Whatever happened to job fairs anyway?

Back when I started my recruiting career, job fairs were a staple of the recruiter role. I lived in Chicago and, being a big city, with lots of people and lots of job openings, I knew that many people would be matched up with potential opportunities at these job fairs (or at least start the process). It was a number game. We loaded up with lots of business cards and anti-bacterial hand wipes (I’ve shaken some very sweaty hands) and had a great time at these events.

Then something started to change. It didn’t happen overnight. Companies and candidates stopped attending job fairs like they used to:

-First the dotcom boom happened. Candidates didn’t attend job fairs as much because they didn’t have to. Job fairs take time and effort for candidates to attend. Since companies were working harder to seek out talent (cold calling, etc) due to the competitive recruiting environment, the candidates were in the drivers seat. No need to get all dressed up for those job fairs. The internet was hot and candidates could just post their resume and get lots and lots of calls.

-Then, the economy took a downturn and companies weren’t hiring like they used to. Companies had to decide whether they still attended job fairs despite the fact that they were doing little or no hiring. The candidates that attended job fairs were typically those hit hardest by the economy (lay offs, etc). The number of candidates attending went up, the number of companies attending went down.

See, job fairs work when there’s a balance of interest on both sides. If you have lots of candidates interested and lots of companies interested, you have a hopping job fair. But when the candidates lose interest (dotcom boom) or the companies lose interest (economic downturn), it just ain’t gonna work. And during these times, both sides found alternatives. Specifically, the found how valuable the Internet can be in the staffing/job search game. And nobody ever looked back.

It’s a bummer too because job fairs were a great opportunity for recruiters to network with other recruiters.

There is one exception to all of this though, I believe. And that is the specialized job fair. National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) and National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA) job fairs have been going strong. The one thing that these organizations did really right is provide additional programming around the job fair to engage the candidates. That drew the talent. And the companies were already interested because diversity is a priority for top organizations and these associations draw the best in the industry.

So sadly, I think we have to say “so long“ to traditional job fairs, but we will see you NBMBAA and NSHMBA members in Texas this fall!


Comments (11)

  1. Heather says:

    Sorry, Brant, I should have clarified that I didn’t mean college job fairs. Those are different altogether (I would classify those as "specialized" as well). I’m talking about job fairs for experienced folks.

    I’m sure you can understand that Microsoft can’t send a recruiter to every college for every job fair because we don’t have that many recruiters available. Our campus recruiters mostly do scheduled interview days on campus. But I can’t explain much more about how they select schools (because I have not done campus recruiting at Microsoft). I do know an extensive amount of planning goes into scheduling on-campus activities and we are committed to doing our best to match up qualified upcoming graduates with opportunities at Microsoft.

    If you want more information on our campus recruiting, visit http://www.microsoft.com/college

  2. Is there any reason that "closed" job fairs couldn’t be held? Like conferences? Candidates would have to register (maybe even be prequalified?), companies would need to bring a certain number of openings, etc?

    The reason I say this is because I spent a summer doing the job fair ‘thing’ in Toronto 2 years ago. There were loads of candidates, but many companies weren’t in fact hiring. They were simply building "brand awareness" with potential candidates.

    And, most of the candidates were from other sectors looking to see what was happening.

    It was awful.

    I’m not sure who’d want to take the job of pre-screening candidates, but it could be an interesting discussion to have. Only candidates who have some kind of relevant skills can get in, and only companies with at least a certain number of openings can come?


  3. Heather,

    There are monthly job fairs going on all the time. They are called User Groups. Here in Tampa we have a pretty good user group and almost every meeting I attended I koew of a position being offered or a candiate search going on. I believe the new "job fairs" are happening on a much smaller scale to a much more defined audience. Sorry to say I have never, ever, ever actually got anything out of job fairs here. I find that user groups snd networking with those in conferences, classes and other MSDN sponsored events turn out much better.

    There are tons of "job fairs" going on right now. They just do not happen in the format that you are familiar with, sorry. Oh and you should start attending those user groups if you do not already do so as I see recruiters networking there all the time.

  4. Brendan says:

    I can relate to Jeremy’s comments, here in South Dakota for the last few years I’ve seen quite a few job fairs with a good number of companies simply there to show their face and keep people aware of them… but not as a prospective employer at the time.

    What makes it worse is when the majority of recruiters for companies are simply passing out the address of their HR webpage where they ask that all interested parties submit their resume online… they’ll be happy to take them there in person… but little gets done with them.

  5. Heather says:

    Jeremy-We actually do some events like that. In fact, I recently (in May) did something similar with the Silicon Valley PMA. But it was just me and another MS recruiter. We also do invitational events on campus here from time to time-mostly in our professional staffing team because they do the most hiring locally.

    Richard-yes, I know what a user group is and I am very familiar with the format and am actually involved in some. My post above was about traditional "job fairs" and user groups server other purposes besides matching candidates with jobs so not really what I was referring to. I’ve been doing this for as while ; ) So you don’t have to worry…

    Brendan…I’ve experienced similar job fairs…bummer aren’t they?

  6. Yeah actually I had the same experience as Brendan with large companies. Recruiters onsite, they’ll talk to you but refer you to the webpage. Great.

    I mean, I can see the value if you don’t know about the company or hadn’t considered them before. It’s just frustrating from a job seeker’s perspective. As I said, I did every job fair in the city (that was in my sector) for a full summer. Not one lead to anything remotely better than a "well, nice to meet you" or "apply to our webpage".

    Heather, it’s good to know you guys do this kind of thing, as I’m sure it’s great. I guess in many ways things like the MVP Summit are also great for this kind of thing, yeah?

  7. Heather says:

    Jeremy-yep, for us, it’s all about being targeted. I can’t remember the last time I hired anyone from a full-on job fair, but I definitely make hires from the smaller, more targeted events. It’s better for the candidates too…they are getting info about jobs in their area of expertise at Microsoft and they are taling to recruiters that are knowledgeable in those areas and can champion their candidacy.

    Plus, I used to get a cold every time I did a job fair…not so much with the smaller events..they must be healthier ; )

  8. I’ve never agreed with this decision. While it is far more cost effective, Job Fairs were a great way for Microsoft to reach out to the average person and build goodwill.

    Oh well.

  9. Heather says:


    I don’t think it was a "decision". I’m just talking about what I see in the industry, not a decision that I am communicating on behalf of MS (they wouldn’t let me do that kind of thing here anyway). I still think we do some events out of goodwill. Job fairs can be very expensive to do. So if we aren’t making hires from them, that’s a problem. There are some events that are effectrive for us (the ones I mentioned in my post and I am sure that there are others) Again, this is just observation…I’m not using any stats. I network with a lot of recruiters and I am hearing about less job fair attendance and many of the fairs that we once saw are happening no longer.

    I feel that once job fairs turn into festivals of good will, it’s a little deceiving to the candidates that show up. Then it’s more of a marketing activity (attended by recruiters) than a recruiting activity.

    So again, I am not reporting any kind of decision from Microsoft and we do still particpiate in some fairs. I’m just observing an industry trend.

  10. Hi Heather,

    Just wanted to give you an early Texas welcome. Hopefully I’ll see you at the NSHMBA conference in a couple months.

  11. Mary says:

    I live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and here they still have Job Fairs but they call them "Open House" now.