In the January 24, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader blasts employers for job fairs and bogus recruiting. 


I’m sure a lot of employers read this newsletter, so this is an open question to them about job fairs. Maybe they will respond. But I’d like your opinion, too.

job fairsTo Employers:

I go to job fairs to meet your company in person, but your representatives tell me to visit the company website in order to apply for a job. Call me crazy, but I thought the purpose of a job fair was to actually meet you — a real, live hiring manager.

By going to a job fair, I am separating myself from those who are sitting at their computers all day just sending out resumes. I am making an effort to drive (mind you, the cost of gas) to a job fair after getting all dolled up in a great suit and actually seeking to talk to someone to place my resume ahead of someone else’s. I’m trying to stand out and show you I’m serious about working for you.

And my reward for this effort? You slap me in the face and tell me to go home and apply on-line.

Why do you even bother “recruiting” at job fairs? Why is it that your representatives don’t know anything about jobs at your company? Why do they tell me, “We are not taking resumes?” I didn’t need to drive 20 miles to see you only to have you tell me to go home and apply online. What if I’m someone who does not have Internet access at home? What if I’m that person who is strapped for cash and had to decide between paying for groceries this month or keeping an Internet service provider and I chose to forego the Internet?

Come on! Give me a break. I go to job fairs so you can see a face behind my resume in hopes of landing that interview! I attend so I can meet real flesh-and-blood hiring managers. And you send “personnel representatives” who don’t even act like they work for your company! Maybe they don’t! Why are you wasting my time?

(Thanks for letting me vent, Nick.)

Nick’s Reply

Oh, you’re welcome. Venting is good, especially when you’re not the only one doing it. I get frequent mail on this topic. And I’ll tell you, you’ve nailed it. I don’t recall the last time anyone told me they went to a job fair and got a job.

The truth is, job fairs are largely a waste of time.

Companies go to job fairs because HR clearly has nothing better to spend its money on. They send greenhorn HR reps to collect resumes or to direct people to the website. You could do better standing on a street corner handing out your resume.

The other little secret some HR folks have sheepishly shared with me is that job fairs enable them to check off more boxes on federal employment regulation forms. Maybe this is how they identify race, color and disabilities and get credit for entertaining certain applicants. I welcome HR managers to explain their behavior.

You have dispelled one of the key myths about job fairs: that they are a good place to actually meet the hiring managers. Let’s dispel two more job-fair myths.

Job Fairs: Myth #1

You can cover a job fair with 300 employers in one day.

Or some huge number. The pitch is that more is better, so why not go? Even if you slice it down to 100 employers, a six-hour job fair will allow you 3.6 minutes for each employer. (Do you think that if you were to spend anywhere near six non-stop hours at a job fair you might get dizzy and pass out?) Trust your common sense: That’s not enough time for a meaningful exchange.

The alternative to job fairs: Get detailed job-fair information, including lists of employers, jobs and departments that are hiring. Invest that six hours identifying and contacting people who work at three good target companies that are “going” to the job fair. Tell these folks you can’t make it to the job fair, and ask for their insight and advice about their company.

Then ask for introductions to managers who seem to be hiring. Save gas and use it to attend interviews instead.

Job Fairs: Myth #2

Job fairs are a great place to find unadvertised jobs.

Any job openings advertised at job fairs are already old news. Job fairs are often a company’s last recruiting resort. While a personnel jockey is scanning your resume at the job fair booth, my candidate (or some other headhunter’s) is sitting in the hiring manager’s office demonstrating how she’s going to do the job profitably for the manager. That’s who you’re competing with.

But if you really think about it, why would an employer try to fill good jobs with the best candidates at a job fair — when so many of the best potential candidates have jobs and aren’t likely to attend a fair? That’s not to disparage unemployed job seekers; the best candidate for a job may be currently unemployed. But how does the job-fair strategy for hiring make sense for employers? Either HR is goofy, or HR isn’t being honest.

The alternative to job fairs: Truly unadvertised openings are in managers’ heads. Even HR doesn’t know about them yet. So skip the places where HR clerks hang out (job fairs). Instead, go where the hiring managers and their employees go: professional conferences, trade shows, and training courses. Get ahead of your competitors rather than stand behind them.

Sure, bring a resume, but first make some friends. Don’t ask for a job. Ask for the gold ring that smart headhunters reach for: insight about the person’s company and work. That’s what leads to real relationships, real personal contacts, and valuable personal referrals to hiring managers. And that’s where you will learn about unadvertised openings. (For more on this, see Meet the right people.)

Beware of the empty sales pitch

Like online job boards, job fairs are where many HR departments gleefully waste corporate recruiting budgets. Why? Because job boards and job-fair operators are very good at marketing their wares. You’ve seen the promotions: “Hire the best people! Use our service!”

It’s not a stretch to imagine this sales pitch by a job-fair operator to HR: “You can send your greenhorn clerks instead of expensive managers to the fair! Save money and still get applicants!” So HR saves money while appearing busy.

Need I say more? Thanks for sharing your story and ire. I hope your open letter draws responses from HR folks who spend money on job fairs.

Have you been to a job fair? What was your experience? If a job fair paid off for you, what’s the secret? If you work in HR, please give us the straight dope. I mean, the truth.

: :

  1. Nick,
    In my younger days I did attend some job fairs. Most truly were a waste of time.
    However, I have experienced job fairs that were successful. These are fairs that are specifically targeted at certain markets. Government jobs, educational and technical jobs would fall into this category. Another great place to find a job is not really a job fair but a job fair disguised as a competition. Universities often have events like computer science “Hack-a-thons”. Corporations sponsor these events. I have seen a sponsor give jobs to entire teams of students. I have a current job offer I am considering. I got it from an online federal government job fair.
    I guess the message I am trying to convey is always look for the hidden opportunity. It is there somewhere no matter what or where.

    • Tony: Thanks for the counterpoint. Most job fairs tend to be enormous cattle calls. Just as niche job boards are more effective than the big ones, highly focused job fairs can be worthwhile. But I think your best suggestion is to attend “not really a job fair” but events where people you’d like to work with hang out. Competitions are a great idea. What people don’t realize is, many good headhunters attend professional events to find candidates for their assignments, and, more important, to cultivate sources of good candidates for the future.

  2. Hi Nick, I became turned off to job fairs because it seemed like their were just a handful of employers and instead, mostly businesses trying to sell something to job seekers, such as training or resume services. Another very cruel way to exploit vulnerable job seekers. You clarified even more dirty tricks. Thank you for the insight! Diane

    • Flies are always drawn to meat markets :-)

    • The services you mentioned, i.e. resume reviews, interviewing skills, etc. you can get for FREE at a local EDD related office.

      • In fact, I live her in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we are fortunate to have one of the top three in the United States, NOVA, located in Sunnyvale and now also up here in the peninsula, in San Mateo.

        • I have never EVER heard of anyone in my life saying “I got my job at a Career Fair. Thanks to that Job Fair, that I attended X number of years ago, I now have a great career!”

  3. I’m in HR and I agree with how you judged HR in this post, but I’d like to spin it a bit more. Job fairs are an outdated activity (think: fax machines). They are painted as still serving a purpose, probably because the hosts (colleges, mainly) make money off of them…still. Companies keep attending because of what I dub ‘tradition is the fear of change’ syndrome, nurtured by our aged business leaders who can’t fathom not doing thinks the way they’ve always done. It’s an ignorant comfort zone. “It’s how it’s always been done”.

    Business leaders boast about strategy and how they are champions of the future, but that only exists in technology and not in people management. I’m a Millennial and am required to be held back in a submissive role “until it’s my turn”, but the fact of the matter is *I’m next*. I’m the next leader. I’m the next executive. All these gripes and mundane activities are on my chopping block. Once my smooth-skinned face no longer prevents me from being taken seriously when I pipe up with ideas, I’m gonna do some damage by modernizing priorities.

