Job fairs lose their luster, say human resource managers

As organizations rely increasingly on the Internet to find job candidates, some attendees at the International Quality and Productivity Center’s recruiting conference questioned: whether job fairs are still an effective hiring channel.

Kara Svehla, human resources manager at Columbia, Md.-based recruiting firm Maxim Group, said that although her company continues to rely on job fairs, it wants to expand its Internet sourcing methods by scouting chat rooms for potential new hires. Recruiters and corporate human resources departments need to “explore more bold and risk-taking recruiting methods,” she said.

On the college hiring front, companies are becoming more aggressive in attracting students, said Svehla. Rather than simply attending college job fairs and information sessions, companies are e-mailing select students and building a relationship with them during the school year.

Keynote speaker John Sullivan, head of human resources programs at San Francisco State University, told the roughly 200 attendees yesterday morning that companies can attract better candidates through more informal networking events, such as beer fests, rather than job fairs.

To attract star performers, Sullivan suggested doing away with the formal processes of resumes and interviews. He said top performers might not have time to put together a resume, while less-than-stellar performers can put on a good face for an interview. As recruiters visit top engineering schools, for example, they should be prepared to offer jobs on the spot to the best students, he said.

Patricia Schulz, director of human resources at Associated Bank, explained that the “best candidates don’t have time to attend job fairs.” Although the company has attended IT job fairs, these events couldn’t target workers with the specific skill sets the bank needed, Schulz said.

Schulz has found that IT workers prefer to use the Internet to look for work rather than attend a career event. Schulz said she plans to look at the possibility of participating in online job fairs, which will better fit candidates’ schedules.

But some recruiters agreed that job fairs aren’t effective. Teresa Matzkin, lead recruiter at Lockheed Martin Corp. in Crystal City, Va., said job fairs allow a company to gain visibility within a community, particularly if a company does a lot of hiring in a geographic area. Rather than do away with job fairs, Lockheed has changed how it approaches these events.

The company holds four or five annual career fairs solely for Lockheed Martin job openings, which allows prospective employees to meet with hiring managers and senior employees from 10 business units, rather than just recruiters. During the company’s last job fair, Lockheed used a new approach to boost attendance. Two days before the fair, the company put fliers on cars that were parked at a shopping mall near the event location. The strategy yielded hundreds of more attendees.