career fairDuring the deepest depths of the recession, nightly news footage was full of seemingly stock footage of resume clutching job seekers standing in line at career fairs.

The formula for these recurring stories was always the same – some gloomy unemployment statistics cut in with shots of career fairs and interviews with long ago laid off white collar workers presently reduced to professional punery.

While such stories seemed to underscore the microeconomic misery of the masses of unemployed, what they glossed over was the fact that, even with unemployment well over 8%, CNN reported in March 2009 an estimated spike of 25-35% in career fair attendance, with an 60% of those attendees having more than a decade of professional experience.

Of a local career fair with over 50 employers in attendance, a spokesperson reported, “if they’re attending, they want to fill positions.”

Even with the economy at its worst, then, and hiring at its slowest, that the few employers who were actually adding jobs evidently chose to invest their recruiting bucks in career fairs underscores a trend that continues even in today’s torrid talent market.

According to one recent survey, employers reported attending an average of 31 career fairs in 2014-15, with 100% reporting to having allocated at least some spend to in person recruiting events or career fairs during the same year.

This rare consensus among recruiters job fairs as a reliable source of hire, regardless of economic conditions or the bigger job market, would seem to suggest that employers were seeing substantial recruiting ROI from such events.

With universal adoption of career fairs, meanwhile, only 78% of employers in the same survey report on planning on using social media for recruiting and only 71% planning on dedicated diversity spend in 2014-15.

But if you really think that real recruiters are seeing real results from these hiring events and career fairs, you’d be dead wrong.

Not Fair: Why Employers Should Shift Their Event Spend.

goes-to-job-fair-not-just-for-free-stuffThe thing is, with the average employer spending around half a million dollars on these inordinately expensive efforts, only 37.5% of employers reported to actually making a hire despite the unilateral investment in this channel.

According to the 2014 Career XRoads Source of Hire Survey, across the board, career fair hires accounted for a putrid 1.4% of all external hires last year, an outcome only slightly better than the .9% who reported making a hire from print advertising.

That’s not to say that professional events, industry conferences or trade shows aren’t still a great source of qualified candidates.

It’s just that most employers’ event activation strategy seems singularly focused on active job seekers, from college career fairs to candidate open houses or “employer brand” focused event presence.

It’s just that making events pay off for recruiting and hiring means shifting spend (and focus) to proactively targeting top passive talent. With career fairs more or less the in-person equivalent of “post and pray,” building a pipeline of potential hires for today – and tomorrow – means shifting sourcing strategy to fish where the proverbial fish are. And increasingly, there are few waters more fertile – yet for some reason, largely untapped – than professional conferences or seminars.

According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), B2B event spending in the US spiked to an estimated $70 billion in 2014, with 71% of professionals reporting to having attended at least one industry conference or trade show in the past year; 48% report having gone to three or more, four times as many as in 2010.

With the ubiquity of these events only expected to increase in 2016, it’s time recruiters realize that connecting with top talent doesn’t only have to happen online – and in fact, professional events might be one of the most desirable destinations for reaching the most desireable talent on the market today.

Buy Show, Sell High: 7 Keys For Successful Conference Sourcing and Recruiting.

Of course, this sort of recruiting event strategy requires way more than just setting up a table and taking resumes.

While industry conferences and networking events represent a powerful potential source of hire, making sure you’re getting the most out of the money and time your recruiters invest in attending these events requires a little strategy, a little sweat equity and a whole lot of hustle.

Here are seven strategies recruiters can use before, during and after events to make sure they’re making the biggest bang for their recruiting buck – and the biggest ROI when it comes to real hiring results.

What to Know Before You Go.

1stalking. Identify Potential Candidates.

Even if  you only need to make a single hire, it’s pretty rare that any single req or role is going to be worth the expenses associated with conference attendance. That’s why when planning which professional events to target, recruiters should always remember to research and identify events which align with their most frequently recurring roles or forecasted future openings.

Looking at lists of confirmed attendees or past registration lists to ensure that their current titles or current responsibilities reflect the type of talent you’re targeting; if these lists don’t exist, try obtaining a copy of a sponsorship prospectus or exhibitor’s guide. These are easy to find and almost always include at least an overview or high level look at the professional focus, experience or expertise of event attendees.

While often imperfect, this generally represents at least enough information for recruiters to decide whether or not a respective conference is worth the price of admission.

2. Do Your Homework.

Make sure to do everything in your sourcing power to obtain access to the confirmed attendee list and try to fill in any gaps in public registration information that might help you target your recruiting efforts, such as job title or current company. If there are current employees with experience or expertise similar to the background you’re targeting, ask them not only which events they’d recommend, but also, any attendees in their network worth targeting.

Even at recruiting events, referrals are where every smart sourcing strategy should start.

Once you’ve identified specific candidates you’ll be targeting, make sure to research their professional history or personal interests. That should include any profile information you can find through search or social media, previous presentations they’ve given or articles they’ve published, or any other online insights that might help turn a passive conference attendee into an actual connection (and, hopefully, a candidate).

