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Recruiting Mature Workers at Job Fairs

Many recruiters believe that job fairs are good vehicles for finding large numbers of candidates for entry-level jobs. But what if those jobs require more than 20 years’ experience? Are job fairs still effective in recruiting mature workers?

Not always, remarked Elizabeth Theodore, director of human resources at TWC Group, a national recruitment and HR-outsourcing services firm in Audubon, Penn.

“All job fairs aren’t created equal,” she said, explaining that many target candidates with general skills. “If you’re looking to hire a whole bunch of trainees or entry-level workers, then job fairs can be very beneficial. But your more mature, experienced worker may not benefit from going to that kind of job fair at all.”

Job Fair—Yes or No? Things to Think About

One way to tell if a job fair is likely to draw mature professionals is to ask its promoter questions about the nature of the event. Consider these:

Is the job fair targeting a specific industry? If it’s being promoted to experts in a particular field, such as information technology, Theodore says there’s a much greater chance it will draw experienced job seekers.

Which companies are exhibiting? If many exhibitors are temporary-staffing agencies or retailers trying to fill cashier or sales positions, that’s a sure sign the job fair will cater to applicants with basic skills. At other job fairs, promoters sell booth space to companies that market products or services ranging from clothes to financial services, added Jim Lanzalotto, vice president at Yoh, a talent and outsourcing firm in Philadelphia. While this practice means extra revenue for promoters, Lanzalotto believes it dilutes the fair’s ability to attract top talent.

Is its location easily accessible? Is it being sponsored by other organizations? Is it appropriate for all age groups? One Florida exhibitor recalled an outdoor summer job fair that was a total mismatch for mature professionals. She pointed to the stifling heat, the festival atmosphere, and the fact that applicants had to compete with a rock ‘n’ roll band when discussing professional positions.

Bottom line: Don’t set yourself up for failure. Check out every aspect of the show to see if it’s going to be right for the mature audience.

Know Your Audience

At a recent job fair in Corinth, Mich., approximately 60 companies were recruiting individuals for jobs in a variety of industries ranging from law enforcement to waste management. Two job seekers who attended the fair shared their experiences:

“Half the people who came down to the job fair were over 50 years old,” said 56-year-old James Blackburn, who was laid off from the factory-supervisor job he had held for 15 years. “But the [exhibitors] were all young, in their twenties. I felt so out of place.” To make matters worse, some recruiters mistakenly assumed he would not be interested in jobs that required him to relocate, and they discouraged him from applying.

“They needed to have a person [who understands] older workers and could see what kinds of experiences I have,” related Jerry Boyd, age 53, a retired state trooper in Iuka, Mo., and a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard. He came to the fair in search of a position that required management experience or a leadership background. However, many small companies said he was overqualified, not understanding how his skills could apply to their work environment.

These stories are fairly common among mature candidates. When recruiting at job fairs, you may need to make some adjustments.

A good example is the phrase “over qualified,” possibly the two most dreaded words heard by mature workers. Ban them from your recruiters’ vocabulary. Bill Catlette, managing partner at Contented Cow Partners, a business consulting firm in Collierville, Tenn., says people never complain about their surgeon, airline pilot, plumber or coaches from being “over qualified” so why make it an issue? What’s more, baby boomers tend to be more cautious than younger generations in accepting job offers, so you’ll need to find ways to help them “kick the tires” a bit more, says Catlette.

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