    Job fairs have ALWAYS been a big waste of my time, both working them and attending them. The only benefit is when I snag a neat freebie from a booth. I hate spending company dimes on an outdated job fair activity. There is no value in the traditional met-and-greet of a job fair.

    (In my private opinion, a job fair is like ‘whack-a-mole’, where you’re trying to meet an intangible quota no one ever assigned, as if the business gods are secretly measuring you to see how many times you can answer the same coached question from someone who didn’t do their homework and kinda doesn’t care about the company, where both sides are just attending because we are all programmed robots)

    How I separate myself:
    I didn’t just join the local professional organization relative to my career, I signed up to volunteer in a capacity that serves to get me noticed (I serve on a committee that manages the annual awards…at the annual conference…attended by many peers…who hire…people like me).

    • *things

    • “It’s how it’s always been done”

      Astonishing, isn’t it, that the best HR has been able to do is job fairs and a silly updating of newspaper job ads, called “job boards” and “resume databases.”

      There is no recruiting in any of that. A cattle call is not recruiting. Nor is posting a job and waiting for who comes along.

      It’s why HR then turns around and pays a headhunter $30,000 to fill a job by actually recruiting. (Don’t confuse phony headhunters who run the same ads and use the same job boards to find people with real headhunters.)

      Thanks for posting from the new HR side!

  4. I did get a job through a job fair about six years ago, but it was a non-standard situation in a couple of ways.

    One, this was for a large company who needed to fill a position on a client contract *immediately*. They were losing money every day it was vacant. So they weren’t being as picky as usual.

    Two, I was clearly overqualified, but was in a situation where I was willing to compromise in exchange for certain benefits and professional certifications. Also, I knew that this company would have lots of other positions I could move to later, if so inclined. So I wasn’t being as picky as usual, either.

    Put that together: I got the job, benefits, and certifications I wanted; they got a senior employee at the price of a junior; and each side got the time they needed to look for a better fit. I left less than a year later for twice the salary at a job I found through word of mouth.

  5. I second Tony. I am extremely cynical in employment matters but some startup job fairs, for instance, are actually worthwhile: the startups (some of which don’t even have an HR dept yet) may send actual group leads there. These are often recurring events, so look online for testimonies about past editions. Big bonus if the organizer is one of the startups in question or at least local and not some conference and fair mill: the event may be less professionally organized as a result but it is more likely to have “real” people in it. These startup fairs are only in big tech cities, though.

    • Olivier: Good one! I never heard of “start-up job fairs.”

      One of the smartest “job fairs” was run by an old, highly respected Silicon Valley computer company, Tandem. (They made redundant computing systems.) Every Friday after work they had a beer bash at the company pool. (Yah, Tandem had a pool.) Employees were welcome to invite their friends from other companies.

      Cool way to recruit, eh? Guess you could call it a job fair of sorts. :-)

      • Here’s one in London: It’s locally run.

      • When print media was cool, I remember this free Silicon Valley publication named High Technology Careers. Their bright green boxes were seen on countless street corners. Every 2 months the publisher hosted a job fair named Westech. They did have actual hiring managers and you could talk shop with them and colleagues. The focus was indeed on the work.

        Nowadays job fairs have deteriorated into yet another form of clueless customer service. And the bins are now filled with free papers chock full of ads for “wellness centers.” Yes, we’ve moved from high tech to getting high.

        • I live here also in the San Francisco Bay Area. Do recall the Westech job fairs and they did work. I actually got a job at Fisher Investments via one of their job fairs. Literally met the individual who became my hiring manager at the job fair.

          However, job fairs have completely gone done since that time. For example, attended what I thought was a positive job fair, up on San Francisco near the Castro Theatre, maybe two months ago. Had a lot of positive conversations and submitted resumes but to date ZERO has come from it! I often at job fairs just network with other people lines and suggest valuable networking groups and the like to them to which I am already involved.

          Basically, and everyone agrees with this to whom I speak, the formal hiring process in the United States is essentially broken, and been broken for many years. Bet most all jobs today gained via personal references to hiring managers.

  6. KEV M , I love your strategy. Smaaaart. I too worked at a great place but it was very heirarchal. While I am not millennial, nothing makes me more crazy than artificially being held back or limited. I too had to come up with a strategy:
    1. First I built relationships with people outside if my group in other units and departments
    2. Like you I made myself available to help, but also asked if my own team member could have access to any program I was helping on. This justified to my own team my putting effort there.
    3. When I had good idea that my team couldn’t use or wasn’t ready for, I gave it away to someone who could use it. Or, I found a partner also interested in ideas and we created it together. When people hear about it, they too may want in. Enter working cross functionally and being recognized outside of your own group by leaders in other areas of your organization.
    4. I got really firm on the fact that NOBODY could tell me who I could be friends with. There is no rule that you can’t be friendly and have lunch with high level executives. Sometimes they too like to lose their corporate agenda and just talk real. It’s fun— I learned what they were reading, who they saw at the opera, info on life at other comoanies, that they were frustrated too etc. In a culture where everyone is supposed to panick when so and so is in town…I didn’t have to absorb a drop of it.
    5. I got over asking for help fear/ego. I started reaching out to the best experts wherever they were located and taking on the hard projects that some a little afraid of. These people were happy to help. I learned the systems my boss was frustrated with or intimated by. My outside contacts helped solve the corporate mysteries and got me on the “list” to attend the most advanced trainings. The idea being to move forward but also be able to bail out someone any time they needed it.
    6. The beauty of being a millennial (or not in the top position) is you get to be the ” emergent leader” and unlike being the VP, the buck doesn’t stop with you. You are free to explore and defy gravity to your hearts content. I honestly think it is the better position.
    7. When the restructure eventually came, I got a heads up call weeks in advance letting me know “you are safe” . My own group that I loved buy sometimes artificially held me back…..was split and I was placed on one of the top HR Teams– something that changed my resume forever.

    • Uh… is there a recruiter lurking here? Free advice: Start recruiting right here, right now, on this thread… You’re not gonna find people like those commenting here in many other places…

    • Getting to #3 is the holy grail of generating excitement. When people approach you to be part of your project, that’s a great deal. You know your program/project is a success when people start complaining about not being invited to your meetings instead of complaining that they have to go to your meetings.

  7. I think and validated that the HR people want a day out of the office and go offsite. I occasionally go to job fairs in upscale hotels, find the latrine near the event hall that both exhibitors and seekers are most likely to use. Find a stall, shut the door drop my trousers and sit on the throne for an hour just listen to the hubbub. I learn far more than possible by standing in line.

    • Eddie: You da man! Sheesh. What a great idea.

  8. Job fairs aren’t a hugely successful endeavor for my company (media/writing) but we have gotten good applicants from them. Nick’s experience doesn’t mirror my own at all. The last job fair we attended as a company, we sent 2 hiring managers to, both being exactly the people Nick would advocate you need to meet. I work in an admin capacity and attend when hiring managers or other producers can’t, but I’m very close to the hiring process and know well what the managers are looking for. Yes, we do ask that everyone who is interested in a job apply online; that’s because we don’t want to have to scan and email your resume to get it in the hands of our sometimes far-flung team of stakeholders, and we want to get the necessary info in the system (again, because approval to hire requires input from remote stakeholders) while we’re interviewing you, not while we’re in a rush to get an offer to you.

    The reasons we attend job fairs are simple: we want to get our brand in front of applicants that, otherwise, might have never heard of us, and thus never apply. We also want to give people a chance to ask questions about who we are and what we’re looking for. None of those things eliminates the need for us to see an actual application from you. But if you impress us in your time at our booth, we will remember you when we see your application and you note that you met us at XYZ job fair. If you’re not right for us but you’re still impressive, we’ll forward your application to one of the other brands at our company. You don’t get “rewarded” for going to a job fair because 1) hundreds of other people also attended this job fair, it’s not a hard thing to accomplish, and 2) jobs aren’t “rewards” you get because you jumped thru these hoops correctly. They are business arrangements people agree to because they are interested in what the other person has to offer. Your “reward” was the ability to talk, face to face, with someone at the company. That’s plenty of a lot of applicants to work with.

