Are Career Fairs Still Worth It?

by Kara Brown

Recently, the NACE Community has been discussing the value of career fairs and the issues surrounding student attendance. Kara Brown, associate director of Career Development at Gwynedd Mercy University had some answers to share.

One of the challenges that career centers have been facing is the lack of attendance at career fairs. Most of us are able to engage employers to attend, and coordinate a great event; however, when student attendance is low we are left feeling disappointed, and scratching our heads as to why students are not showing up. Similar to many other colleges and universities, we [at Gwynedd Mercy University] have planned career fairs that lacked attendance, and we kept asking ourselves, is it worth the time and effort? I would like to believe that the answer is still yes.

Every year our career development center hosts a Nursing and Healthcare Job Fair, and over the past three years attendance has waned. This year, as an office, we decided that we needed to make some changes to see if it would increase student engagement.

First, we changed the timing. Before this year, we had always hosted this specific career fair in the fall, and this year we decided to host the event in the spring. The thinking behind this was that graduating seniors may be more inclined to attend because graduation is right around the corner, and those who were not graduating may be interested in looking into summer positions.

In addition to changing the time in regards to the semester, we asked for nursing faculty feedback on which days and times would best serve the nursing and healthcare students.

Another change that we made was the location. In previous years, the fair was hosted in our version of the student center, but this time we decided to go to the students. So we hosted the event in the nursing and healthcare building on the first and second floor lobbies. This created a situation where students who were walking to class passed the great employers who were in attendance. Then these students would come to the event after class.

While time and location served as important factors, the most significant factor was the level of engagement. My colleague and I advertised the event through multiple e-mail blasts, social media ads, flyers, and through word of mouth. We also invited other local schools to attend to increase attendance and allow employers to see more students. Inviting other schools also opened up opportunities for career centers to build relationships with other schools.

Additionally, we asked some of the nursing faculty if we could present resume/professionalism workshops to their classes, and through these presentations we were able to speak to the importance of attending career fairs. The nursing and healthcare faculty members were excellent partners during this event because they also attended the event to speak to employers, and some faculty who were holding classes during that time allowed their classes to attend the event.

Also, we invited students from other majors to attend because some employers were offering internships in human resources, marketing, and healthcare administration.

Another step of engagement that was important was the one-on-one engagement of students through career counseling sessions, and encouraging them to attend the fair. Our career sessions were booked with resume reviews to prepare for the fair.

Finally, our partnership with our alumni office was very helpful because they relayed information about the fair to all alumni through a newsletter and e-mailed alumni who graduated within the last two years.

After the event, my colleagues and I continued to follow-up with students who attended the fair to get feedback, and encourage continued engagement with the employers they spoke to about job and internship opportunities. Through the combination of all of these factors, this career fair was very successful in regards to student attendance, and the employers were very happy as well. Our office is looking forward to using similar methods for additional career fairs that we host.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at brown.kara@gmercyu.edu.

Kara BrownKara Brown, Associate Director of Career Development, Gwynedd Mercy University
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brownkara
Twitter: https://twitter.com/gmercyucareers

6 thoughts on “Are Career Fairs Still Worth It?

  1. I read the post twice although quite quickly. What I did not see was evidence that anyone asked the students why they do not attend career fairs. Changes to format, location or time might be valuable however seems to be only in theory. There must be reasons why students do not see career fairs as a way to find work. I have heard career fair attendees in Calgary AB say their expectation was that they would be hired during the fair. Another expectation is that the employers who were there were those for whom they wanted to work and/or that they were recruiting for positions that the work seeker wanted. In the latter case clearly the attendee did not do any homework or they would have known that a) the employer participants were not their targets and b) they were only recruiting for X types of positions. I am sure that there are events where hiring is confirmed on the spot although one suspects that is not when a high degree of technical skill and/or postsecondary education is required and verifiable. In short it is not the concept of career fairs that needs to be questioned but rather why workseekers do not understand the process.

  2. I liked reading this article. I also agree with Victoria’s comments as well in general terms of event planning and management.

    Recently, I was speaking to students in India who are thinking of studying in the U.S. Several of the prospective students said, “I will not suggest you to go to career fairs because my friends in the U.S. say they are a waste of time.” Additionally, I had given a presentation at a SUNY college a few years ago to help students prepare for a career fair. I followed up with several of the students a few months/year later to find out what happened. Several said, “That fair seemed to be more for networking. Employers did not seem to have any openings any of us could apply to.” In fact, when I had made my rounds in that fair, I noticed that too when I talked to some of the employers who told me that they were there only because of their relationship with the university, and they were trying to collect names for positions that may open in the future. I guess the job market is not in the best space now, which doesn’t help anyone. And, to add to this, this event did actually take place in the department of the college where the students were studying.

  3. Following up on Vicky’s interesting comment, I did not see evidence anyone asked the students directly what they wanted from career events (potentially this could be events which are not fairs at all.) There has been a seismic shift in the way people communicate in the past 10 years, and given those changes fairs might not be the best/only method of connecting students to employers.

  4. After reading your article, I looked up a section from my OWDS (GCDF) training from 2009. At that time it said “despite success for only a few types of job seekers, job fairs can offer other benefits…..gauge the market for certain fields….gain experience by interviewing employers and recruiters…… remind them(job seekers) that although they will meet a wide variety of employers at a job fair and practice their interviewing skills, they are unlikely to come away with a job in hand.” It seems that job fairs’ most likely participants are job coaches, job developers from gov. funded agencies attempting to make connections with the few employers and greater number of educational programs.

  5. Very well thought out comment. A phrase I heard some time ago is to manage your expectations. when attending a career fair. In short if there is no claim that you will be hired on the spot then being disappointed when that does not happen seems unrealistic. What is important is that employers who participate are planning to hire and want to connect with people who want to work for them. in other words the work seeker is forming a connection that may lead to work if they do the necessary follow up. Your introduction to the employer rep should include the 30 second elevator speech where you tell the listener something interesting about you as a worker and a statement that shows you know something about their company. It is then up to you to ask how or when to initiate further contact. Reading between the lines Loretta is saying use career fairs to practise and polish your presentation in order that you will shine when you find the right opportunity

  6. Good to hear that the changes had a positive affect. We had implemented the same changes three years ago and still continue to see a decline in students attending. When asked why they didn’t attend students replies varied from I did not know about it (ugh!) to I am too busy with classes and will think about getting a job later. The students don’t seem to be as concerned about getting a job as we are!

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