Job fairs serve as one of the primary connections between employers and prospective job candidates. They provide an opportunity for both the employer and potential employee to diversify their search strategies. There are many types of job fairs, but all serve a dual purpose of enabling hiring organizations to meet and screen a large number of potential job or internship candidates and simultaneously providing job or internship seekers the opportunity to meet and screen a large number of employers. Job fairs occur throughout the year and remain a popular recruiting mechanism for employers regardless of economic conditions. Job fairs can be categorized broadly into six major types, including campus based, commercial entry level, commercial professional, commercial specialty, community based, and company specific. There are also virtual job fairs, which can accommodate any of these six major types.
The campus-based job fair is the most popular type for college students and is normally sponsored by the college or university’s career center. Employers who attend are often familiar with the college or university, and they might use the job fair as their only campus visit, or they might use it as a promotional tool in advance of their on-campus recruiting programs. Students find the campus fair a convenient method for meeting with employers who are equipped to screen and interview the potentially large number of students attending. Campus job fairs also provide an easy method for students to practice meeting face-to-face with an employer. A recent trend among career-services professionals, especially at smaller educational institutions within close proximity to one another, is to hold a consortium job fair at a central location as a means of efficiently deploying limited resources.
Commercial entry-level job fairs are run by independent contractors and are hosted in centralized locations throughout the country. These highly advertised events typically draw large numbers of students and other job seekers from a geographical radius of at least 300 miles. Commercial professional job fairs are intended to attract candidates with practical work experience to fill a wide range of professional occupations. Commercial specialty fairs are geared toward filling openings within specific occupational groups, such as computer programmers, technical/engineering, sales, or education. Oftentimes, job seekers use these fairs as a way to gather information for later direct contact with the prospective employer.
Community job fairs are hosted by a particular town, community, or broader region, with the intent of giving interested job seekers in a specific geographic area the opportunity to meet with employers who are recruiting in that labor market. Company-specific job fairs are a mechanism for any given business (or industry) to offer on-site recruitment as a means of assisting in securing appropriate human capital necessary for that organization’s staffing needs.
Regardless of who is sponsoring the event, job fairs provide participants an opportunity for high-visibility, efficient information gathering, alternative resource-seeking strategies, and networking. For employers, it is a low-cost method for securing a pool of candidates whose resumes and other related materials can be maintained in the human resource database. Costs and fees for running a job fair are generally borne by the hosting party or the participating employing organization participants, although in some cases candidates must pay a fee to register. Facilities housing job fairs can vary in size and venue and can include locations such as university/college unions, hotel ballrooms or conference centers, convention or expo centers, company cafeterias, community centers, gymnasiums, entertainment complexes, or any other spacious facilities with appropriate utilities and infrastructure.
Various job-seeking strategies are used by employment candidates. For example, some use the process for “window-shopping” the participating employers to see what types of jobs or career paths are available. Some candidates use a structured approach by identifying and targeting a specific number of employers for interviews. Other candidates use such unsophisticated methods as simply visiting with the participating company that has the shortest waiting line.
The individuals representing the employers at job fairs normally are not the hiring managers. Rather, hiring companies typically use recruiters or professional screeners to identify individuals who will be tapped for future consideration by the organization and to “screen out” individuals who do not fit the profile for their organizations. Usually, the prospective employer bases the decision concerning the next step for the candidate on a brief introduction and interview that could last anywhere from a few minutes up to 20 minutes.
Some job fairs also include workshops or seminars centered on various topics surrounding the job-search process. Sample topics of these related sessions might include the art of networking, interviewing skills and techniques, resume development, creating a job-search plan, and approaches to researching an organization. These workshops are usually offered at set times during the job fair so that job candidates can attend particular sessions while also scheduling visits or interviews with specific companies. Typically, local consultants present the workshops as a way to showcase their skills, while at the same time offering a valuable service to fair participants.
- Joell, P. S. 2004. “How to Make the Most of Career Fairs.” P. 18 in Job Choices for Business and Liberal Arts Students: 2005. 48th ed. Bethlehem, PA: National Association of Colleges and Employers.
- Payne, B. K. and Sumter, M. 2005. “College Students’ Perceptions about Career Fairs: What They Like, What They Gain, and What They Want to See.” College Student Journal 39:269-276.