Don’t “Waste” Your Time at a Campus Career Fair: 5 Steps to Take

Monday Nov 4, 2013 by Michael Gaiss - Founder, ThinkB1G

Unless you have a strong presence on campus or possess a notable brand, most startups struggle to yield great results from participating in University Career/Recruiting Fairs. First and foremost, while many students may be interested in joining a startup, most don’t know 90% of these companies by name. You’ll get overlooked when put up directly against Google, Amazon, Facebook and dozens of other better-known companies.

Startup Career Fairs can be better. They target smaller more entrepreneurial companies, keep the big boys out, and draw a more concentrated audience that goes in knowing what to expect. Even then, one-off Career Fairs in isolation and without additional campus support to draw out high quality candidate flow can be totally hit-or-miss.

Startups that excel on campus either approach Career Fairs as just one part of the mix in their campus recruiting program or simply skip them and place their emphasis on other channels to reach the best students. If they do participate, they’ll leverage their existing network to premarket their presence to attract and engage more students while they’re on campus. They’ll also use the event to get closer to candidates that you’ve already sourced.

For everyone else, a “just show up” approach is a recipe for a low yield, unproductive day for connecting with strong developers and engineers. Sure, you may get a pile of resumes. But, unless you have the brand that sells itself, you’ll get what you’ll deserve: more than likely, not much in terms of quality.

With the ROI odds stacked against most startups, if you are going to pursue Career Fairs what are the key steps you should take for helping to ensure success:

1. Pre-Market and Get Inside Support
If you’ve been recruiting on campus for some time, you’ll have a list of current students that you’ve already been in touch with. Send them emails in advance of the event as well as the morning of to remind them that you’re looking forward to connecting with them at the Fair. Encourage them to bring their friends and peers, or solicit suggestions on other students that you should reach out to.

Student leaders and organizations offer a vehicle for reaching some of the strongest, most passionate students on campus. Ideally, you’ve already interacted with them (building relationships on campus pays dividends). If not, consider investing some time to figure out the most relevant groups (ThinkB1G Engage makes that easy as we’ve mapped the most relevant student groups on campus and how to contact them). Reach out, indicate that you’ll be in town for the Fair, and ask them to distribute a note to their members. The note should highlight why your company is an exciting one to work with, what types of roles you are looking for, and personally invite and encourage students to stop by your booth and introduce themselves.

Finally, if you know who they are, professors are a great resource for helping you stand out with students. With all the noise on campuses today, a student is more likely to take notice if a professor sends word of a career opportunity. Unless you have a pre-existing relationship, this can be challenging. However, it doesn’t hurt to at least send the email, tell your story, make the request and explore if it’s feasible. This could also be the opportunity to establish a relationship if you’re committed to that school. When you’re on campus, reach out and see if you can grab coffee to further nurture the relationship.

2. Leverage Your Best Assets – Former Interns and Alumni
Former interns of the school you’re visiting have incredible street credibility that should be leveraged. Students will relate to them better than anyone else at your organization and no one can talk up the opportunity and experience as well as someone who lived it. Invite former interns to hang out at your booth all day. In addition, ask them to spread the word about your presence and see if they’ll bring some of the best students to your booth.

Alumni on your team can also help to put the “personal touch” of your presence. Besides building more credibility for you on campus (you’ve hired alumni from that school), it will result in more engaging conversation from their perspective (one of their “own” that can relate to their campus experience). Also, be sure to leverage your alumni’s connections at the university to help get the word out that you’ll be on campus (see Step #1).

3. Have a Great Pitch & Sell with Passion
As a startup, your pitch is the best weapon you have to attract and win candidates over. You need to craft one that tells a great story around who you are and what you can offer a candidate. It should include at least a couple unique things that are outstanding about your company and the roles you have available. Your pitch then needs to be told in a compelling & exciting way, starting right here at the Fair and continuing throughout your recruiting process.

Also, recognize that students can spread a message quickly. If they sense you are an intriguing company that embraces young talent in meaningful ways, they’ll tell others at the fair or text associates to check you out. The next thing you know, a “dream” candidate may appear at your booth as a result.

4. Bring a Techie
If you don’t posses a strong technical background, be sure to take a developer or a member of your technical team with you. The best student developers and engineers will come with a variety of technical questions, including in-depth ones about the projects they’ll be working on and the tools they’ll be using. Without someone that can provide meaningful answers, a strong candidate with lots of options will lose interest in your company. You also miss the opportunity to prescreen the more interesting candidates technically on the floor, accelerating your recruiting process (speed is your ally here).

5. Follow-up Religiously
Take the time to send the students a quick follow-up thanking for them for their time, reiterating your needs and timeline/process. Few companies do it and you’ll stand out and make a lasting impression. Someone who is not a fit right now could be a good fit in the future. More importantly, don’t discount the network effect and positive word-of-mouth, perhaps even kicking up another candidate or being developing into a asset that you can draw on the next time you’re on campus (see Step #1).

Maximizing your presence and yielding strong candidates at a University Career Fair can be hard for startups and emerging growth companies that lack a strong brand. Unless you’re just doing it to support your alma mater, invest the upfront time to stack the odds in your favor.

Michael Gaiss is the Founder of ThinkB1G.  You can find this post, as well as additional posts on his blog located here.  You can also follow Michael on Twitter (@MichaelGaiss) by clicking here or sign up for the ThinkB1G newsletter here.

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