Employer Branding at Events: Best Practices at Hiring Fairs, Hackathons, and More

Yes, dear reader: you’ll also need to pay attention to employer branding at events.

Much of what we’ve covered in our employer branding series has dealt with employer branding in the digital sphere: through video, career pages, social media, and more.

But of course, some of the most powerful impressions that you can leave of your employer brand will come by way of the good old fashioned face-to-face interaction.

From hiring fairs to hackathons to meetups and webinars, let’s run through some best practices for employer branding at live events.

Employer Branding at Hiring Fairs

Having operated the NYC Uncubed recruiting event for much of the past decade, we’ve picked up on a few best practices for recruiters and HR pros at hiring fairs.

Our first piece of advice for your employer branding efforts at hiring fairs: be accessible.

Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring fair attendee. You show up to a high-pressure environment — because let’s face it, no matter how a job fair is operated, the prospect of courting potential employers is scary — and find yourself immediately overwhelmed. There’s too many booths to visit in one afternoon, and crowds full of attendees everywhere you turn.

Now, a properly prepared attendee will do their homework ahead of time. They’ll visit the event’s website, take note of which attending companies interest them most, and check those companies’ career pages for relevant openings.

(In case it’s not obvious, you’ll want to make sure that your careers page is fully up-to-date, and that your plans for the event are well-advertised on social media.)

Come the day of the event, it’s paramount that those candidates can easily find your booth. That means well-branded tablecloths, standing banners, and reps decked out in company gear.

To reach talented attendees who don’t know as much about your company, be sure that your signage and branding clearly communicate what your company does and which roles you’re hiring for.

And once those attendees have made their way to your booth, enjoyed compelling conversations with your hiring reps, and have become eager to apply for one of your open roles, don’t make the mistake of telling them to “Just apply online.”

Candidates want to feel like they’ve been heard. By telling a candidate you’ve met at a job fair to apply online, you’re indicating that the conversation you’ve just had did nothing to improve their chances compared to someone who never left their living room. Candidates need to feel like the personal connections they make at a job fair matter.

So if a candidate hands you a paper résumé, accept it. If they hand you a business card, accept it. If they ask for your email address, give it to them.

Hiring fair attendees take valuable time out of their days to meet your team. Reward that effort by giving them a seamless, welcoming experience at your booth.

Given how quickly word-of-mouth spreads at hiring fairs, we can promise you this: leaving a positive impression on each attendee — regardless of whether or not that specific attendee is right for your company — will pay major dividends.

Which brings us to our next piece of advice: be strategic.

Think deeply about who you’ll send to work your company’s booth. Hiring fairs tend to demand non-stop conversation in a very busy environment, so ensure that your reps are patient, energetic, natural storytellers with a passion for what your company does. If possible, also ensure that your reps are spread across the departments for which you’re seeking new hires.

If you’re looking to bolster your presence and can justify the budgetary demands, consider sponsoring the event. Attendees typically don’t visit every booth at hiring fairs, but the companies with their names plastered across promotional materials and event signage will always stand a better chance of attracting more foot traffic.

Over the years at NYC Uncubed, we’ve seen some companies go above and beyond to bring candidates to their booths. (Think winnebago BBQ setups and dunk tanks.) But even a smaller flourish like a popcorn machine or an interactive game can grab jobseekers’ attentions and leave an impression.

Of course, the goal here is to open up more meaningful conversations about what candidates are looking for and why they may or may not fit your company. But in a single day, candidates are likely to meet with dozens of companies. Simply put, it helps to stand out.

So, regardless of the size of your event presence, be sure to be original. 

And lastly, be authentic. Remember, it’s paramount that all of your employer branding efforts feel authentic. This is certainly true when it comes to employer branding at events.

Sure, presenting your company’s culture, mission, or day-to-day work in a dishonest way at job fairs may initially elicit interest.

For example, a company may exaggerate their diversity and inclusion success in hopes of attracting candidates who would actually improve their D+I. Another company may claim to be remote-work friendly to bring on a wider array of global talent, without having any real intention of accommodating everything that remote work entails. A third company may highlight the story of an entry-level employee that quickly rose through the ranks towards a management position, knowing full well that such a rise was in fact quite rare at that company.

