3 ways to recruit top talent at a job fair

Increase the odds of luring top talent with a wider pool.

job fair

Fifty-five percent of operators polled in FoodService Director’s 2014 Big Picture survey said there would not be enough trained foodservice-management professionals ready to assume the positions of those retiring in the next five years. With the labor market starting to tighten, the job fair has returned as an effective means to find potential qualified candidates.

“When I started here in 2010, we had 19 employers for our first event,” says VA Hayman Barber, director of experiential education and career services at Johnson & Wales University’s Denver campus. “We had 90 this September.”

Competing side by side with other foodservice operators requires an effective strategy to stand out from the pack, recruiters say. Here are creative ways they’re making their workplaces shine.

1. Rely on alumni

With 30 foodservice positions to fill at The Little Nell ski resort in Aspen, Colo., recruiter Amy Scher brought backup to a recent job fair at J&W Denver—former student and Chef de Cuisine Matthew Padilla.
As a 2008 J&W graduate, Padilla hoped to connect with students while impressing upon them the career path they could have at The Little Nell, which has openings not only in the resort’s two restaurants, but also in its retail foodservice outlets on Aspen Mountain.

“I’m from here, and we’re definitely talking to them about that,” Padilla says. “It’s hard to find experienced culinary staff. It’s very competitive right now.”

2. Offbeat is memorable

To attract attention and stymie stereotypes that cooking in health care or senior living lacks creativity, Mindy Weis, talent and acquisition manager for Atlanta-based Morrison Community Living, which manages foodservice at more than 350 senior living facilities in 42 states, likes to bring a “smoothie bike” to job fairs as a way to draw potential job candidates to her booth. The bike—equipped with a blender—churns out smoothies when the pedals are rotated. When possible, Morrison chefs also perform cooking demonstrations.

“We can talk to [job seekers] about using their skills to make a difference in someone’s life,” she says.

3. Hiring in real time

As sending staff to a physical job fair is not always feasible, some companies have added virtual job fairs to their recruiting strategies.

“If we have positions to fill in an area where we do not have a lot of resources, we’ll do a virtual job fair,” Weis says. During scheduled live events—essentially on-the-spot interviews—each employer has a chat room where job seekers can pose questions or participate in live chats. “Make sure any staff you include are ready and able to sell the company and positions,” Weis says.

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