Forget The Job Fair… Recruit At A Trade Fair!

I am constantly amazed at recruiters that attend “average” job fairs and then call it “recruiting.” Sitting at a booth and accepting resumes is hardly strategic recruiting! Job fairs are full of marginal candidates and the sheer number of attendees alone makes relationship building almost impossible. Most firms that take the time to track the quality of their hires find that job fairs produce exactly the opposite of what we want…job fairs produce little more than a high-volume of low quality resumes. The quality of the resumes received at job fairs also decreases dramatically as the focus of the job fair broadens beyond a particular job family and as the unemployment rate decreases. If you expect to be successful as a recruiter you need to shift your focus toward “passive job seekers.” Passives are currently employed people that are top performers in their job and are not actively seeking employment. Almost everyone that attends a job fair unfortunately is an “active job seeker.” Where do large numbers of “passives” gather together? Well that’s easy — they attend trade fairs and professional conferences. So why not consider trade fairs as an alternative to job fairs as a high-quality recruiting source?WHY A TRADE FAIR OR PROFESSIONAL CONFERENCE?

Unlike a job fair in which people decide to attend on their own, a trade fair is a gathering of the very best professionals in any industry all of whom are sent by the company. Because they are “sent by their firms,” you can generally be assured that they are all the top managers, salespeople, and technical experts. The top people go to trade fairs and conferences both to learn about new products, happenings in the industry, as well as to build their brand and sell their product. Having all of the top people in an industry together all at once, in a single building, is an opportunity too good pass up for anyone looking to recruit the best. TRADE FAIR RECRUITING REQUIRES A “SUBTLE RECRUITING” APPROACH

Because the people you’re targeting are “sent” by their firm, they are often in the midst of doing “their job.” This means that they need to be approached in what I call “a non-recruiting – recruiting” manner. Although it is possible to set up a direct recruiting booth at some events, it is much more advisable to look at trade fair recruiting as a name gathering and relationship building process. Identifying people and starting up a relationship with them is about all you can expect at a trade fair. In-depth selling and convincing is best done later through email or follow-up phone calls. STEP ONE – FINDING NAMES


The first goal of trade fair recruiting is to capture the names of the top performers. Some of the best strategies include:

  • Attending seminars and assessing who are the most knowledgeable speakers
  • Asking the speakers “who else are experts in their area?”
  • Listening to audience questions and identifying those questioners with the most insight
  • Walking through the vendor booths and asking questions to see who is the most knowledgeable. Great recruiters also ask people at the booth for referrals to individuals that know their product best
  • Attending mixers and social events in order to identify the people that “everyone is talking to or about”
  • Offering contests or prize giveaways in order to capture business cards


After capturing the names of the best people, the next step is to begin building a relationship with them. This is generally done best by managers and other professionals, but recruiters can do it also if they are subtle. Some of the best approaches include:

  • Comment on their presentations and tell them how insightful their questions were during the Q & A sessions
  • Ask them questions and follow-up after the session
  • Actively look for opportunities to sit next to them during sessions or during luncheons
  • Ask them for their opinions on your ideas or on your current projects. Get their permission to follow-up later with a phone call or an email
  • Ask them to be a “beta tester” or for their opinion on your firm’s products and services
  • Ask their permission to put them on your “friends of XYZ company” e-mail newsletter list. Use the periodic newsletter to enhance the relationship and to show them how great it might be to work at your firm


  • Only the best attend and you know that they are good because they were sent by their firm
  • Because there are a few mediocre performers in attendance, the need to filter out bad candidates is less necessary
  • Because their “guard” is not up, they are more willing to talk as long as the approach is subtle
  • Tools and approaches that work for “social event” recruiting (Ex. beer and wine festivals) can usually be directly applied to trade fairs
  • You get to see them “in action” either while presenting, asking (or answering) questions or selling their product
  • Because much of the recruiting is done by managers rather than “pure recruiters” targets are more willing to talk about the technical aspects of their job


Trade fairs and conferences are the prime gathering spot of the top performers in any industry. Because their “guard” is not up and there are few other recruiters present, approaching potential hires is easier when there is less competition. Because it is a multi-day event (with pauses for social gatherings) there are also more opportunities for in-depth discussions with potential candidates. Because there is so much more time to spend on building relationships with the very best, trade fairs and conferences are far superior to job fairs. Be aware that because in-depth contacts need to be made, it essential that only top managers, top performers or your very best recruiters are used at these events. Recruiters need to be aware that crass, “in the open” recruiting will often be frowned upon at trade fairs, so their recruiting approach must be very subtle. Direct hires are seldom made at trade fairs so they are generally not a quick fix solution for firms desperate for talent. However if you are patient, it is the best opportunity you’ll ever have to begin to build a relationship with the best in your industry. Also remember to compare the quality of the candidates that you identify at trade fairs with the candidates you find at job fairs. Don’t be surprised if you find that the differential in quality is over 50 percent!

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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