Rev Up Your Recruiting: Best Practices to Maximize Job Fair Results

May 09, 2023 | 1304 Views

Rev Up Your Recruiting: Best Practices to Maximize Job Fair Results

Patrick Yearout, FMP, CHT

Director of Innovation, Recruiting, and Training | Ivar's & Kidd Valley Restaurants

As we approach another busy summer season for the hospitality world, many hotel and restaurant managers will descend upon various hotel ballrooms, community centers, and campus quads to participate in one of the time-honored traditions of the recruiting game: the job fair. These in-person events can be valuable opportunities for employers to showcase company values and culture and connect with top talent that they were unable to reach with their digital hiring efforts.

Due to the covid pandemic, however, it may have been several years since you have attended any job fairs, or you may be a new manager who has only attended previously as a jobseeker. If that’s the case and some guidelines might be helpful, here are 20 best practices to ensure these events are as productive as possible and that they do not waste your precious time, money, or resources.

  1. Find the right events – You will most likely not be able to attend every job fair in your local area, so identify the ones that will be most relevant to your hotel or restaurant and will fit within your recruiting budget for the year. If you are not sure where to find out about hiring events, ask your local Chamber of Commerce, state hospitality association, or state employment security department if they can help you source them. All our Ivar’s restaurants are in Washington state, for example, and Worksource Washington (a partnership of state, local, and nonprofit agencies) has compiled a comprehensive list of upcoming events on its website. Also, consider registering as soon as possible for the fairs you are interested in so you can take advantage of any early-bird pricing deals.
  1. Ask about special needs – You should never go into a job fair assuming there will be free Wi-Fi, a plethora of electrical outlets, or a staff member to help you carry in a 50-pound sign from your car. If you require special equipment or extra assistance, ask about it ahead of time so you are not surprised by anything on the day of the event.

    Job Fair Giveaway - Branded Bag
  1. Ask about additional opportunities – Sometimes job fairs will also include panel sessions with employers advising jobseekers on topics such as resume creation. If you see these forums offered and you have time to participate, ask about getting your name on the list so you can raise your company’s visibility, engage with other employers and industry experts, and build your network and reputation as a top recruiter.
  1. Promote your presence – Once you have signed up for a job fair, you don’t have to rely solely on the organizers to get the word out. Use your social media channels, website, email blasts to your marketing database, and any other methods you can think of to let the community know that you'll be attending.
  1. Create an attractive booth – To entice candidates to your corner of the fair, you will need a booth that is visually appealing, professional, and which showcases your company's values, mission, and available positions. This process typically starts with an investment in a tablecloth featuring your brand logo, but it also includes all the signage and handouts you will be bringing. If you do not have these types of materials, partner with your marketing department to begin designing them, or you can rework materials you may already have posted in your businesses aimed at your guests. If your company does not have a marketing department, you can use a site like Canva to inexpensively create these materials on your own, or an online artist marketplace such as Fiverr to find independent contractors who can do the work for you. And if you just don’t have the time or money to make anything new, at least consider taking existing photos of your locations, long-time staff members, and popular menu items (if you work for a restaurant) and place them in a carousel slideshow in PowerPoint so you can show them to jobseekers on a laptop at your booth. This setup allows you to discuss different aspects of your business as the photos pass by on the screen.
  1. Order enough supplies – If it’s been a while since your last job fair, check your stock of supplies to make sure you have everything you need. This checklist might include items such as up-to-date business cards, applications, pens, clipboards, giveaway items, a candy dish, candy, and hand sanitizer bottles (the pandemic may have ended but you are still going to want at least one of these after shaking all those hands). If your budget allows and you work for a restaurant (or have a restaurant/café at your hotel), consider printing thank you cards to hand out to attendees who come to your booth that they can redeem at your business for a free beverage or side item. This card will encourage potential new hires to visit one of your locations to see if it might be the right place for them to work.
  1. Get prepared – Review your objectives for attending by making a list of open positions, the available pay ranges, and the types of candidates/skills needed. You should also spend some time going over proper interviewing techniques, and if you’ve never interviewed anyone before, consider scheduling some practice sessions with a member of your HR department so they can give you feedback to improve your skills. If candidates will need to meet with others on your team before a final hiring decision is made, then learn the availability of the managers who will be conducting any additional interviews (or make sure their availability is programmed into your company’s interview scheduling program) so you can sign up candidates for these slots before they leave your booth.
  1. Dress professionally but comfortably – Yes, you will want to ensure that everyone representing your company dresses in a professional manner that reflects your brand, but make sure you are also going to be comfortable in whatever you are wearing (especially if you are going to be standing for several hours). If the event is taking place in a building where there might be air-conditioning, consider bringing a sweater or blazer if you are prone to getting cold, and if the event is outside, perhaps pack some sunscreen and/or bug spray to save your skin any regret.

