Lessons Learned from Planning a Job Fair with a Volunteer Army

I’ve spent the last five months planning a job fair using primarily a committee of volunteers.  While event planning is done every day by event planners, and marketing folks, this was ultimately a 500 person event spanning 3 hours, plus another 2 for setup.  I have had small roles in larger conference planning for prior companies, but have never had this as primary responsibility.  I learned a lot in the process.

1.  Be organized – The number one lesson to planning a successful event is organization.  This seems obvious, but can be challenging when dealing with volunteers.  Often times, documentation from prior years resides in people’s heads rather than on paper.  Take the time to lay out what you need to accomplish, with goals, rough timelines and fill in the rest as you go along.

2.  Use all of your resources – I had a primary committee who worked on job fair planning, but I was not shy in reaching out to other committees that had a shared interest, or could help us.  This event is a core benefit for sponsors so it made sense to really engage and integrate a sponsorship committee liaison.  We had several conversations with communications about what they will do and how we needed to target our audiences.  Additionally, there were reasons we had to rely on our main office for support.  It was a collaborative effort, but make sure you don’t lose sight of the end goal.  You can’t single-handedly accomplish a successful event on this scale without taking people up on their offers, and asking for the assistance you.

3.  Try new things – I felt my role as leader of the event planning team was to generate new ideas and expand our reach to make this the most successful we could.  This meant being willing to identify new exhibitor prospects from county lists of honored companies, reaching out to small growing organizations who might not previously engaged with the organization, and incorporating more social media marketing.   Each of these ideas were successful in varying degrees, but we wouldn’t have known that without testing the ideas.

4.  Have a backup plan – Whenever new ideas are introduced it is imperative to start thinking in terms of backup plans.  For us this meant being creative about where support service organizations would be positioned within the job fair; inviting wait listed companies to attend the event to network, but encouraging them to check-in to see if any tables opened up (2 did and were immediately filled as a result of this contingency).

5.  Over communicate – It is imperative to make sure you are over-communicating.  There isn’t the luxury of patiently waiting for something to happen.  Lay the information out for everyone involved to see and know and meticulous track your progress along the way.  This allows you to adjust as ideas positively or negatively impact your target outcome.

6.  Shameless promotion – As the leader of the planning committee it is important for you to be seen promoting your event.  Even if your network is small, your committee and those involved need to see you putting the event out there.  This will encourage them to follow in your footsteps. This should be done at all stages and for all audiences of the event.

7.  You can’t please everyone – All you can do is make sure everyone is well informed about what’s happening and you are doing your best to make sure both exhibitors and attendees are as prepared as they can be.  You can not control exhibitors participation – from providing details for job seekers so they can research in advance; presenting their company with engaging displays, table decorations or give aways; or actively engaging job seekers.  You can merely provide the tools for their success, but at the end of the day there is only so much you can control.

I had a really good experience.  I had a great team who helped guide me through the process, and staid on top of their own tasks.  We had 190 recruiters and 300 job seekers, with few hiccups and very positive feedback.

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