3. Write It Down.

This is simple: if you’re taking the time to do the prep before an event, make sure you’re able to put all that hard work to work by writing it down. It’s cool if you bring your notes with you – in fact, if you’re compiling enough information on your targeted contacts or candidates, there’s no way that you’re going to be able remember it all.

Make sure these notes are organized so that if you need to hunt down a candidate’s dossier in a hurry, and don’t be afraid to refer to them as necessary (as long as you don’t go overboard and remember to actually make eye contact – and connections).

If anyone else from your company is planning on attending the event, make sure to share these notes with them, too; you never know who’s going to have the best chance to make that first candidate impression for your company.

Game Day: A Playbook for Kickass Recruiting Events.

work conferenceIf you’re properly preparing for an event, a good rule of thumb is you’ll spend about twice as long preparing for the big day ahead of time as you actually will at the conference or seminar.

That’s why if you’ve put in the work to do the proper amount of prep work before the event kicks off, then the hard part’s behind you.

Here’s what to do with all that pre-game planning once the show finally gets underway.

4. Be Smart About Sessions.

Obviously, you’ll want to look at a copy of the event agenda ahead of time and plan to attend the sessions or talks that are most likely to interest the candidates you’re targeting, particularly if they happen to be presenting or exhibiting as part of the conference’s planned itinerary.

That way, you’ll know when and where you’ll have the best chance of meeting qualified leads, and spend your time on site the smart way – converting candidates, not hunting down potential prospects.

Of course, you’ll want to leave a little flexibility in your schedule, and leave a little wiggle room so that you’ll leave yourself some time to spend introducing yourself and networking with other attendees at these sessions. It’s also a good idea for recruiters who want to stand out to ask relevant questions during any Q&A or following up with the attendees you meet by exchanging business cards or relevant information whenever (and with whomever) possible.

Because if that person sitting next to you in that next session might just be your next hire, you’ve got to know what’s next.

5. Stand Out On Social.

Most events have associated hashtags or some form of dedicated social media presence designed to encourage attendees to share ideas, insights and observations with each other, and with their wider network of professional colleagues or connections who might not have been able to make it to the event. This back channel should be front of mind for every recruiter at every event.

Even if you don’t share anything, social is another great way to develop qualified candidates or potential leads from an event; seeing who’s interacting around a conference related hashtag can be invaluable for determining who’s actually worth talking to – and what they’re talking about, too.

Of course, sharing relevant information or insights from your own social account can make top talent want to find you, too.

6. The Only Way To Sell Is By Not Selling.

If you want to actually convert the connections you make at conferences, it’s important that potential candidates consider you a professional colleague, not just another recruiter. This makes subtlety a blatant imperative for successful conference recruiting.

What makes these events so valuable is the fact that you’re able to find and connect with attendees who probably aren’t actively looking for a job, which means that most are there, first and foremost as representatives of their current employers. Too much glad handing or being too overt with your recruiting overtures can permanently alienate potential candidates – or at least put them in an awkward professional position.

Use that first face time at an event to make that first impression, and make sure the contacts  you make at a conference are going to be meaningful enough to translate to deeper conversations or connections long after the event itself has ended.

The Post Game Report.

sorryNo matter what you do, no matter how perfect the match might be, at least wait until after the event to present any concrete job opportunities. That way, at least, they have to give you a way to follow up, even if it turns out they’re not interested, chances are they’ll know someone who might be a good fit.

For recruiters, it’s just a good idea to wait until after the fact to stop shmoozing and start selling. First things, first.

When the event is finally over and it’s an appropriate time to follow up, make sure that you not only include those on your initial target list but include any new connections or candidates in your initial outreach.

Also, it’s important to ensure that you’ve captured their information in a centralized database, like an ATS or CRM, along with any relevant notes or additional information  about a candidate you’ve captured that’s worth remembering (or sharing) for future reference.

During this first round of post-event outreach, be prepared to introduce specific openings or opportunities to candidates who might actually be qualified or interested in available opportunities; if the potential candidate isn’t interested in pursuing an immediate career change, it might not be that they’re not right – it’s just they’re not right for right now.

Make sure to put these warm leads into your active pipeline or recruiting network so that you can follow up with them for future openings, referrals or even, if you’re smart, recommendations for who you should target at the next event they’re planning on attending. If it’s not already on your list, make sure to start again – and repeat steps 1-7 as necessary.

It’s all in the execution – and following these 7 keys for event and conference based recruiting should give every employer the leg up on the competition for top talent.

Remember: there’s no such thing as “fair” when it comes to careers, so skip the career fairs and rethink your recruiting strategy at events and conferences.


By Matt Charney

Matt serves as Chief Content Officer and Global Thought Leadership Head for Allegis Global Solutions and is a partner for RecruitingDaily the industry leading online publication for Recruiting and HR Tech. With a unique background that includes HR, blogging and social media, Matt Charney is a key influencer in recruiting and a self-described “kick-butt marketing and communications professional.”