  2. Bad Snack Idea for a Job FairPack sustenance – Sometimes job fairs can feel like they are lasting forever, and sometimes they are so busy that you get very little downtime, so you should pack easy-to-consume snacks to prevent you from getting tired or irritable, plus a bottle of water so you stay hydrated. My favorite items are small bags of almonds that don’t make any sort of mess, don’t require refrigeration, and provide me with a nice protein boost.
  1. Show up early – You never want to start the event by rushing around and stressing about getting ready (or worse: getting sweaty), so arrive early to give yourself plenty of time to park the car, unload your materials, and set up your booth. Additionally, sometimes the organizers will pre-assign you a spot, but others will just let the employers decide where they want to be, so showing up early might allow you to pick more advantageous locations and not be shoved into a faraway corner.
  1. Staff your booth with two people – If your schedule and budget allow, bring two people to represent your company at the job fair. That way, you won’t miss out on any candidates if one person takes a phone call, uses the restroom, or is busy conducting an on-the-spot interview with a candidate. Two people, by the way, is my limit; trying to squeeze three folks around a six-foot table can get a little crowded and seem intimidating to the candidates attending.
  1. Visit other booths – Bringing a second person to the job fair also allows time for one person to slip away and check out the other booths at the fair. Doing so will give you time to network with other hospitality professionals and discover what they are offering to prospective new hires in terms of pay and benefits and to get ideas on how you might improve your own job fair booth design and recruiting materials for future events. You might also take this opportunity to exchange business cards or contact information with the other recruiters, as you never know when you might need to refer a candidate to another employer, or when another employer might have a candidate who would be a good fit for your company.
  1. Be approachable – Don’t sit behind your table and look down at your phone the whole time; you should be standing at the front of your booth during the event with your phone tucked away in a secure location. When candidates arrive, make sure you greet them warmly, smile, and ask them about their job search. Listen carefully to their responses, tailor your pitch to their needs, and answer their questions as fully as possible while still being respectful of their time. I also like to wear a nametag (that I usually provide) so that candidates know my name from the moment they walk up.
  1. Be honest – One of the worst things you can do is oversell or overhype the positions available, as this can lead to sky high expectations (that will never be met) and immediate turnover…and then you’re back to square one at the next job fair. You should paint the most truthful picture possible about the job requirements, working conditions, and the hiring process when communicating with jobseekers.

Worst Table

  1. Be flexible – You might meet some candidates who do not have a hotel or restaurant background, but that doesn’t mean they are not qualified for your open positions. Perhaps they have worked retail and are well-trained in customer service, or maybe they worked in a processing plant and have experience in food prep? In this job market, with some of the lowest rates of unemployment in decades, you should be open-minded in your approach and willing to consider candidates who may not fit the exact qualifications you're looking for.
  1. Gather information – If you meet attendees interested in working with you, conduct a short interview to find out if they are qualified for the open role and/or let them know the different application methods available for your organization. If you have an online application process, give them instructions on how to apply right then and there on their phones. If you are collecting resumes, don’t take notes on the resumes themselves to prevent any future claims of discrimination or sabotage if you do not hire that person. Use other forms you have created for candidate profiles or take notes about their skills and work experiences on your phone or tablet. For those candidates who are not interested in applying right now, ask if you can get their names and contact information so you can input them into your talent pool database and alert them about future opportunities, or have a QR code set up so they can enter the information directly from their phones.
  1. Seek to provide value – Not every candidate who visits your booth is going to be a good match for the opportunities you have open; they may not be available at the right times, for example, or they may be looking for something in an office setting and all you have are field positions. But try to remember there may be other ways you can help them. Do you know of other companies or jobs where they should apply? Or volunteer opportunities that would help them gain needed skills? Or where they might get some help updating their resume? It’s important to respect the time and effort that job fair attendees have put into their job search and treat them with courtesy and professionalism even if they are not going to end up working for you right away (because who knows what the future holds?).
  1. Follow up immediately – As soon as you are able, reach out to the individuals who you either hired at the fair or have set up for future interviews. For the former, you should send them the new hire paperwork (if it can be done electronically) and/or provide them with information about where and when they should report for their first shift. For the latter, remind them of their next interview time and provide them with information on who and where they will be meeting; I also like to share a link to our website and social media feeds so they can learn more about our brand and develop potential questions to ask at the interview. For both parties, let them know how much you enjoyed getting to know them at the job fair and that you are rooting for their success.
  1. Thank the organizers – It’s always a good idea to send a thank-you note or email to the organizers of the job fair. Letting them know that you appreciated the opportunity to participate will help you build a positive relationship and could lead to future opportunities to participate in similar events. If the fair was put on by a local organization, you could also invite representatives to your business to learn more about the open positions you have; a positive encounter may encourage them to recommend their members to apply even outside of the job fair setting.
  1. Analyze your results – After the job fair is over, take some time to review the outcomes. How many resumes did you collect? How many people did you interview? How many candidates did you hire? Use this information, along with any feedback you received from attendees or the event hosts, to evaluate the effectiveness and return on investment of your job fair recruiting efforts and to make any necessary adjustments for the future.

Working at a job fair may seem like it could be a nice break from your normal routine – a sedate time where you can sit down, catch up on emails, and flip through kitten videos on TikTok. But it should be the opposite – you can turn it into a series of dynamic conversations with a diverse set of individuals that can make a sizable difference for your hotel or restaurant. If you adopt the practices outlined in this article, you create the possibility to really stand out from the competition, connect with the most qualified candidates, and build a strong and engaged workforce for the future.


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Comments (1)

  1. Jim Sullivan:
    May 12, 2023 at 04:03 PM

    What a great article Patrick. Wowza. You've covered all the basics and added additional insight. A must read for all GMs, recruiters and HR Professionals