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Beyond the Job Fair >

Employers are seeking and finding ways -- using social media and gamification -- to make recruiting more effective through better, smaller pools of potential candidates.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013
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Face it: The traditional cattle call, one-size-fits-all < job fair > is dead. Not only is it boring and stressful for candidates to stand in line in the hopes that their skills match the job openings, but it is also an incredible waste of time for recruiters who have become used to the speed of identifying candidates through online resources such as LinkedIn.

But meeting people face-to-face -- either in person or through an online virtual < job fair > -- still benefits recruiters and job applicants. The reason job fairs are evolving, says Gerry Crispin, co-founder of CareerXroads, a human resource and recruiting consulting firm based in Kendall Park, N.J., is that employers want a more effective way to attract and engage talent. And that means understanding who candidates are and what they want, just as companies have come to understand their customers better.

"We have an assumption that people are more than willing to line up [and] tell us everything about themselves and [we can] select them and let all the rest kind of find out later that we've filled the position and ... they'll just wander off," says Crispin. "And that's just not working as well anymore."

With tools such as social media -- LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, primarily -- to help find a better pool of potential recruits, employers are taking a smarter approach to in-person or online "job fairs." In this continuing era of cost-consciousness, limited resources and time, and high competition for top performers, job fairs have evolved to include more well-prepared and pre-qualified candidates whose concept of an ideal employer/work culture is embodied in the < job fair > itself. Now, employers are using websites and social media to engage in conversations to help identify a better pool of potential recruits.

The first step toward attracting candidates in general is to provide as much information as possible about your company to job seekers through your website, Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, which is just Recruitment Communications 101. But how you share the information is critical. Text alone will no longer work, Crispin says.

Companies need to create an online experience that gives candidates an inside look at a company or a job before vetting them to attend a < job fair >. For example, Crispin says, Phillips, the Europe-based lighting company, has developed an archive of searchable hiring manager and job seeker "conversations" from chat rooms and webinars to give job hunters more background. Starbucks has extensive video simulations of specific jobs; during playback, the videos stop and challenge candidates to explain how they would respond to that situation as a way of pre-qualifying them for an interview.

"We need to create a candidate experience," says Crispin, "that not only makes them happier with the process but also makes them more knowledgeable about what they would be getting into if they applied."

The 'Uncubed' Approach

While traditional job fairs can be seen as boring and time-wasting for both employers and candidates, there are still events where ideal candidates will show up, in part because of how the < job fair > is organized. Uncubed, a recruiting event that's run more like a networking party, has been a non-traditional < job fair > event for Tumblr, the blogging platform company based in New York.

Sean McDermott, director of recruiting for Tumblr, knows traditional approaches simply won't cut it when it comes to attracting the kinds of programmers, social media experts, marketers and other professionals he's seeking.

"We're a very creative company and the types of people who would thrive here wouldn't show up at a < job fair > wearing a suit and carrying a stack of resumes," he says. "Our people are a little more 'out there.' "

They are more likely, he says, to come to an event that's organized like a party rather than a standard < job fair >.

Uncubed, which focuses specifically on tech start-ups, began in New York and now has expanded to include events in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. With a promo that reads, "Get Uncubed. Work @ a Startup! Meet Founders & VIPs at NYC's Hottest Companies," candidates walk into quite a different < job-fair > world: There may be dozens of start-ups competing for software engineers and other professionals, along with live music, drinks, games, speakers and seminars.

In addition to the start-ups spreading the word about Uncubed through their recruiting databases and their websites/social media sites, the event organizers reach out to appropriate candidates through Facebook, university recruiting and alumni offices, and groups, such as those focusing on programmers who use Python, says Tarek Pertew, co-founder of Wakefield Media, which organizes the Uncubed events.

"Job fairs are so boring, and they don't have to be," Pertew says. "So much great recruiting happens at networking events where the atmosphere is more social ... . I just said, 'Let's make it fun. It doesn't take much.' Add music, add drinks, encourage people not to wear suits, and have the focus be on recruiting [with] all these really cool companies."

Since Uncubed is also primarily (though not exclusively) targeted at professionals five or more years into their careers, the event has been a good fit, says McDermott.

"Tumblr is more popular right now with teen-agers than Facebook is -- our demographics tend to skew much younger [14-to-25 years old]," he says. "This puts us in an interesting Catch-22, since a lot of the people who are attracted to us are very young. But, we want people who have experience. We just don't have the management ... or the overhead to take on a bunch of junior-level people."

Tumblr, which recently agreed to be acquired by Yahoo!, sponsors the bar -- obviously one of the event's most popular attractions -- and has its booth set up in a corner. Its biggest draw, however, is a photo op with a big social-media star: Tumblr's canine mascot Tommy the Pomeranian, who has 100,000-plus followers on his Tumblr page (

In such a party atmosphere, McDermott says, the conversations with candidates can be very informal, even while they're focusing on the company and the prospect's background.

"It's not about pressing people to hand us a resume," he adds. "It's a good experience for exposure [for both the companies and Uncubed guests]. It also puts less pressure on us to sell the company and the candidates to sell themselves."


Not every company can use a party to attract candidates. Sometimes they have to attend multi-employer job fairs. But, to stand out from the crowd to find the best qualified candidates, they may need to up their game -- literally.

If you attended a < job fair > and passed Risk Management Solutions' recruitment booth in the last year, you would have been invited to play a smartphone game to compete not only for a gift card but also for a job.

