Should job candidates pay to attend career fairs?

Who benefits more from attending a career fair? An attendee who has the opportunity to gain a new job? Or, a business who has the chance to meet a variety of talented applicants and fill a key position? Furthermore, who should pay for that privilege?

Today, I received an email from my alma mater announcing an alumni career fair. Here's an excerpt:

"This recruitment event will host over 70 employers actively seeking experienced job candidates. The event is exclusive to participating university alumni to ensure a high quality event. We expect this event to reach capacity."

The event costs $10, which organizers say includes entry and a name tag (score!). But, frankly, I don't think there should be a fee. If these businesses are trying to fill a need by looking for job candidates, shouldn't they pay for the privilege of attending? Human resources and recruitment staffs have budgets and generally must fork over some cash when it comes to attracting talent. So, why is the fee being pushed onto the attendees?

Sure, the employers are offering an "opportunity" to attendees and, yes, that's worth something. However, the event is attracting talented candidates and serving them up for companies to meet. That's of value, too!

Ok, sure, I know that there are other job fairs out there that charge an admittance fee. And, maybe, I'm disgruntled because if this is an event to benefit alumni, it think it should be free. However, in this economy, I think it stinks to pass on the cost to job seekers. A business that is stable enough to hire, easily has $100 to pay for a booth. An unemployed job seeker, especially in today's job market, is living hand to mouth. 

Maybe if you're gainfully employed and haven't been affected by the recession, you think I'm being petty. What's a lousy ten bucks? Well, as with most things, it's the principle of the matter. And, if you don't have a steady paycheck coming in, $10 can be a lot of money. Sometimes the difference between keeping your utilities on or having enough to pay for medication.

So, what say you, cyber friends? Am I being cheap? Too overly concerned with the plight of the unemployed?

Let's hear it! Should people be charged to attend job fairs or should companies pay for booths out of their recruitment budgets?


  1. I worked in a University department that organized such fairs. I have never heard of charging before for University, larger or even diversity orientated fairs. I have heard of charging to enter certain events within a fair, such as workshops and presentations, that might be worth it especially if there is a definite networking opportunity on a 1 to 1 basis with a company rep (not an HR person).

    These days companies and organizations have devolved budgets and responsibilities to do the hiring, in my experience HR departments who generally attend such fairs rarely do the hiring decision making and is up to a specific department to review CVs and interview. Meeting an HR person at a fair would have little impact for a lot of people, now networking with the company specialists is more important to me.

    Fairs can be a free for all, having to line up for hours to see a specific company only to be given an application form to fill in and you never hear from them again. If thousands of people are attending that fair I would ask how much competition do I have against all those people? I would want to know a) who are the companies going to be there, b) do I meet non HR people, c) what jobs are the companies hiring for, d) what networking opportunities are there. $10 could be a good investment depending on what you can get out of the event.

    I would be more willing to part with $10 if it was a fair focused on non-profit organizations but for blue chips it would leave a bad taste in my mouth. If the fair is for alumni, who have just left University, paying back student loans and not found a job yet $10 is a lot of money.

  2. Surprise, surprise Amber I agree with you and it is the principle of the thing. Unless your Alumni Assoc is different from others, the companies probably are paying a fee for their booth as well. Perhaps how they could have approached you was to say the Job Fair was free to attend but as an alumnus if you are able to contribute X amount or any amount toward helping to cover the costs of the event (i.e. name tags, etc.) it would be greatly appreciated.

    In the end though, whoever organzied the event and sent out emails is only human and may not have learned more palatable ways of asking you to part with your hard earned cash. :-)

  3. The email did list the participating companies, but the JOB ROLE is what matters most. It's wonderful if a company I'd like to work for is there, but if the opening if for an account, that doesn't benefit me in the least.

    And, you're right about many fairs just being a forum to collect applications. Send a decision maker or at least someone who can do more than give people a form.

    I guess I think of job seekers in three categories: recent grads, the laid off and unemployed, and those presently working. The first two are probably strapped for cash.

    Perhaps my problem is really how people who need and want to work should be HELPED in this economy. If we all helped each other get back to work, maybe we could get passed this recession.

    Thanks for chiming in, Steven. Always good to hear your opinion.

  4. I like your donation idea, Cheri. Ok, sure, there will be a great percentage who may not contribute, but I can already think of a campaign. Something like if you're employed, your donation is appreciated. If you've been impacted by the economy and are currently without employment, donate if you can. If not, we hope this event helps you get you back to work!

    Or, give people or companies the opportunity to sponsor someone's attendence. Not by name, but by number. For example, Sam's Electronics gives $100 to sponsor ten people and gets special recognition in the event packet as a company that is helping Los Angeles get back to work.