    • Kimberlee: If your company sends hiring managers to job fairs, then maybe they’re not job fairs :-). Seriously, I think that’s great. My gripe is that most fairs are cattle calls.

      Skip this part if it might compromise your firm or your recruiting efforts, but can you tell us what kinds of positions you try to fill at these fairs?

  9. Hi Nick:

    We’ve actually exchanged experiences and war stories over the past 15 years or so, and I’m pleased to see you take on this particular topic in today’s rather confused and convoluted employment environment…

    My first engineering job was actually the result of going to a job fair some 20 years ago, so as a number of respondents have stated, that was then, this is NOW….

    Even my 3rd job was the result of visiting a job fair, where the line to get into the “interviewing ballroom” was ~ 300 people long, but I was able to jump the line because of my having a current secret clearance… And, I then received an offer within 3 days of my interview….

    The sad part about this, is that my current graduate engineering students at my university where I’m an adjunct professor now, continue to go to these events, and get the same response you cited in your reply today —- “visit our website and submit your resume for any positions you are interested in…”

    Times have changed, and I fear not for the better…

    • Prof. Joel — I wish you had news like Kimberlee’s. Sorry to hear your students are having such a hard time.

    • I make personal contacts with hiring managers through networking… and get told to put my resume in through the system.

      There’s only ONE reason why I go to a job fair: the people I meet while standing in line.

      • Dear Nick:

        Thanks for your articles. I enjoy reading them.

        I went to my first (and last) job fair in Toronto in 2003 with a couple friends who were also looking for work at the time. We got there before the gate opened and there were already droves of people waiting to get in. The literal imaginary of a “cattle call” was not too far from the truth.

        We each paid 12 bucks (if memory serves) for entry. The event organizer boasted “over 100 stands” on the ad. Sure there were over 100 stands on site, but only 40 of them at most had warm bodies present. Of those you could roughly put them into two groups:

        (1) Those who refer themselves as employment agencies
        (2) Those who call themselves vocational institutions

        It pained me was to see hundreds of hopeful applicants queuing up for each of these employment agencies to have a chance of place their resume on top of the pile that could already fill a couple paper boxes. You know they were never going to be read, if not getting thrown out before the end of the day.

        There were two actual employers, though, if I recall. One was the Army, and the other was the city fire department. They looked justifiably like sideshows.

        Luckily all of us became gainfully employed shortly after said job fair. We could quickly put this one behind us.

    • Prof Joel:
      My graduate students go into the career fairs and ask, “Do you do H1B?” (Work visas for international students) The response is predictable, “No.” The way around it is to not mention it.

      The students need to get the internships, prove their value, and THEN make the employers WANT to compete for a visa for them.

      I will say their tack is efficient, they can work a 100-company hiring fair in under 2 hours. But, I would not use the word effective to describe their job hunt processes. I’ve made friends with Career Services and have them come speak to my classes every semester. They love to come talk to the students and students often end up with Aha! moments.

  10. I have encountered two kinds of Job Fairs.
    The first one where companies are there taking resumes and telling people to apply online when they get home. In the last few years, many of these have been dominated by colleges and universities farming for new students, and agencies gathering resumes. The remaining were actually company representatives whose hearts weren’t into the process.
    The second job fair was conducted inside an actual companies offices, where they were really hiring and interviewing people to fill positions that day.
    Recently, here in Ottawa, something that appears to have come across the Atlantic from Europe is the Startup Career Fair. Last years event consisted of organized open houses at various startup firms in the region. Participants registered on Eventbrite to lock in their interest, and buses transported folks to the companies they wished to visit. They were greeted at the door, given a tour and then presented with the opportunity to make their pitch to the hiring managers. The various startup firms had previously posted their openings and interests for folks to be able to research them. I did not participate, but was told that it went very well.
    Shopify, was a participating firm as was Blackberry and other high tech businesses.
    I have been told that the event was successful and will be held again in 2017.
    From what I believe I understand, the Startup event is not simply about hiring talent. It’s about establishing a successful entrepreneurial community that can grow the economy on a local and national scale.

    • Richard: Check my story about Tandem Computers elsewhere on this thread. I think companies doing their own “fairs” is a great idea. We used to call them cocktail parties :-).

      • Ah, Tandem, I recall them well. Their systems were fault tolerant machines, any single point of failure in the system did not stop or interfere with it’s operation. Anything could fail and they would keep on processing. Disk, memory, CPU, I/O anything. Their code name for their product was Stratus. A great deal of their magic was done in software, the approach that Microsoft took with Windows NT. Applications had to be coded specifically to use the Fault Tolerant API.

        At Digital Equipment Corporation, our Fault Tolerant architecture was based on hardware, with a really small software shim. All current applications becameFault Tolerant simply by running on our systems, no special coding required.
        The code name for our systems was Cirrus, cause everyone knows, Cirrus clouds are higher than Stratus clouds.

  11. It’s so ironic that as I’m catching up on the ATH blog, a radio tease in the background says Philadelphia has become the first city to ban employers from asking candidates for salary history.

    Wow, what timing! 2 things that have outlived their usefulness, job fairs and salary history.

    • I saw the same news item. I’m going to be in Philly on Thursday doing a Sirius radio show for Wharton — this is a topic I’ll bring up. Career Talk with my buddy Dr. Dawn Graham: Tune in!

      It’ll be interesting to see whether this new law changes anything!

      • I thought Massachusetts was the first state to ban asking for salary history. That would put Philly behind many Massachusetts cities. The next step would be for employers to publish their salary range in their job posting.

        • Yes, the law passed in MA this summer. Main components are:

          1. employers/recruiters can not ask for salary history.
          2. Employee can not be punished for sharing personally salary information
          3. The new law is equal pay for comparable work which is more stringent measure and puts MA more in line with Canada policy.
          4. Boston companies have been asked to voluntarily share their compensation data for the city to view in aggregate.
          Most comoanies should be doing their own pay audit to ensure they are truly compliant.
          5. To support this initiate, free salary negotiation workshops for women are being offered all over Boston. 2000+ have attended so far.

          The law goes into effect 1/ 2018. So of course I am STILL being asked for my past salary (Winter Wyman sucks). I tell them that I don’t share that info, I’d like to hear more about the role first. As an instructor of the workshops, I can’t recommend attendees withhold salary history and not withhold myself.

          *some I love about my Asian colleagues is that they don’t have the same Philosphy on talking about money we have in the US. They share salary information openly and they have vast networks. Beyond the law, this group is holding HR to a higher standard everywhere. I love them for it.

          • Good for you for walking the talk.

  12. Thank you. Thank you. I was recently on the way to an informational interview when I stopped at a job fair I had seen listed in the area. I had been encouraged by a speaker that talked about hidden networking opportunities. He agreed that the job fair is not a place to get a job, but better served to network with other attendees and find those random opportunities. Well, I walked in, and walked right out. There were huge lines to the largest employer, in an industry I have no passion for. (The website for the event was never fully updated with Employer information.) Everyone had resume’s in hand to give to representatives. I realized they were not even interviewing anyone. I looked around the room and there were more services directed at me paying out of pocket to improve resumes, head shots, and go to school or take classes online. After the event, I was bombarded with automated follow up emails “Did we miss you?” “Set up your appointment now.” Box checked, experience had, I doubt I’ll go back to something marketed as a job fair. I’ll pay more attention to appropriately sponsored networking events.

    • Kerri: You bring up a few good points.

