Job Fairs: Are they Worth the effort?

Attendees of the Dallas Independent School System job fair visit prospective employers on May 20, 2017. Photo courtesy of Dallas Independent School System

By Justin K. Thomas

Nov. 3, 2017

If you are looking for a job or considering a career change, you may be contemplating attending a job exposition.

Bruce Mendelsohn, a public relations practitioner in Massachusetts, said that job fairs are a chance to try something new even though the events can be physically grueling and time-consuming.

“As an underemployed marketing and communications consultant seeking a full-time role, I have yet earned an interview nor received an offer from attending a job fair,” Mendelsohn said. "But that's not why I go."

“In my experience, going to in-person career fairs helps me practice and hone my ‘elevator pitch,’” he said. “Also, they sharpen my informal interviewing skills, builds awareness of my 'personal brand' and lets me introduce myself to organizational gatekeepers.”

For some job-seekers, attending repeated career fairs can be frustrating.

U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Donald Anderson has been between jobs for the past 11 months. He said his experiences at job fairs haven’t always been fulfilling.

“For me, job fairs are not worth the effort,” he said. “They’re not truly rewarding unless the companies present, are scheduling you for a follow-on interview which for me haven't been the case most of the time.”

Anderson added job fair representatives weren’t helpful with his search.

“I’ve noticed that at career fairs, the companies participating seem to be represented by employees who didn’t know the company's mission or strategic priorities,” he said. “Many times, the spokespersons just don't have an idea about the jobs they are trying to fill. This is infuriating when job-seekers come with specific questions. Also, they’ll give you a rehearsed statement, like, 'oh, apply online or go to our website for more information about employment.'"

Despite all of that, Anderson doesn't let situations influence his outlook for obtaining future employment.

“Although I haven’t found much success at job fairs, I’m not going to let it get me down,” Anderson said. “Every time I go, I will be motivated, dress professionally and exude a positive attitude. And that’s the best anyone can do while looking for a job.”

Even college students give career fairs mixed reviews.

Bill Faulkner, a finance major at a university in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area, said that, on the surface, job fairs are good opportunities, but fall short on expectations.

Stock photo of job-seekers waiting for interviews is courtesy of Best

“I’ve been to several job fairs, and even got offered a job from one company on the spot,” he said. “But, I get the impression that most of the companies are looking for cheap labor. I don’t know that a company actually hiring ever cared if I finished my degree or not.”

Faulkner also said that facilitators of job and career fairs should focus on making the events more efficient and productive.

“One way to improve the [job fair] experience would be to hold separate events to reach certain candidates,” he said. “If your company is looking for an entry-level candidate who has little to no experience except for a college degree, there should be a separate event for that type of hiring."

Stephen Patchin, Director of Career Services at Michigan Technological University, said that in-person job fairs will remain part of the employment scene because they help companies meet goals, but employers are increasingly looking for faster ways to search for prospective employees.

“[Job fairs] aren't going away anytime soon,” said Patchin. “Employers are familiar with job fairs because they know how to operate at these events and understand that they can be key hiring vehicles. Companies are also starting to explore digital options like Brazen, a virtual career fair platform. These tools are more like on-line speed dating, allowing recruiters to engage with larger numbers of recruits from multiple [educational] institutions across the country, all from the comfort of their offices.”

To avoid getting frustrated at job fairs, Mendelsohn recommends altering your expectations. Expect to get information that may lead to a future job interview at the event, not an actual job offer.

“Job fairs can work if you work them, but you must also scale back your expectations [in the event you don’t get a call-back],” he said. “Some tips to prepare for a career fair are to research the companies that plan to attend, develop a list of companies you wish to visit in order of importance to you and remember to thank the representatives you spoke with either with a hand-written letter or email. Consider how many job-seekers these company representatives meet throughout the day: You want to stand out. Thoughtful career-fair contact may make the difference in you getting a request for a future interview.”