Each of these companies may even succeed in landing their most desired candidates. However, each of these companies will struggle to retain these top candidates once they realize they’ve been misled — and long term, the reputations of these companies will suffer.

After all, the purpose of employer branding is to attract the best talent for your team, why manipulate your image to reach candidates who wouldn’t ultimately be happy working for you?

Employer Branding at In-Office Events

Instead of focusing all of your live employer branding efforts on external events, considering hosting an event at your office.

Candidates will be able to more easily envision themselves working for your company once they’ve been directly exposed to your working environment. You’ll have attendees’ full attention, and will likely benefit from some localized word-of-mouth.

Additionally, you’ll more easily be able to film and photograph the proceedings, and gain more employer branding exposure through social media channels and your blog.

That said, here are five quick tips for making the most of your employer branding opportunities at in-office events.

Ensure that guests feel welcome. Designate somebody to welcome guests upon arrival. Put yourself in the shoes of a jobseeker entering a completely unfamiliar environment, who, above all else, wants to avoid doing anything wrong as a guest of your office. What could be worse than showing up and having absolutely no idea where to go or whom to talk to?

Be thoughtful about the experience you’re providing for your guests, especially when it comes to food and drink. That means vegan options, gluten-free options, and dairy-free options. (Also, be careful not to serve food that’ll leave attendees with bad breath!) And if you’re serving alcohol, ensure that you also have enjoyable non-alcoholic options on the offer — not just water.

Get your team involved. Ensure that the your whole company is aware that there’ll be an event happening. If guests arrive to find an office full of confused or unfriendly employees, chances are they won’t leave with the best impression of your company as a whole. Additionally, be sure to ask at least a handful of your employees to join the fray and interact with guests. And lastly, try to find a senior employee who’s willing to get up and speak — this will help show that your guests’ attendance is valued, company-wide.

Get as much info from RSVPs as possible. Use your event’s RSVP page to collect intel on attendees, without of course going so far overboard that they’ll abandon the page. Why are they attending the event? What are they interested in learning more about? What’s their career background and experience level? And be sure to keep an eye on how guests are portraying your event and office space on social media platforms like Facebook, Google Maps, and Foursquare.

Foursquare can be an especially powerful medium for employer branding if you can effectively leverage the platform’s “Tips” function to clue followers in to daily life at your office.

Follow up right away. This one’s simple, but perhaps often overlooked: email every guest a thank you note for attending, and open up the window for further communication and engagement.

Employer Branding Elsewhere: at Hackathons, Meetups, Industry Events, Speaking Engagements, and Webinars

The truth is: any setting involving face-to-face interactions with candidates presents an opportunity for employer branding.

As much as possible, leverage employer branding at events to “open up the hood” and give engineers, developers, and other candidates a close look at how your company operates.

By putting on a hackathon, you can expose engineers to your tech stack, brand, and fellow engineers in an immersive, fun environment.

By sending an employee to do a demo at meetups or interest-based gatherings like New York Tech Meetup, you can reach potential candidates who are looking to make more connections within the industry.

And if you want to close on a candidate that you really like, invite them to one of your customer conferences or industry events. Give them a behind-the-scenes look at your customers and your team’s dynamic.

Remember, employer branding is most effective when it’s authentic. Live events can be an incredibly powerful conduit for showing candidates what their experience might look like if they were to join your team.

Even webinars can be an effective medium for engaging people further down the employer branding funnel. If you’re not a well known company, webinars can enable you to partner with more prominent companies or employees from other companies to reach a new audience. Additionally, you can record webinars and use them as digital assets later.

Employer Branding at Events: What’s Next

Employer branding at events is a constantly evolving practice. We’ll be discussing this evolution among many other hot-button HR, recruiting, and employer branding issues at our own event this coming June.

It’s called the Uncubed Human Intelligence Invitational. It’s invite only, but you can request an invite from the event page.