      1. Job fairs tend to be cattle calls, with some exceptions, as others have noted.
      2. I failed to mention the “hangers on” at these events — resume writers, career coaches, and the lot. Those firms pay for their booths. The organizers love ’em. They do nothing for job seekers.
      3. The best thing to do at a job fair is meet people — if you can find ones worth meeting. Standing in line to deliver a resume when you can use e-mail is kinda silly!

      I hope you get back to that “speaker” about “hidden networking opportunities” and tell him he’s fulla crap. What is it with “hidden” — it’s become the big marketing word in the jobs biz! Nothing is hidden. But everything is hard to find if you’re sitting all day in front of a display watching digital thingies float by…

  13. I once traveled several hundred miles to attend a job fair in a city where I wanted to relocate. About a year later, after my move, I was doing temporary work in the HR department of a company which is a major company in town and was given the job of cleaning out a cubicle for someone who would soon be starting there. I found where they kept all of their job fair booth items which had obviously been thrown in this vacant cubicle after their last job fair. Along with the usual things you’d expect to find (banners, signs, bowls of peppermints) I found a stack of resumes that was at least 1- 1 1/2 feet high when stacked all together. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for all those duped people who turned in their resumes at this company’s booth thinking that would get them inside–mine was probably in there too!

    • Karen: Sheesh. You get the prize for the hidden gem. Wow — stale, un-read resumes from years ago!!

  14. A small job fair with hardly a dozen companies, run by a bunch of churches, in a medium-size church room. Didn’t get any results, but at least I didn’t feel like a piece of meat. That was circa 2010. The year before that I attended a networking event with recruiters present, where I experienced what others have reported: “Oh! You should visit our website!”

    And this was from an institution where I had worked six years, and had worked my way up to an assistant manager. The recruiter wasn’t interested in the thirty years of development I experienced after moving on to more advanced opportunities.

    So much for starting a conversation.

    The state-run job fair I attended shortly after my job loss circa 2008 was one of the reasons I quickly fell into clinical depression. Parking was overflowing, and the line of job seekers literally was winding around the building. And I was there early. There must have been thousands of people pouring by a dozen companies, half of which were construction companies. Going home to my hopeful wife with nothing hopeful to report did not make this a fun day.

  15. Fifteen years ago I went to my very first — and last — job fair. I think I saw about 10 reps from companies I was interested in. I got two calls back. One guy was trying to sell me investment services (at the time I was unemployed — just keeping the lights on and food on the table was a challenge); the other guy was a rep from one of the companies I wanted to work at — he was trying to date me. Never, ever again. Job fairs are the biggest employment scam out there.

  16. I could write an article on this. I’ll try to be brief with a view different from what I’ve read so far.
    I agree to the points taken in the context given, which appears to be what I’d call the pay-to-play cookie cutter job fairs hosted by companies who do this for a living

    But I don’t agree in the broadest sense because of other options available

    I’ve Been on both sides of the table over about 50 years of job hunting & recruiting. As a hiring manager, and as a recruiter I have hired or enabled hiring of, a lot of good people from job fairs, right up to a year & a half ago. I confess, from the Corporate side, I find they a great resource & have always used them. To be fair, as a job hunter, just as useless as people have been so noting.

    What makes it successful from either side of the table is to apply good job hunting processes, with a twist on how to work a job fair, Which is to break it into 3 segments, before, during, after

    1. Do your homework. research who is run the job fair? That is, one of the pay-to-play businesses that hold job fairs, a hiring company? government? volunteer group? non-profit? This makes a big difference on deciding if you should attend.

    2. As Nick noted, find out what Corporations are going to be there? Focus on companies you want to target, & as suggested network to see if you can find out if hiring managers will be there. If not Most likely you will waste your time. Generally in my experience the larger the corporation the closer you get to cattle call. So give some thought to researching the smaller, the lesser known and most likely you won’t be one among many.

    During. This is where that elevator speech may actually be useful. Dress for success and be able to be clear about why you like that company & why they should be interested in you. Also view it as a networking opportunity, work the crowd to pick up ideas and leads. collect business cards, trade resumes.

    After. The best value of a job fair is afterward. And I mean this from both sides of the table. This is where the work really starts. FOLLOW UP.

    Look, I did the job fair thing as a job hunter and had all the negative experiences noted. But..I turned myself into a recruiter eventually landing as an in-house recruiter myself, working part time for a small privately owned company. As such, I started using job fairs to find people run by volunteer job hunting groups and churches, community colleges. Why? #1. They were FREE to the company. #2.They were FREE to the company. #3. As a job hunter I was aware of them, and knew they’d be a good source.

    But armed with negative experiences as a job hunter, I was able to develop a process respectful to candidates and pragmatic for the company to best make use of job fairs. Job Fairs became our very best & effective source for most of our hiring. NOTE: yes we hired people we met at the job fairs. Particularly a couple of very well run favorite ones held once or twice a year.

    As we got traction with this, we enlisted the hiring managers to attend…in force. to where every department was attending. Once that was nailed down, if a job fair was pending, I’d direct people to the job fair & our booth so they would definitely meet a hiring manager I wanted them to meet. This was so much faster than serially working people through the normal work day of a manager.

    The volunteers who ran the fairs soon learned we turned out in force as a company and they passed the word and directed people of interest to us real time. We got momentum & for a small company we got great turnout. We the booth well staffed I literally worked the floor, engaging candidates at the door, in the hall, walking around and with confidence could send them directly to a hiring manager. The managers loved it and we never had a problem getting them to show up.

    As I noted, the real work began AFTER the job fair. We collected a resume from every person we talked to. Yes we also asked them to apply on line. Why? To see if they’d follow up, to see if they really had an interest in the company. IN THE COMPANY, not just tire kicking for a job. I believe Follow up is a critical attribute in any kind of job. People who followed up moved to the head of the line for time and attention, often outweighing raw skillsets. We read every resume and we, mostly me, would personally get back to everyone whether they were a fit or not. With a stack over 100+ this could take awhile. So it was done on a priority basis. 1. Immediately to those who followed up with that application, note or call. 2. To those who responded to our follow up to them..3 eventually everyone else. It was relatively easy to quickly determine managerial interest & get people in for interviews.

    All the discussion thus far has been from the attendee side. But…the door swings 2 ways. The companies do expend effort, even if only a warm body to attend a Fair. And on their side of the table get a lot of promises, seeming interest, etc. But I’ve collected info from years of working job fairs as a recruiter…And at best about 30% of people actually follow up, about another 15% from people I reached out to..the rest go into the wind and in many cases unreachable. Which is OK as they are telling us they are not interested. But..I know many are the same people complaining no one gets back to them. So take note, from the standpoint of a company, many people are time wasters too, not just the companies.

    Finally when the dust settles, I give the people that put together the job fairs feedback. How many people we talked to, interviewed, hired. Because as I said we exclusively used either volunteer groups, non profits or community college or universities which offered free fairs. The people that put time into putting together a Fair, particularly unpaid volunteers really want to help…and no one tells them what happened..They love the feedback…and as I noted..become advocates for those that do (which was us because no one else was doing it)

  17. I disagree with the substance and tone of your column. High quality niche career fairs can be an effective tool for both employers and candidates in their search for each other. My company, RecruitMilitary, will produce 127 city and base career fairs for veterans this year. On average our veteran attendees report an 80% positive return on the investment “ROI”) of their time and our employers report a 93% positive ROI on their investment and time. Over 10,000 individuals gained interviews because of our fairs during 2016.

    As I have written on my LinkedIn blog, there are many myths about veteran career fairs. Job seekers and employers need to conduct careful due diligence on what works for them and not make blanket dismissals of any one tool or resource. Quality matters but so too does the diligence and effort of job seeker and employer alike.

