Job Fairs of the Future

By Luki Danukarjanto

As a career coach in Toronto, I am also aware of the state of jobs in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region across industries and am not insular to the “hyper-concentration” of “knowledge service jobs” in Toronto’s downtown core. As recruiting and job-search are becoming increasingly “non-linear” with the disruption of technology and demographics,  employers and industries also must try to create jobs through innovation and improved processes. I used to run the Canadian undergraduate campus recruiting program for a large management consulting firm, which meant I had access to the recruiter list that said “yes or no” to hiring 100+ students annually. That firm currently manages campus recruiting activities for a large and established financial institution in Canada. Once I had a conversation with a campus recruiter on the ROI (Return On Investment) of a job fair.

Here are some highlights and takeaways from our conversation about job fairs of the future:

Top companies don’t recruit from job fairs. Top candidates don’t show up at job fairs.

At an ACCES Employment Job Fair in Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre in 2018 (all photos)


Job fairs and information sessions may be good for branding, marketing and visibility for employers and used as an exploration tool by candidates. But they don’t really help in the recruiting process. Top companies in their sectors don’t need to be at job fairs. Our best hires come from other sources. Similarly,  candidates who know exactly what they want are probably not attending job fairs either.

The reality for employers seeking top talent is that the participants are often not the type of talent they want. Job seekers at fairs tend to be looking for “some job”, “any job” or “inspiration” on what they could potentially do with their educational qualifications. The top candidates that companies often want have been grooming themselves throughout their university and college years in order to land their dream jobs.

And while I no longer work in recruiting for the consulting firm I do track their methods as they move towards more proactive hiring techniques,  versus traditional, reactive and serendipitous ways of organizing information sessions or job fairs.

So what does proactive recruiting look like?

  • If you are a student looking out for only top-tier companies, you probably won’t find them at a job fair. And if you do, their recruiters and employers will probably have their defenses set high. You may find an exception with a top company looking to venture into another sector outside of its core specialty. For instance, a bank looking to get into tech might go to a job fair in hopes of attracting tech talent. This might prove hard if it ends up attracting candidates who are only seeking traditional or non-tech roles in banking. So the bank recruits from “second-tier candidates” who demonstrate agility and openness to more unconventional roles. And if you’re self-aware enough to know that you fall in this tier of applicants and are able to spot the opportunity, you might land yourself a plum role!

In the graph above, although unemployment is on the decline, the job vacancy rate is growing inversely, picked from a recent Maclean’s article “The most important charts to watch in 2019”. A skills mismatch can be worse than unemployment, and jobseekers and recruiters find themselves facing the raw end of the marketplace. Career fair goers must be cognizant of the pitfalls of false matches and the opportunity costs including wasted time and resources.  

Still good for smaller and less established businesses and for those hiring for more commoditized skills.

For businesses that don’t have the marketing and brand presence, job fairs offer them useful visibility in the marketplace. Those businesses try to poach some of the candidates coming to see the other brands. For roles where people can basically be plug and play, or interchangeable, a job fair is a good way to do a quick screen in the hiring process. 

However, for businesses that require specialized hiring needs, perhaps organizing a different event format or experience might be a better idea. Rather than spend time and resources having people sit at a booth and give out “swag”, perhaps run an event of your own or sponsor a non-job focused event like an AMA (Ask me anything happy hour) to attract more streamlined or targetted crowd.

If you’re a jobseeker, this type of fair could be an amazing opportunity to find a small or medium-sized business you previously consider applying to. Smaller companies tend to offer a broader range of roles with responsibilities and opportunities that require fewer people to do dedicated work, for those who thrive in that kind of environment.

What can you really get from a five to fifteen-minute connection?

A recruiter might sit at a job fair booth for eight hours a day for several days and might meet several hundred people. Are your networking and relationship building skills able to differentiate you from 100-200 other people?

Job fairs and networking events are great ways to populate your contacts list and address book. They aren’t great for really getting to know people. As a candidate with a really well-crafted elevator pitch, a charismatic personality and a hefty list of achievements, you could make a lasting impression. But who are we kidding? If that was you, you probably wouldn’t be at a job fair. How do you break through the clutter of qualified candidates, all vying for the same role?

If you are an employer—as good as you are (or think you are), you are unlikely to be able to make an accurate judgement about candidates in such short interactions at fairs. Candidates at the fair are likely the most polished version of themselves and may not project the person who comes in to work on Monday. However, job fairs can be a good way to filter out candidates than go through the time-consuming blind resume-screening process, especially for applicants who only “look good” on paper.

The future is the same and vastly different

For small to medium businesses, job fairs will continue to be a main recruiting channel. For larger ones, the discussion leads to a conversation about their options. A few recommendations to think about as we close in on another year of hard work and active screening as recruiters and applicants.

  1. Employment opportunities for the under-served population or roles requiring basic skills will continue to leverage job fairs, where the outcomes are more reliant on quantity and attitude of candidates versus experience and demonstrated skills. Roles in network marketing, entry level sales roles (with fixed incomes or only commission-based), low skilled-work, and skilled trades, fall in this category.
  2. Knowing where employees hang out and leveraging events or other mechanisms for a prolonged interview will be more common. Hackathons, case-competitions and other interactive conference formats are a tool in the recruiter’s toolkit that is growing in popularity.
  3. Building a great alumni network and trusted referral network will likely be the longest term and most sustainable option: this might include dealing incentives, rewards programs and other ways to build a strong culture of referrals.

There’s more to this conversation though. In fact, here’s a sneak preview of my contribution to the future of job fairs: a custom designed career-buddy who will provide personalized advice and act as a three-fold guide: career catalyst (sharing tips and advice you didn’t even know you needed to know),  personal trainer for careers (providing you the accountability to achieve your career goals), and DJ for professional development (curating the wisdom out there in a way that resonates with you by way of regular articles, courses, and career advancement tips). In short, get ready for a “career-gotchi” and curated Yelp for professional development, who could also take you to and guide you at online job fairs. A career buddy chatbot is my current vision for the future of fairs. What about yours?

Luki Danukarjanto is the founder of Focus.Inspired, a digital career and recruiting services company and the author of the book Stuff I Wish I Knew Earlier: How to Unlock Your Career Potential.