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How to attract more applicants at career fairs

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

Have you ever attended a career fair as a vendor or representative of your organization and felt like it was a total waste of time? Maybe no one came to your booth or no one signed up for whatever you were there for. You look around and wonder why all the other booths around you have more people at them. Do those recruiters have cooler swag or do they just know something you don't?

As someone who has attended many career fairs as both a vendor and an attendee, I can tell you that those other vendors or recruiters know something you don't: how to connect and engage with attendees - and it's not that difficult to do! Here are a few suggestions for getting better at engaging and connecting with career fair attendees.

1) Stand behind (or beside) your booth - Don't sit!

One of the best methods for getting people to engage with you at a career fair is to stand behind or beside your booth. By standing, you're signalling to the attendees that you're ready and willing to speak with them. Standing also makes you more approachable. It puts you at the same level as the attendees and makes it easier to speak with you.

If you're unable to stand for long periods of time, then definitely have a seat! But see if you can move the chair beside the booth rather than behind it. It's also okay to give your feet a break and sit during a lull in the event, but you're much more likely to attract attendees to your booth if you're standing.

2) Make eye contact with attendees

As people walk by your booth, make eye contact, smile, and ask them how they're doing today. Even if it looks like they aren't interested in your booth, when they glance at your booth and inevitably make eye contact with you, it pays to make the effort in giving them a positive response. They might still walk past in that moment, but chances are good that if you make a good impression on them as they walk past, that they might swing back around and see what you're there to represent.

3) Get off your phone

I am constantly astounded by the number of people whose organizations paid for them to attend an event, only to have their representatives or vendors looking at their phones the entire time! I completely understand the need to check and respond to work emails periodically, but this is what they make an auto-response away message for. If you're looking down at your phone, then you're missing out on connecting with attendees!

It's important to make sure attendees aren't required to make too much effort to actually engage with you. If they have to pull your attention from your phone, chances are they won't even bother to approach your booth.

4) Keep conversations with co-workers or other vendors to a minimum

It's great to have someone with you during an event to help watch the booth. This makes it easier to take bathroom breaks and also gives you a chance to wander around the event and check out other booths. However, it also introduces the possibility of getting caught up in conversation with your co-worker and accidentally ignoring attendees who want to speak with you.

If you're running solo at an event where you know other vendors, beware getting caught up in a conversation that makes it feel difficult for attendees to approach your booth.

Whether you're speaking with a co-worker or another vendor, it's good to have a method for disengaging in the conversation in order to give your full attention to an attendee. You might say something like, "Let's table this conversation for later. It looks like I/we have some interest."

5) Have an opening line to draw in attendees

The less effort an attendee has to make in connecting and engaging with you, the more likely they are to do so. Make conversation easy by having an opening line that invites them to stay and learn more about whatever you're there to represent. My favorite opening line to use is, "Hi! Are you familiar with (Fill in the name of the organization/program)?"

This is especially great if someone is walking by but seems unsure if they want to commit to speaking with you. It also gives you the opportunity to see what this person knows about what you're representing and can potentially save you time if they already know the basics. This opening line is also great for capturing the attention of a group walking by.

However, once you've asked this question, you need to be ready to follow up with information or a spiel (see next suggestion) about your organization.

6) Have a spiel ready

You are attending a career fair as a vendor to represent your organization for a specific reason so don't make attendees guess what you're there for! Have a spiel or explanation ready so it's clear right away what you're representing at the career fair. This will be a quick summary about your organization and includes what jobs you're representing and the reason why an attendee would want to apply for a job at your company. Your spiel should be no longer than 4 minutes, otherwise you'll lose the attendee's attention.

7) Ask questions!

I know you're at this event to provide information about how to apply for your company, but the best way to do that is to ask the attendees relevant questions about themselves. This is especially important if you see the attendee's attention starting to wander or if their eyes glaze over. People like to talk about themselves and, though it seems counter-intuitive, they are more likely to remember you and your organization if they get to talk about themselves a little rather than just listening to you talk.

And lastly but most important:

8) Give attendees an easy option for what to do next

You've spoken with an attendee and they're really excited about applying for your company. Fantastic! You've done a great job! BUT the last and most important step is to tell them what to do next. Do they need to go online and apply for a position with your company? Can they just leave a resume with you instead? Whatever the next steps are, you need to make it easy for them. In fact, if you can get them to complete those next steps while you're with them, even better! You could have a laptop handy for them to complete an online application right there! Or maybe you could provide them with a handout or card that details their next steps. If nothing else, it can be a good idea to have a sign up sheet where attendees can leave their name and contact info. That way, you can follow up the next day with a reminder email for what their next steps are!

By applying the above 8 steps, you're much more likely to draw in more attendees to your booth and thereby gain more applicants for the positions you're representing.

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