    I have observed that veteran job seekers need help with two primary areas of their job searches and high-quality niche career fairs are excellent at providing both. First, they need to grow “opportunity awareness.” That is, they need to understand what sort of jobs exist and where they might fit. Likewise, job seekers need to develop “social capital.” That is, they need to learn how to network effectively. A good job fair offers both opportunities as one key part of a well-conceived and executed job search strategy.

    Job seekers face enough challenges without encountering cynical opinions that dissuade them from a tactic that continues to benefit thousands of job seekers.

    • Peter: Thanks for posting your comments. Understandable since you work for a job fair company. I don’t know RecruitMilitary or its reputation other than what you’ve written. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

      As you might have seen in the comments thread, some readers have posted positive experiences with job fairs. That’s what this forum is for. However, the preponderance of comments reveals really lousy experiences with job fairs — including some folks who work in HR. So I don’t think my column is cynical — it’s critical based on my own experience and knowledge, and that of most people I’ve talked with about it.

      My tone is negative because of the record of job fairs overall. Job seekers face challenges not because of cynical opinions, as you suggest, but because useless and often counterproductive services are marketed hard to them — wasting their time and money. The purpose of this website is to educate, to provide a forum for candid discussion, and to provide a place for honest debate. You seem to characterize all job fairs as valuable and useful without criticism.

      I don’t buy it. When people conduct due diligence by attending fairs and evaluating critically, as they report here, their views become cynical after they’ve gotten screwed by job fair vendors. Yours may be a shining counterexample of a job fair company, but that doesn’t mean job fairs are an effective tool on the whole.

      I use Ask The Headhunter to offer education, but I just get the ball rolling. Most of what members of this community learn comes from the participants themselves, who share their stories, insights, advice and experiences. I suggest you read what they’re saying about job fairs.

    • “My company, RecruitMilitary, will produce 127 city and base career fairs for veterans this year. On average our veteran attendees report an 80% positive return on the investment “ROI”) of their time…”

      The operative word here is veterans. You just excluded the nonVets, and your focus group is a tiny niche. I am not saying it is a bad thing, but it certainly isn’t reflective of everyone.

  18. Job Fairs are a waste, just scammy business to rack up EEO points. Funny story. So I apply online for a gig I thought I was perfect for with a certain company. Two weeks later I get a canned regrets letter. Dumbfounded that I did not even get an interview I write back that I intend to attend a Job Fair the next week they have been listed as being at and that I’ll make a point of stopping by to explain why they should have at least brought me in for an interview. Get a letter back apologizing, they really did find their dream candidate, so they won’t bother being at the Job Fair since that was the only position needing to be filled, but that they would be at the resume workshop being held a few days ahead of the event for a small extra fee. I originally had no intention of going to the workshop, I’m no newbie, plus it fell on a religious holiday I tend to observe, but I broke tradition and went, sat in the front row, engaged the presenter like a star student and afterwards revealed myself as the rejected candidate. Got an invitation to apply for another, UN-advertised gig, nailed it. Sometimes, Woody Allen’s strategy of 90% of success is simply showing up, does apply.

  19. I’ve not been a job fair advocate for a while, although my son’s college, Michigan Tech University, has helped me see a different side. The university goes to great lengths to prepare their students for their job fairs, as well as having high expectations for the employers who attend. As a result, students meet people with hiring authority and frequently get internships, coops, and jobs as a direct result of the job fairs. Similar to the gentleman who commented about RecruitMilitary, students also gain networking skills, something my son desperately needs. (He’s a typical introverted engineer!)

    As someone involved in hiring, I agree with the request for someone to apply online after the job fair if they are really interested in a job. Just because we had a nice conversation doesn’t mean the candidate wants to work for that employer. I’m surprised that job fair providers don’t have tablets or some other onsite Internet access to apply for openings. That would ease the accessibility issue for many job fair attendees.

    Based on the comments here, I get the feeling that some people expect an offer onsite at the job fair… that seems entirely unrealistic unless you happen to be at one of those cattle-call fairs where they need someone, anyone, tomorrow.

    My takeaway from this thread: not all job fairs are alike. Don’t write them off completely, just do your homework and be strategic about when and where you attend.

    • Annette,

      I’m glad your son’s college does a good job organizing its job fairs. Schools have a big obligation to help grads get jobs after parents pay $200,000 and more for a 4-year education.

      But your comments about the purpose of job fairs don’t make sense to me.

      “I agree with the request for someone to apply online after the job fair if they are really interested in a job.”

      What’s the purpose of a job fair, where applicants can meet employers to be evaluated in person, if not to complete a job application right there? If you’re going to argue it’s just a meet-and-greet/get-to-know-the-company, then don’t call it a job fair. A job fair is a place to match eager job seekers to jobs, or it’s a waste of time, or worse, a sham.

      “Based on the comments here, I get the feeling that some people expect an offer onsite at the job fair… that seems entirely unrealistic unless you happen to be at one of those cattle-call fairs where they need someone, anyone, tomorrow.”

      I don’t think anyone expects an offer at a job fair, but I think everyone expects a job interview and a clear indication about whether they are considered a good possible hire. If employers aren’t at a job fair to interview and assess applicants, I can guarantee you that’s what the applicants are there for.

      Employers who show up ready to interview and to do the serious work of assessing, recruiting and hiring people are to be complimented. The rest are shameful examples of carny barkers who should not be there.

      The idea that you should show up to be told to go apply online is absurd. Anyone can apply online at any time. So how does the applicant’s presence at the fair accomplish anything? If an employer is serious about someone they meet at a fair and takes no action, something is woefully wrong.

  20. The last job fair that was worthwhile for me to attend was a single-company job fair. They were opening up a branch, had numerous positions, and like most of us in here, had given up onthe job boards, local newspaper and just about any “traditional” hiring method. It was on a weekend, and instead of HR hacks, they had line managers there who would actually talk about the positions. Since what they did was somewhat unique, they were looking for quick studies for most positions, someone they could mentor and train.

    Most of the ones since have been merely to get all the vets, all the over 45’s, all the (fill in the blank) together for a chat fest. Oh yeah, and sell resume and dress for success services.

  21. I’ve had mixed results with job fairs, but the last successful one I attended was in 2001. That was the last one in which employers were willing to talk to people, look at résumés, etc. The most recent one I went to was a disaster. Despite touting “over 200 employers”, it was less a job fair and more of a sales fair. The companies there were doing hard sales pitches for their products, and the only ones willing to talk to job hunters were the so-called professional résumé writing services (for which there was a fee). I asked the people representing the companies if they were the hiring managers for their departments, and not a single one (I spoke with over 30 people) held that position. Most were HR folks, and when I asked them to tell me about the job vacancies at their businesses, no one could tell me anything: “I don’t know if there are any vacancies, but apply online and if we’re interested, we’ll call you” was the response. It was a colossal waste of time.

  22. I recently attended a large Diversity Job Fair, advertised on LinkedIn. Instructions to job seekers registering for the event read:

    “Prepare! Prepare! Prepare! Be sure to visit each company’s website to see what job opportunities you qualify for. Come and impress recruiters with your preparedness (they really like that!)”

    I’m embarrassed to say I was the proverbial fly attracted to meat because days before I came across this job fair posting, I had applied to several positions, with two very large, locally-based employers, who were going to be there. So, I signed-up anticipating – based on the instructions – that this would be my opportunity to connect directly with the recruiters at these premier companies.

    The morning of the fair I got up early to carefully prepare and practice my pitch, and to dress for success; only to find instead of being drawn to meat, I had instead been drawn to a steamy pile of crap jobs.

    This seems so silly now, but I eagerly walked up to the first company’s table, with my job posting, cover letter and resume in hand, only to be swatted down with the news that they were strictly looking to hire mortgage phone sales reps…ugh!

