilities, and corporate responsibility, to name a few.

Taboo technology – Scott’s research confirms that students want a personal connection, which concurs with most millennial studies. While technology is good, it’s a tool. Students want personal attention and they want to make a connection. The worst thing a recruiter can say, according to students interviewed, is “go to the website.” Post-fair surveys we’ve conducted at UConn confirm Scott’s research – the negative most cited in post-fair surveys by students is “why waste my time at the career fair if the recruiter is just going to tell me to go to their website.” Students want a personal experience. They want to FEEL the culture of the organization.

This means students MUST do their homework – whether it’s in advance of the fair or in the bleachers before approaching an employer. Employers report that one of the worst thing a student can say at the fair is “so, what does your company do?” While some recruiters don’t mind this question, and see it as an opportunity to sell their company, others see the irony in students complaining about being sent to the web site, yet not bothering to go there first to learn about the company.

Scott’s research identifies 5 essentials of a successful fair experience:
• Employers must send enough coverage – students don’t want to wait in line more than 20 minutes to talk to each company.
• Recruiters should know about all positions the company is hiring for – or know where to refer a student to for more information.
• Employers must be willing to engage underclassmen who are interested in internships and co-ops in the future. Cultivating them early, during this exploratory stage, will bring them back. According to Scott this may also help the student in future course selection, to ensure a good fit later.
• Employers should provide information on any upcoming events they’ll be on campus for. I suggest this to employers all the time – a flyer that gives students key dates, like info sessions, on-campus interviews, etc. In addition, if a company is underwriting/sponsoring an upcoming campus event (homecoming, 5k, etc.), include that information too. Students like to see corporate commitment to their university and want to be a part of an organization committed to their school.
• Make it seamless – the application process must be intuitive. If a student learns about a position at the fair, it must be easy to apply. Many vendors are providing programs to employers and schools to make that process easier for both sides.

The career fair continues to be a valued and vital piece of the college recruiting landscape. UConn’s fall schedule is set – “Navigating the Career Fair” panels featuring top recruiters will be on September 27 and 28 and the fairs will be on October 5 (all university, all majors, all industries) and October 6 (STEM Fair – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math careers and industries). Visit our web site for more information.

By Lisa McGuire
Lisa McGuire Assistant Director for Corporate Partner Relations Lisa McGuire