Cocktails, Puppies and Nerf Wars: The New Job Fair

It’s the anti-job fair trend, where companies like Dice Holdings Inc. and Wakefield Media create fun, engaging environments for recruiters and IT professionals to connect.

June 12, 2014

If attracting top tech talent in today’s market is a priority, convention hall job fairs aren’t the place to look.

Instead, imagine meeting information technology recruits while jumping in a bouncy castle, sampling artisan beers or watching artists paint a mural on a warehouse wall. It’s the anti-job fair trend, where companies like Dice Holdings Inc. and Wakefield Media create fun, engaging environments for recruiters and IT professionals to connect.

“I don’t know anyone who’s ever had a great experience at a job fair,” said Chris Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Wakefield Media, which runs Uncubed, a hiring event for startup companies that feels more like a party. A typical Uncubed event, which currently are held in six U.S. and two European Union cities, includes drinks, food, music, idea contests and live art shows. “We’ve stripped out all the boring stuff and injected fun where we could,” Johnson said.

Recruiters pay from $400 to $2,000 to participate in the events, depending on their company size, funding, time of purchase and number of reps, while recruits pay a nominal entrance fee.

Johnson argues the fee is worth it. The events, which can last two days and include classes and entrepreneurial speakers, give everyone a more relaxed environment to really get to know each other. Recruiters are encouraged to create fun, interactive booths with themes that align with their brand.

Among the most memorable: BarkBox, a company that delivers dog products to customers’ homes, brought puppies from a nearby shelter to a New York event. “It demonstrated their partnership with the shelter, and everyone loves to play with puppies,” Johnson said. Other popular booths include video games, Nerf guns, bouncy castles, photo booths and lots of comfy furniture where candidates and recruiters can hang out and chat.

The laid-back, fun environment is meant to reflect the corporate culture typical of startups. “Recruits get an immediate sense of what it would be like to work for these companies,” Johnson said. “It’s much more natural that a conference center.”

That’s one of the reasons Alex Lorton has attended several Uncubed events. The co-founder of Cater2Me, which links catering services with customers, said the quality of candidates in these kinds of events are higher, and that they attract people who will fit into his company’s nontraditional corporate environment. “For a small company with 50 employees, making that culture fit is really important,” he said.

For companies recruiting in niche markets, attending these events is worth it, said Ray Wang of Constellation Research Inc. “They are filling a recruiting need for innovative startups, and the jobs are cool enough that candidates will pay to come,” he said.

But not every recruiter has the resources to buy a booth for a recruiting event.

Cheap Dates

Allison Kelly, a recruiter for The Buffalo Group in Washington D.C., said she’s always on the lookout for free recruiting opportunities that might bring her together with potential candidates. “I always like to take advantage of events where we don’t have to pay.”

And there are plenty of them. Meetups, hackathons and other tech-focused events offer recruiters a chance to meet candidates in a fun and friendly atmosphere, often for little or no cost.

Reframing them as tech events instead of job fairs removes the stigma, said Pete Kazanjy, founder of TalentBin, a talent search engine that compiles data about professionals from all over the Web into a single profile. “They become places where folks can have rich interactions and see what’s happening in the industry versus walking around handing out a stack of résumés.”

Dice has another option. Its new “Un-Career Fairs” are free recruiting events that bring together an equal number of recruiters and tech professionals to meet over drinks and snacks. In the structured networking format, candidates and recruiters talk for 10 minutes, then a master of ceremonies rings a buzzer, and they move to the next table.

“It’s speed dating for recruiters,” said Shravan Goli, president of Dice.

Along with being free, one of the most appealing features of Un-Career Fairs is that the recruits are vetted, said Kelly, who has attended several events. Dice invites candidates and recruiters based on their talent profile and hiring needs, and they limit events to specific job profiles, such as systems analysts or tech professionals with security clearance.

“Typical job fairs can have a really broad selection of talent,” Kelly said. “But I know going into Un-Career Fairs that there will be people who I can utilize.”

And because the master of ceremonies keeps things moving, she never gets stuck in a conversation for too long, she said. “It makes it easier to ensure you talk to everyone.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.