    I marched on to the next employer’s table hoping to having better luck. When I arrived, I was greeted by one of the cronies hired to vet candidates. I was handed a list of positions they were looking to fill. I studied the list, which included mostly low paying, high-stress, call center and collections jobs. I said “thank you, but I was hoping to speak with someone about a couple of positions, I have applied for through through your company career site.” I briefly explained my background and I was put in line to speak with the HR Manager. When it was my turn, I gave my pitch and asked if it would be possible for her to help me get my cover letters and resumes to the hiring manager’s.

    Sadly, I swatted down even harder this time, when the HR Manager said in a snippy tone “that’s not what we’re here for,” and then dismissed me by turning her back. (BTW, this women happened to be black and my only notable “diversity” is my age, but most people think I look a lot younger than I am).

    After making a quick mental note of the situation, the first thought that crossed my mind was, is she put out by me being a straight, white person at a diversity career fair, on top of not being interested in any of their immediate need jobs?

    I naturally left feeling betrayed and frustrated about the complete waste of time and energy. I think it’s despicable the purpose of this event was so mis-represented and that it was also set-up as a ploy to expose vulnerable job seekers to non-advertised vendors looking to prey on them, rather to than to hire them…argh!

  23. I have been to veteran job fairs. And the summary is that I am still with my current employer.

    As far as diversity fairs, I don’t bother. I might be a good candidate, I might be the best candidate. I’ll never be the “meets the quota” candidate.

    I’d rather spend my time hanging out at the bar where (for instance) the sheep shearers hang out and REALLY network with my fellow sheep shearers.

  24. Job fairs, ATS portals… it seems as though, no matter how good you are, they’re looking for “somebody else” – and at slave wages too.

    In general, on the job search, to be hired a candidate has to:

    1. Get past the ATS (no small feat)
    2. Get past the social media vetting (where ANYTHING could be used against you)
    3. Get past the hokey “If you were an animal, what would you be” questions
    4. Get past ageism (I’ll guess most people on this list fall into that category)
    5. Get past the pennies-on-the-dollar salary
    6. Have to be dog-panting enthusiastic about working there

    Make it past all of these things, congrats, you’re hired.

    And then they wonder why they can’t hire anyone and why there’s a “shortage”.

  25. Thank you all for your comments. I was scheduled to attend a job fair over 100 miles from where I live. Total cost would’ve been roughly $120 and my valuable time. The fair is at a University, and those few employers slated to be in attendance (about 5) are very big companies that need no introduction. Each could cease advertising/marketing and prime candidates would still be clawing at each other to be considered. Something in my gut told me to cancel and spend my time instead looking for professional associations to join and filling my list of pros around town to try getting informational interviews with.

    I’m confident I made the right choice. Thank you all.

  26. I was supposed to attend a Job Fair tomorrow in Los Angeles, but after being to 2 job fairs, one being the Veteran Job Fair and Second another one hosted by Everbright (If remember correctly) both in Los Angeles, I was really thinking if I should attend another job fair provided by Everbright. In my opinion, the Veteran Job Fair was the best. One can gain information about veteran benefits, such as (Work for Warriors) a government agency that helps veterans find work, very useful and from my interaction with them can be very useful for someone who is mainly entry-level. On the other hand, much like other job seekers that posted, I got some of the same, “Look at our website for more information”. I found a lot of government agencies and the other companies there mainly concentrated on entry-level jobs or sales. Now, on the Everbright job fair where mainly in sales, with few companies present or government jobs. However, there were on the spot interviews, which the veteran fair claimed to have, but didn’t (At least the one I went to). All I can say is good luck in your job search and hope that what ever job fair you attend is a quality one versus one that is about sales.

    • AC: Thanks for the rundown on the veterans’ job fair and your good advice for others!

  27. I saw this thread this morning as I was trying to decide if I should to go a job fair in my area. I have been in the work force for a long time but had never attended a job fair before. At first reading these messages I thought it would be a waste of time. I decided to go anyway so I could check it out and at least have as point of reference.

    I decided to attend late to avoid the rush hour traffic and the initial line at the door. Today’s event was a 5 hour fair with 17 or so companies. There was only one company that I knew about before the event that i was interested in. I talked to about a third of the companies there. The others I knew would not be a fit for me. I mostly didn’t have to wait in any lines.

    I think for me it was worthwhile because first I didn’t invest a lot of time, I took my time getting there, stayed only 45min and left. My expectations were low. I was able to learn about companies I didn’t know about before. Talking to people at the show helped me determine if those were companies I might want to work for. My expectations were not to find a job there but to find companies that I may want to work for. I found two to look into and a few others that I learned I can avoid in my job search.

    • I like how you used the job fair: Not to apply for jobs. (HR at these fairs tells you to go online to apply, anyway!) You used it to learn about companies firsthand. Smart. I wonder how many companies at job fairs actually provide useful information about themselves that you can’t find online, though?

      Regardless, I’m a big proponent if meeting people face to face, assuming the people who are there are worth meeting! Glad it paid off for you the way you used it! Thanks for posting.

  28. I need some guidance here….the only job fairs I come across in my area are in hotels and sponsored by companies that hold career fairs usually once a month or every other month all over the U.S. They don’t list the companies attending ahead of time. When I figured out some of the companies( I was only given the sponsor list), it was mostly police/fire dept., grocery stores, insurance, staffing agencies who already post on job boards, and local plumbing/HVAC companies. Plus, they’re only 3 hours. Is it a good idea to go?

    • Tonight’s lineup of employers at the Princeton NJ Hyatt:

      1. Sears – on the brink of bankruptcy
      2. – cold-calling, boiler room telemarketing operation
      3. Barnes and Noble – warehouse jobs!
      4. School cafeteria jobs. Claiming unemployment during the summer was encouraged!
      5. Franchise Advisor – Great idea for the jobless unemployed, smh…
      6. Used office equipment sales. What is next, used car sales?
      7. NY Life insurance sales.

      At this less than magnificent 7, I abruptly vacated my sardine seat. First thing I did was politely request a list of recruiting employers. Of course, none was provided. Now I see why this information is never published on the website and emails for this recurring scam event!

      Princeton Hyatt, you can do so much better! Scam job fair, please do society a favor and stop your duplicitous activities!


    Thursday, February 4, 2010
    The Career Showcase Job Fair – Where Can I Get the Kool Aid?
    It was, truly, a job fair unlike any I’d been to before. I was astonished by the quality and diversity of the jobs being offered. In fact, I’d never actually received one offer at a job fair before; let alone three. My head was spinning from the decisions I needed to make — which offer to accept?

    The alarm went off, awaking me from my slumber. The job fair was actually several hours away. Nevertheless, I felt encouraged.

    That would be short-lived.

    The Career Showcase Job Fair promised an extensive collection of companies and positions. Apparently, most of the companies planning to be there with the non-financial sales positions bailed. In the spirit of Bill Simmons, here’s the running diary of the event:

    4:55pm: I walk in to the Huntington Hilton’s Grand Ballroom. There are a great number of people here; but not as many as I would expect – I’d recently read stories of job fairs that had to close down early because two to three times as many attendees showed up. Here, the room is nearly half-full. I’m optimistic that this may turn out to be okay…I do end up sitting near an ex-colleague and we commisserate about the state of the job market.

    5:00pm: Up first is the emcee for the evening – Henry Lesher…He’s a career coach, who commits the fatal flaw of telling us that he’s being paid to be there. Immediately, an awful lot of his credibility flies out the window. He explains that it’s not that the best people get the best jobs, but “the people who appear to be best get the jobs.”

    5:10pm: Henry begins introducing the companies. This is a different kind of job fair. Rather than just letting me pop in and view the companies and determining there’s nothing there for me, I have to listen to 2-4 minute ‘commercials’ from each company first.

    The first to speak is Kim from Sleepys. She has inside sales professional positions available. She begins by asking “who has heard of Sleepys?” – the entire room raises their hands. She then talks about how the company is growing, and how her top salespeople made in excess of $100k last year. This will prove to be an effective template for the rest of the evening.