The game in question is Plague Inc., in which players are challenged to "infect all of humanity" with a deadly plague of their choosing. To win, you have to anticipate and counteract the many ways humans have found to fight back plagues over the centuries.

It's no surprise that RMS, which specializes in catastrophe risk modeling, would want to find employees -- who might include potential software engineers and risk management experts -- who could play the game well. They would be the kind of hires who would be successful in helping RMS develop risk models for financial institutions around the world to predict how infectious diseases as well as earthquakes, hurricanes and terrorism will affect the economy and health of mankind.

"We are a very niche business," says Bethan Davies, senior manager for talent acquisition at RMS's London office. "We're constantly innovating the way we work and bring products to market, so as a business, we're constantly looking for great, unique talent to join our business."

The idea originated in the United Kingdom after an RMS employee saw his son playing the game and realized the algorithms used in Plague were similar to the ones used in RMS's core modeling business. The HR side of the company fleshed out the concept by working with Plague's developer, James Vaughn of Ndemic Creations, to build RMS's expertise into the game.

To attract the best and brightest, RMS looked to boost its own employer brand by making the profession of risk modeling more attractive to potential recruits who might not know about the company. Embedded in the game is an "expert character" called RMS -- the real company provided the game developer with the critical data and catastrophe-related news that players can call upon to win the game.

In addition to inviting < job-fair > attendees to play the game (and thus get candidates into the recruitment pipeline), the company also regularly posts on Twitter to encourage people to play the game, send in their high score screenshots, and potentially win an interview.

Speed Dating for a Job

For companies that want a faster recruiting process, SpeedHire matches pre-qualified candidates with recruiters for scheduled six-minute interviews, an approach borrowed from speed-dating circles.

"SpeedHire is a < job fair > with a twist," says Gail Miller, founder of the Consultnetworx, a recruiting firm based in Livingston, N.J., that organizes the SpeedHire events. "In six minutes, the recruiters know if the person needs to go to the next level."

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First, candidates are identified through the recruiting company's database of active and passive candidates, as well as through social-media outreach. They are pre-qualified for open positions based on skills, background, compensation, commute and even fit with the company's corporate structure. Miller, who has an entertainment-industry background, organizes the events as if they were rock concerts: Participants wear "backstage passes" on lanyards around their necks (they hold the tickets for each pre-approved recruitment interview) and an upbeat music playlist keeps the energy high.

In a recent case involving a furniture company, the hiring manager attended, so if there was a fit on both sides, an offer was made right then and there. "It was very cost-effective," Miller says. "You can't lose."

"I wanted to bring dignity back to the candidates through the process," she says. "That was really important to me. It's not a numbers game. It's about targeting the right people and bringing in quality candidates. It's not about wasting their time."

Virtual Fairs, Updated

Events such as Uncubed and SpeedHire won't necessarily work for every company, every time. That's when the convenience of virtual job fairs can be a better fit.

Washington-based media and publishing company Gannett is a good example of a nationwide employer that adjusts its talent-recruitment strategies broadly or narrowly as needed. In addition to all its online outreach through social media, Gannett offers regular virtual job fairs through Brazen Careerist's virtual < job-fair > platform called Connect.

Originally conceived as a networking tool, Connect lets employers populate their virtual < job fair > with all the background-information content they want, along with a process that incorporates pre-screening and speed-interviewing approaches, says Ryan Healy, co-founder and chief operating officer of the company, also based in Washington.

When candidates sign up for the < job fair >, which can be done in advance, they create a profile with their job experience and then watch a video about how the process works. They can scroll through the website to learn about the employer and available jobs in preparation for the live event. On the day of the live event, they sign in 15 minutes early and enter a lobby with different "booths," where they choose a job function or geographic region, depending on how the employer has the < job fair set up.

Candidates "get in line" to talk with a recruiter; during that time, they can see the estimated wait times and how many recruiters are on hand and read online brochures or watch videos.

"You understand where you are during the process," says Healy. "It feels alive. And, by the time you talk with them, both sides can have an informed conversation."

This first conversation, conducted in text only, is deliberately kept short -- no longer than seven minutes. The recruiter then uses the system's back end to qualify the candidate and make notes for later follow-up before connecting to the next applicant.

For Gannett, attracting candidates to the online job fairs is not difficult, says PaShon Mann, Gannett's talent acquisition director. "I was like a kid in a candy store because we just used all our social-media outlets to advertise it. We had it everywhere. In addition, LinkedIn is a huge, huge tool -- it has changed the staffing industry. It keeps getting better.

"Our strategy is still to cast a wide net and then hone in on specific people [we] want," she adds. "We are open to people outside the industry and will interview a salesperson from the pharmaceutical industry if he or she is good and ... digitally savvy."

Another way Gannett finds the best and brightest is by going to events. Recently, it sponsored a food venue at the South by Southwest music, film and interactive conference and festival in Austin, Texas. In addition to offering free food and drinks, Gannett showed off its brand with guest appearances by its broadcast anchors. This provided a place to meet pipeline candidates and helped get the company noticed by potential candidates -- all in a very relaxed setting.

"It's very individual, very personalized," says Mann.

All these examples show that companies are starting to understand the candidates just as they've come to understand the customer.

"What I believe is coming down the road is much more sophistication in understanding how the candidate experiences the various stages of the recruiting process," says Crispin. "As we learn more about how they react to [the stages], we're going to increasingly improve the recruiting process and fine-tune some of these tools to fit the generation [and the] job level."

In the end, he says, it's all so that "we can customize our recruiting process ... to be more efficient and more productive."


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