Why do companies that recruit significant numbers of graduates go to on-campus careers fairs? Surely there are more efficient and innovative ways to attract top talent?

On-campus careers fairs seem to me to be a sure-fire way to dilute your brand and be compared to your competitors purely on the basis of the ‘coolness’ of your giveaways and leaflets. Yet, there’s no getting away from the fact that since they’re in the room – you have to be too. It’s not so much about what you’re offering, more that you’re there offering anything at all. You have to be perceived by the students as ‘one of the top names’ in your industry.

Of course, it’s possible to bring along the most dynamic of your recent alumni graduate recruits to make a good impression on the passing students and hence fare better than the stand next door, but what if your secret-weapon employee gets stuck with that passing generation Y graduate with a minus amount of personality and more questions than in the average episode of University Challenge? Then, it’s really hard to identify and reel in that spectacular candidate who didn’t know anything about your industry until today but you can just tell your directors would love him or her.

I don’t believe for a second that companies shouldn’t go to careers fairs on campus, many a fantastic employee has been sourced from these events in-between the not-so-fantastic enquirers. However, I think that a much more focussed and impression-leaving way to spread the message of your firm is through a series of small, invitation-only evening events that really show the select few attendees what you’re about and why they should be going the extra mile to impress you and tell all their friends about you afterwards.

The most driven and able candidates tend to have a competitive streak and so making events ‘invitation only’ (in fact, why not demand a short, telephone interview?) makes them instantly more interested in coming along. Exclusivity is always a positive message to give. Moreover, once you’ve got those more proactive students through the door of the firm and got them chatting to a wide variety of your employees – from intern to director level – they are much more likely to form an attachment that could make all the difference when they have two offers to choose between and yours is one of them. When a candidate has stood in your boardroom, met your people, seen where his or her desk might be, they can really start to get a feel for whether this is the right firm for them. Informed decisions make for a better chance of longer term hires.

Furthermore, on a practical note, why not go to one or two less campuses, and allocate all that saved ‘candidate attraction’ budget to a few bottles of wine and some canapes at the office? There’s no need for pop-up stands and leaflets when the whole building is [insert firm here] branded. And, let’s be honest, what student prefers a free highlighter to what amounts to a free dinner? Finally, if you really want to stand out from competitors, give the students something really valuable to take away too. Yes, the highlighter is a nice gesture, but why not do an ‘interview skills’ session or a talk on ‘how to present a superb CV’? This type of inclusion can be a real differentiator.

Of course, give the obligatory talk about you firm but give the students something they can learn from as well. Moreover, if you’ve given interview tips at the start of the evening, you’re at least going some way to mitigating the risk of that slightly weaker applicant from earlier in the evening, making a beeline for the CEO over drinks later and giving him or her a reason to veto all future on-site recruitment events.