    5:14pm: Dan from David Lerner, the first of the financial companies. They specialize in NOT JUST stocks, but also real estate and municipal bonds. In addition, even if you’re not looking for an investment counselor position, they’ll be happy to have you stop by their booth so they can assist you with your investment needs. They’re good guys.

    5:19pm: Chris from Carr Business Systems. I know this company, as their building is right next door to where I used to work. I would definitely work for them, and – potentially – they could use someone like me. Ah, they’re only recruiting for outside sales representatives. I’m beginning to see a trend.

    5:23pm: Alfredo from New York Life. I actually have a resume pending with this company for an employee communications associate. But, then I realize, Alfredo is not in the HR department; he’s a partner. He is recruiting for – say it with me – sales positions. The company has been in business for 164 years and his top salespeople made $200k-plus, last year. Oh, and it helps if you’re billingual.

    5:27pm: Dan from Sears is next. He’s quick and to the point. He also pulls the “Who has heard of Sears” trick – that is not even remotely effective this time. He’s looking for outside sales. What are the odds? Irrelevant, anyway, as I haven’t shopped at Sears since their service person threatened my wife in our backyard. Even more embarrasing for Sears — I sent a letter outlining my displeasure with their service (which was horrible even without the physical threat; but, simply unforgiveable afterwards), and received no response. Clearly, not a choice organization.

    5:31pm: Prudential is up next. They’ve been in business for 130 years, and his top salespeople made $1 million plus last year (the job fair has taken on all the atmosphere of a locker room, where each company is trying to figure out who is ‘bigger.’) This gentleman (didn’t catch the name) – who, of course, is recruiting for financial services and financial sales – explains that “you’re all salespeople, even if you’re not in sales…your resume is your print ad; your interview is your commercial; and the product you’re selling, is you!” He leans back smiling, satisfied with himself and his analogy. I choke back the vomit.

    5:35pm: Tom, from US Remodels steps up next. He’s a nice change from the suit-clad presenters so far. He explains that he works for Home Depot, and they handle garage organization, closet organization, etc. I’m encouraged that this will be a position other than sales (even though it won’t be something I’m interested in); but no….he’s looking for in-home sales representatives. Yawn.

    5:39pm: John from Accent Advisors steps up – and doesn’t seem to want to step down. He goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on. I lean to my friend next to me, and tell him the job fair needs to get their hands on the orchestra used by the Academy Awards. It’s even worse, because he’s recruiting financial services/financial advisors. I feel almost badly for these people, having to recruit for the same positions as ALL the companies prior to them. But, then, I remember I’m stuck there, and I feel worse for me.

    5:47pm: Allison from Cablevision takes the microphone next. Interestingly, before and after each speaker spoke, there was applause from the audience. When Cablevision got up there, the welcoming applause was minimal. She, smartly, doesn’t ask “who has Cablevision?” She’s the first person not recruiting for sales — instead, she’s looking for call center customer service representatives (making the princely sum of $13 an hour). I look around the room — easily, 95 percent of the attendees are 38 years of age or older. I wonder – do these job fair recruiters ever take the time to know their audience?

    5:51pm: Dan (another one) from First Investors is recruiting for financial representatives and other professionals who “don’t want to settle for a mediocre salary.” He then explains his definition of a mediocre salary (translation, anything less than $100k). The world is a strange place.

    5:55pm: Tina from PFP speaks next – she *knows* people don’t know her company…she’s looking for insurance sales representatives — they work with credit unions in branches…but, it’s still sales. So much so, that, after Tina talks, Henry (the emcee) explains that people visiting this job fair need to keep their minds open about the types of positions being offered at the fair.

    5:59pm: Cambridge/Who’s Who is up next, and Carolyn talks about the hours (“we work 9 to 5:30, Monday to Friday, with no weekends or evenings, so – if you want that, we can’t help you” she says, attempting comedy) There’s an outside chance this company could work for me – after all, it’s writing, right? No….account directors (aka sales). We’re getting down to the last few companies — will anything make me not feel like I just blew nearly two hours of my life?

    6:02pm: Jerry at 2020 Companies also explains that he knows no one knows his company – he handles Verizon direct sales. He starts his speech by stating, explicitly, “I have a lot of energy.” His position is even less appealing than anyone else’s — 100 percent commission. If only I were a successful salesperson (what happened to the lengthy list of positions that would be at this fair?)

    6:05pm: Chris at Northwestern Mutual can’t even talk with a straight face. He’s looking for financial professionals…but he doesn’t want to keep people from getting into the exhibit hall (“since I know you all want your free pencils.” – yeah, that’s exactly the reason I’m here…)

    6:10pm: Bill, representing AFLAC, gets up with a witty saying, “If you think we just do insurance, you don’t know quack about AFLAC.” I try to come up with three reasons why any of these people have jobs and I’m still unemployed. I fail.

    With that, the ‘corporate theatre’ ends, and we move out to head to the exhibit hall. In a touching show of sympathy, we’re led in curved lines…much like cows to a slaughterhouse, so we can’t see the horror befalling those before us. I wish my friend luck (as he’s off to talk with Carr), and I find two other members of my jobseeking group. We share our collective misery before heading off.

    Besides the length of time invested, which was heartbreaking; my biggest regret was actually being forced to give one of my resumes to the organizers when I walked in. I only had good copies with me — that was some nice paper, wasted.

  30. Already not feeling confident about job fairs, I rabbit holed to this site. Now, I am running scared and appalled at the prospect. Being the newbie in HR does have its drawbacks. Thank you from both sides and I will keep this in mind while searching for a better option to fill our open positions.

    • @Melissa: Welcome to Ask The Headhunter. Do what the best headhunters do to find great candidates. Ask yourself, where do they hang out? Go there. Trade shows. Conferences. Training programs. Meetups. Professional/association events. Anywhere they go to learn and talk shop.

      Anywhere they go to “find jobs” — stay away. Meet them where they hang out with one another!

  31. The prevelant attitude that the best candidates are more likely to have jobs already, is an attitude and a prejudice that keeps the unemployed unemployed. If you don’t get a job straight from school you are already on the scrapheap, and you as an unemployed person are villified for your unemployed status, and tratedd like you are lazy, when you are working your hardest to get a foot in the door … any door – but employers (and headhunters) look at you with disdain and would rather poach someone who is already employed by another company … if recruitment was a game of musical chairs the unemployed were never invited to the party in the first place.

    I’m sad that your article appears to endorse this prejudice.

    • I don’t endorse “this prejudice” at all. In fact, I agree with you. The problem with job fairs is not job seekers, it’s employers who run these phony events. Recruitment has indeed become a game of musical chairs with HR playing the tune. What I’m saying to job seekers is, stop participating in the game because it doesn’t work.

  32. Going to a job fair in a couple of hours. Just found out about it through pure luck when browsing the internet for information. I have no idea which companies will be attending, as there seems to be zero listings. I’m going in blind, and as someone who is currently unemployed, that in itself is highly discouraging.

    I’ll post back on how it all went.

    • …and I went back to the website, and found the list of employers attending. Somehow, I missed it the first time.The link is highlighted with a very light, unnoticeable color, and I completely missed it the first time I was on the website. No excuses, that’s on me. No time to do much about it. Not a good start!

    • @S.B.: Why do you think they made the link so hard to see? I’d love to hear how it goes. Good luck!

  33. @Nick Corcodilos,

    Thank you.

    I’m not sure why they made the link so hard to see. I think it’s just a coincidence, because the rest of the website is designed like that as well. All links are the same way. I should have noticed the link the first time, especially knowing that. But, I still somehow missed it. It’s easy to miss, and not so noticeable. Again, no excuses, I just need to pay more attention to these things.

    Well, in all honesty, I really felt like the job fair was a waste of time.

