Job fairs = lots of tyre-kickers. True or false?

With Generation Y and beyond now living out significant parts of their lives online, job fairs migrating online are a natural progression in the HR and Recruiter’s toolkit. You have to be where your target market are and your presence in that environment has to be consistent and authentic.
So be warned – you can’t give this generation a ‘quick nod’ and expect them to take you seriously. You would spend heavily if you were gearing up to attend a real-world job fair – for stand hire and posters and handouts and follow-up materials and, most of all, for the personnel to be on the stand and interact with the attendees with the myriad associated overnight and travel costs. If your target audience get any sense that you are not similarly investing in the online version, they will surf away very quickly.

Therefore, your presence at an online job fair needs to be a lot more than brochureware. Web 2.0 has taken the old model of website-as-shop-window and removed the pane of glass. Your target audience are expecting a replica of what they experience at a real-world job fair in this virtual version – they want to be able to interact, to give and get feedback, to talk with real live human beings.

And they are expecting all this to happen instantly. The generation who have always had mobile phones, SMS texting, Instant Messaging, Bebo, MySpace, YouTube et al, don’t understand the concept of waiting. If you want to get value from them, you simply can’t leave them hanging.

“But it’s such a waste of time!”
Tyre-kickers and time-wasters are an enormous problem for HR on the hiring line in any environment. This is rudely obvious in real-world job fairs where the 80/20 rule usually doesn’t come anywhere close to applying. The likelihood is that 90% or more of the people who come up to your stand in a real-world job fair are essentially time-wasters. If I may manage your expectations for a moment, I would suggest that you should expect it to be a lot worse in the online world.

But think of it this way – if they visit the site at all and stay for longer than 5 seconds, they have some level of interest. If they click through to your ‘stand’ and engage with you at all, they are demonstrating (for this audience) a significant level of interest. Your challenge as an exhibitor is to hold the attention of the top 5-10% of your visitors and turn it into a conversation.

Real Investment
That means making senior management available for online chats. That means putting star ratings on all your materials and begging for feedback. That means opening up every aspect of the fair to commenting and interaction. Heck, that means sitting down with a bunch of people from your target audience in advance and finding out what they want from an online job fair.

Ultimately, that means eating lots of humble pie as you learn from your mistakes and being nimble enough to correct those mistakes as you go along. There’s no point in having some lumbering behemoth of a site 75% of which has sagebrush rolling through it. Have your IT SWAT team ready to track usage and stickiness as traffic starts rolling in. Your architecture may be obvious to you and your sexy podcasts and pearls of wisdom in your job-hunting clinic may gladden your heart, but if no-one is visiting them, you need to jury-rig some way of getting them front and centre.

Moving part of your selection effort online in this way democratises the process. Any geographical location you choose to site a real-world stand with your people on it necessarily rules out people who can’t get to that geographic location. Yes, casting your net more widely means you will pull up a lot of flotsam and jetsam – just look at how many unsolicited applications Google have to deal with every year.

But that should be okay. That should be great! If your filtering and funneling processes are well-judged, you can quickly screen out the tyre-kickers. All I hear in every company I work with is, “We just can’t find the talented people.” My answer? You’ve got to pan a whole lot of mud before you find any grains of gold. Are you prepared to do that? Are you geared up to do that? Really?
[I actually did some gold-panning as part of a training course years ago and boy, has the analogy stuck with me! Back-breaking, knee-crunching, mind-numbing work; very similar to wading through a pile of 1,000 CVs.]

And here’s the real toughie – how do you hand out the all-important lollipops, baseball hats and branded USB sticks at an online job fair?

Comments, rants and ideas all appreciated. Come on – share!

Related Posts:
Hiring 101
Hiring – when Google got it wrong
Attitude of the hirer
Bonus link – with regard to the tyre-kicker problem, Seth Godin wrote a home-run piece on Silly Traffic and how the Pareto Principle yet again rules, which I highly recommend you read.