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Hiring Fairs are a waste of time and money

One of our clients, a major packaged goods distributor and retailer, hosted a job fair recently. Job fairs are a time-honored tradition. Retail organizations (in particular) have grooved the process of hosting multi-day events in advance of the openings of their newest locations, or as a means of ‘topping off’ the staffing levels of a cluster of locations in a broad geographic area. It has become a thing of synchronized beauty: everyone is greeted and placed in a series of holding pens, advancing as they pass successive screens and hurdles.

This retailer had a great set up. They rented a very classy hall in a residential area. They had obviously advertised heavily, based on the turnout. And they had a small army of managers of various rank and tenure there, working the steps in the process… Greeting; application screening; first ‘qualifying’ interview; second (more serious) interview with a junior manager; and, finally, a panel interview with a pair of senior managers. Good rigor and structure throughout. Interview guides were in use, notes from interviewers followed the candidate throughout the process, and there was lots of company information available to keep candidates busy so they weren’t bored.

But here’s the problem. Elegant as it is in its mechanism, this old vestige of Conventional Wisdom is expensive, requires a ton of management and other resources to work – and its effectiveness is questionable. Do you think that this is too strong a statement?

Playing The Game

I decided to play the game and filled in a bogus application. I made it all the way through the screens up to the interview with a senior manager before pulling out because I didn’t have the heart to carry on the charade any further.

How did I make it through? To help me keep my story straight, I lied only a little on the application. I kept the sequence of employers and dates true, but changed the jobs I held so they would be more relevant to the jobs I was applying for.

The first screener was a nice man, more focused on reading the details of my education and previous work back to me from the application than he was on establishing eye contact and making a connection. I passed to the next step.

The second screener, a very sincere and enthusiastic young man, did a great job of asking a scripted series of closed-ended questions that were easy for me to grunt my way through. Part-time work at $9.23/hour? Sure. I can support my family on that (what was he thinking?). Better still, he was very forthcoming in answering every probing question I could ask him about the company, the work, and the ideal candidate – giving me all the information I needed to be successful through the rest of the process. I passed on to the next step with a gold star.

These folks were following a process that they had perfected incrementally over time, but whose underlying assumptions are dated and no longer serve them. They were falling over themselves to be polite and helpful, and correctly portray this client as a great place to work. The problem is that in doing so, they may have done themselves a disservice.

The old approach just isn’t relevant any more today. Traditional applications with your education, work experience and hobbies aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. The conventional approach to screening is expensive and ineffective – it’s too easy for people to slip through and chew up time further along the way as they undergo more interviews and (heaven forbid) hiring, orientation and training before turning over.

A Better Way

Leveraging the power of the HiringSmart process will get the recruiter the information that matters and take care of the all-important first interview without tying up precious management time. Prescreening can be handled over the phone, and if they really want to host a fair they can extend preferred invitations to those who have passed the screen, and use the hardcopy version of the online application for the walk-ins.

The result? More reliable and relevant information and a higher caliber of candidate, in less time and with fewer resources – the ultimate productivity gain.

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