    Like many job fairs, it was talked up to be this important event us job seekers needed to be ready for. Get all dressed up, bring in your resume and supporting documents. Do your research and impress the company. Expect to be interviewed on the spot. You know, the same information we’re always told.

    Truthfully, there wasn’t any more “leads,” at the job fair, than you would get from doing the exact same thing online. In fact, that’s just it. All the information provided, was all available online. Every company booth I visited, told me to visit their website and apply online. That was pretty much it, with a few short conversations. All of the conversations were pretty much the same. However, there were even a few companies, that admitted to not having job openings at all… which is kind of a slap in the face to job seekers if you ask me.

    There wasn’t any accepting of resumes, conducting of interviews, setting up interviews, or asking for supporting documents. Nothing of the sort. The fact is, you could come in unprepared, and it wouldn’t really matter (I know there are exceptions to this).

    I feel us job seekers are dressing up for nothing when going to job fairs, as the employers are not there to be “impressed,” by us. They’re there to provide information, that you can get from online. Which, is where we’re directed to anyway. You can ask the same questions you ask in person, to people who work for the company online. So, unless you don’t have online access, what’s the point of going to the job fair? I can actually do more with online access, than just going to the job fair.

    In the end, it was a very discouraging event, as I was told to go through the same steps I always do. Apply online, and hope for the best. Maybe you’ll get an employer that will actually respond to you. Or, like many applying online experiences, they just ignore you or can you for every reason under the Sun. Meeting them in person didn’t make a difference, because company representatives directed us right back to the same job seeking process. Apply online. Visit our website. Apply online. Visit our website. Over and over again. It was never ending.

    I truly feel job fairs are all hype, and misleading. Sure, it might be unintentional, but that makes things more difficult for job seekers. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect to land a job on the spot or anything. I know there is a process to this. However, it wasn’t a job fair. It was an information hub. That’s all it was. No different than the information that is provided online. Job fairs seem like a check the box kind of deal for employers. Just to say they did it, and brought these opportunities to job seekers. Even when, most know full well no one was hired from it.

    I went in, nervous, with high hopes that this would be the start of going in the right direction. In finding a job. I walked out, discouraged, and back to same old process that has failed so many time and time again. Back to the drawing board it is!

  34. Hi Nick,
    i currently just came home from my first job fair i went to. my father’s job will be terminated in august so i HAD to go. most of the stuff there were for police, school, or military. even those for 16-24. i am 24 now, but will turn 25 in august. then they didn’t know what to say. i hate my associates degree of theatre. art is amazing, but you can’t get a dumb job with an art degree. i had a few interviews before, but i couldn’t cut off all my hair under my chin. so any restaurant would be out of the question as well. they want someone who is clean shaven. all my razors i had couldn’t get that low to cutting. i’m stuck crying and close to leaving Earth. Why was i born i ask myself? to feel pain!

    • Christian: Psychology is amazing, too, but you can’t get a dumb job with a psych degree, either. But like studying art, studying psych teaches you insight that can be used indirectly in all kinds of jobs. My degree is in psych. I learned business by starting in a small company with a boss who liked to teach skills – and I was willing to learn.

      It takes a whole lot of NOs to get to one YES. There is no reason to give up, and a whole lot of good ones to keep at it. Learn a little from each experience or NO. That’s why we’re all born – to learn, and to do for others. Trust me: the rest comes. The job, the income, the satisfaction. We’re not born to suffer pain. We’re born to learn to work through it.

      Please check some of the other articles on this site. Start here:

      You don’t need to buy any of my books. Just start using the basic ideas. The artist in you should look for beauty. The worker in you should look for work. Both take time to find. Please give yourself time, and shake off the frustration by taking another step toward what you want.

      I wish you the best, Christian.

  35. Just came back from a job fair that claimed it would have interviews from companies such as Amazon, T-mobile and TripAdvisor with 300 plus jobs. None of the advertised companies were present and it was less than 10 companies with TSA and some collection agency,none targeting professionals. Sad waste of time.

    • Sadly, that’s why they’re referred to as cattle calls.

  36. I am a certified nursing assistant and a hospital that I am interested in applying for is having a job fair for certified nursing assistants. But it is by appointment only and I have to wait for a HR person to call me and tell me what time to come and also where they are having it. The last time I try to go without an appointment,they refuse to tell me where it was being held at. Is this lawful,because it is not I am going to report them to the Better Business Bureau. Please let me know ASAP,because the job fair is on November 8, 2018.

  37. Ode To A Jobs Fair

    Lickety split, I meander to the Fairs,
    Jobs for all, and nobody cares.

    CollectionsWareHouseForkLift hails.

    CleanerJanitorBarKeep such,
    But if you wanna make living, not much.

    College degree to be a maid,
    20 years for twelve dollars, what a charade.

    I now know what I must do,
    Doggedly determined, and without much ado …

    I enter the building, lickety split,
    Head to The Mens’ Room, to take a $H17.

  38. I work in HR and have recruited before. I don’t like job fairs. I have received limited or no value from them but sometimes the desire to participate comes from other leadership in the company pushing it. There are other more effective ways to brand and advertise than a limited scope and audience at a fair.

    I’ve received the sales pitch by companies that run the fairs, saying that they are not a dying or antiquated way to hire. That companies still find value in them. I’ve also heard from colleagues in my network that job fairs and open houses do work. I believe that it depends on the company, the industry, what fair they attend or run themselves, what niche their business is but it doesn’t go across the board of all fairs to be of value for everyone involved. Much like the job ad has evolved, so have career/job fairs.

    As for not accepting resumes, when I recruited in government contracting, we were required to instruct candidates to submit their applications/resumes electronically through the company website to ensure a fair selection process. We couldn’t have multiple ways a candidate could be hired or apply for a position. Further, since we were required to have a selection of diverse candidates interviewed for every position that was open, and then document each interview that occurred, it was impossible to hire on the spot with a one-on-one conversation with the hiring manager at a job fair. Rightfully so, we had to prove to the US government that we were not employing only people we favor or knew. And that all jobs posted were open to everyone to be considered. Strict auditing and government oversight ensures contractors adhere to the regulations or risk losing contracts and/or be fined.

    There are a lot of great comments on here in answer to this post, in support of and against the fairs. I agree with the alternatives such as trade shows, conferences, etc. Job searching and hiring is relationship building exercise and what better way to start that connection than being at an event or meeting where there already exists a commonality in a subject or interest as a vocation.

    • @Wesley: Thanks for an insider’s view of job fairs. Every job fair should be required to disclose what you just did — it’s required reading for job seekers, and for employers considering participating in a fair.

      One bottom line seems to be that a company might benefit by actually meeting interested candidates, who must nonetheless use the same online application system non-attendees must use. Then the employer can look for those applications later.

      The other bottom line is, unless employers have hiring managers or very savvy HR people in their booths to talk to applicants, it’s easier to just apply online. Translation: Job fairs are likely a waste of time.

      Finally, there is the problem of who is attending. The higher-level the jobs, I think the less likely good candidates are to show up. They’re being recruited directly by employers who really want them.

      Thanks again.

  39. I know this is an old column, but I can’t resist, so here’s my story: In 1989 I went to a job fair. Their restriction? You could only attend if you had at least 2 years of experience (I had that much equivalent in co-op jobs). I submitted my resume to a major aircraft manufacturer who said they would give my resume to college relations. I got the job and they moved me to that city. In fact, they moved me a second time to the west coast. Due to reduced business opportunities in the early 1990’s, this job did not last long, but it was a good start. My boss from 30 years ago still remembers me and said that it was too bad that I was not given the chance to stay because I had a high level of enthusiasm.

  40. In late 1988 I went to a job fair when I was in college (I really wasn’t supposed to go – it was for people who had 2 years of experience after college). I applied to a number of companies. One of them was the one I went to work for after I graduated – they moved me and everything.

    Maybe it is an exception to the rule – but I’m sure it happens every once in awhile.