College Recruiting Ventures Away from Traditional Career Fairs

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by Tracy K and BrightMove, The Global Leader in Recruiting Software and Onboarding Solutions

Last week, we summarized the latest Recruiting Trends analysis distributed by Michigan State University.  Getting a little more specific, we will look at the current state of college recruitment among those employers polled for the study.

According to the research done by the team at MSU, the post popular method of college recruiting is simply posting an organization’s open positions or internships through the college employment system.  The following usage percentages for other recruiting methods were calculated from company responses:

Recruiting Strategy Usage

Campus Oriented
Post Positions & Internships80%
Career Fairs54%
Resume Referral41%
Campus Informational Visits40%
Organization Driven
Company Web68%
Current Employees49%
Social Media28%
External Agents
National Provider49%
Off-Campus Fairs26%
Local/State Web24%
Targeted Fairs22%


Based on these responses by company size, the following conclusions were drawn:

  • Arranged Events (fairs, campus interviews, campus visits): accommodates large companies and the larger end of mid-size employers.
  • Agent Connections (resume referrals, faculty, internships, employees): accommodates larger companies, fast growth and small organizations.
  • Situational (ads and state & local job boards): accommodates small and mid-size companies.
  • Web-based (campus recruiting systems, social media, national web providers): all size groups utilize the same except that social media is almost exclusively utilized by large companies.


Though social media came in at only 28%, it’s on the rise.  In the opinion of this study, career fairs, by comparison will not last.  “Everyone is hiring today and career fairs are full, but they still are not an effective way to recruit talent.  This dinosaur will gorge in the next couple years (during chaotic markets) but then be a quaint reminder of the 1950s.”  The suggestions moving forward?  Forget career fairs and get up to speed with the recruiting usages of social media and with the value that internships add to organizations and hiring processes.  “Internships and co-ops remain the most strategic hiring strategy available to employers, which explains why on-campus interviews are down. Yet on many campuses the people responsible for internship programs are scattered across various departments and are seldom on the same page.”

Widening the number of core campuses you recruit at is another offered strategy.  The average number of schools recruited was 11, however, the most common number among companies was 5 schools.  Most employers have 5 or 6 schools that they return to every year.  Though the opinion is that career fairs are soon to be a thing of the past, some noted advantages to attending are:

  • Ability to attract a high number of candidates into the recruitment pool (volume recruiting)
  • Company branding
  • Meeting students face-to-face
  • Networking with career staff and faculty
  • Initiating the sorting process for interviews


There are many offered disadvantages to career fairs as well, though when the question was posed to respondent employers what methods should replace traditional career fairs, the suggestions were:

Virtual career fairs: Hold a national career fair for all students during the month of September (some employers stated that by mid-October they have already identified who they want in their pool).

Venue changes: Speed fairs or round robins where the small groups of students are in rooms, designated by interests, and employer has ten minutes to talk about their company then moving to the next group. This could be followed by interest sessions with students more serious about the company.

Networking: Expand opportunities to interact with students through student groups, information sessions, online technology such as chat nights.

Company hosted fairs: Where students are brought to the company

Coordination with career services: Better filtering of students attending fairs and more collaboration to identify appropriate pool of students to work with.

Forums: Switch from career fairs which are one-time events to a sequence of forums to engage student interest and determine fit between companies and prospective students.

Virtual Interviewing: The use of web based visual technologies, such as Skype, has entered the interview process. Distant interviewing has been attempted with earlier technologies, but failed to gain a foothold in campus recruiting. Web systems seem more promising because of ease of use and relatively low cost. Currently, only 25% of the respondents have used virtual interviews with 19% conducting one or two a year and the remaining 6% using them regularly.

These employers report that virtual systems are more effective than in-person interviews in reaching a broader pool of candidates and lowering the costs of the interview. However, in-person interviews remain more effective in gaining rapport with candidates, determining skills and abilities, and learning candidate’s motivations and interests.

Social Media Literacy and positions: Social media belongs to those adept at functioning in that space. As companies move into social media for all aspects of their businesses, you would expect that social media literacy skills would become a part of entry level job descriptions. However, 80% of respondents indicated that their companies do not ask for social media skills; 7% list it as a necessary skill and 13% as a preferred skill.

New social media related job titles are emerging in the popular media, futurist forecasts, and actual job announcements. Positions labeled social media planner, e-strategist, social media manager, social media coordinator, and social media community manager have appeared in employment lexicon over the past year. However, when asked if their companies are recruiting for any of these positions, less than 2% indicated that they were.

I am unsure as to whether or not career fairs really will go by the wayside in the near future, but one thing is for sure: the way in which college students are recruited is quickly evolving.  With the changes, not only in technology, but in the attitude, work ethic, and expectations of the newer workforce generations comes the need for innovative hiring strategies.  If organizations cannot make the necessary accommodations in their processes, career fairs may not be the only dinosaurs or dying breeds eventually eliminated.

Traci K. is an HR Professional and freelance writer based in the Midwest, specializing in recruitment and immigration.  When she’s not improving unemployment, she keeps busy with her husband and four children.

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