    There are just better ways to do it, in my opinion.

    Thanks so much for adding your opinion to the mix, Cheri! Always good to hear from you!

  5. I'm with you, Amber. To me, charging a fee for job seekers to attend any job fair sounds is unacceptable -- and doing so at a fair designed for a school's alumni seems particularly egregious.

    Were I feeling particularly cynical on this fine morning, I might observe that this practice seems consistent with the unfortunate trend in this country of easing financial burdens on organizations & corporations by shifting the responsibility onto individuals (many of whom are already struggling to make the proverbial ends meet).

    And were I feeling *especially* cynical on this fine morning, I might also observe that this practice is also consistent with the unfortunate trend of making it more & more difficult for unemployed or otherwise struggling folks to maintain some semblance of dignity, financial stability and hope for a brighter future.

    Don't mean to go off on a commie-socialist rant here, but while the questionable request you describe in this post may seem minor to many, to me it is symptomatic of a society in which one of the many many *many* perks of being a "have" is that matters of even the slightest distaste can be effortlessly reassigned to the undeserving "have nots."

    But then again, they did offer to throw in a name tag at no additional charge, so maybe they really do care about the little folks after all. (They like us! They really like us! :-)

  6. I love it when you stop by, Hugh! Seriously, I really do. (And don't think your Sally Field reference was wasted on me, either!)

    I think you're right on many fronts. Everyone knows that the economy stinks. Want to help EVERYONE in America? Let's get people back to work. That's what's good for our country.

    And, unfortunately, you've hit the name on the head with the struggles of the unemployed. Dignity, stability, and a brighter future. Is that so much to ask? I'm just so disgusted over the discrimination that the unemployed are suffering through these days.

    And, hmmm, is the name tag free and the event costs? Or is the event free and the name tag is $10?

    Thanks for making me smile, Hugh. I always love hearing your two cents.

  7. I'm with ya sister. However, I will suggest that depending on the where how and when involved. Not knowing all the details of the event and the costs involved, I'd dare say that $10 for someone looking for a job (especially if it is ONLY geared to alums) isn't going to break the bank. You conditionalize (that needs to be a word) it for the attendees, but the event might not be as easily put on as you suggest.

    I would agree as others have here that this is off the beaten path- perhaps it is an experiment on your alma mater's part?

  8. Oh, no, no, no. I'm not implying that this, or any event, is easy to put on. Events take time, effort, and money. And, I don't believe it's an experiment by my alma mater. They charge for everything.

    I just think a little goodwill when so many people are out of work is long overdue. Everyone's trying to make a buck, all the while forgetting that when so many people are unemployed that it has an affect on us all.

    Besides, career fairs are so iffy anyway. You know what companies are planning to attend, but you don't know the jobs available. Sometimes, they aren't even open positions and companies are just there to collect resumes. Sometimes you'll get interviewed at the fair and other times they'll say, "just visit our website and apply online". Why would someone pay for the privilege of being told to apply online?

    Anyway, to each his own. But I think it would be a solid gesture to hold an event to get people back to work. Write off the costs. Call it community service. Or, as I said below to Cheri, find other creative ways to cover your expenses.

    This recession has got to come to an end and we need to help each other to make it happen.

  9. Couldn't agree with you more!

    Let's not put all the negative light on the organizers because I wonder if the participating companies know about the 'cover fee'? Plus, what potential job applicants do companies think would want to work for them like this? It's just bad business, literally, all around.

    I do not want to work for a company that charges me to find out what they're about. Following that, who would want to pay to attend such an event like this?

    If it was more a networking event for like-minded career individuals, maybe, but not for a job fair. Plus, as you mentioned if it was for a company you'd like to work for/job position you want, again maybe.

    Every job fair I've heard about/looked into/applied to has been free. I think the organizers need to be do a bit more strategizing on their end to get these events for free, and rework their budget.

  10. Good points, Alicia. As I mentioned to Cheri below, I think there are some creative options that are being overlooked. Wouldn't you feel better about XYZ company if its sponsorship covered the admittance fee of 20 people? Or how about an optional donation? There are many more ways to cover the costs without passing on an admission fee.

    Besides, as I was saying to Todd below, you never truly know what you're gonna get at a career fair. So many just aren't worth the time, much less the money.

    Taking your networking idea, for example. How about a mixer with recruiters? Tell a local restaurant or bar you have 100 people coming and need the back room. Let people mix and mingle with reps from the attending companies. No cost to anyone involved, but the bar will make some money off the cash bar.

    Thanks for chiming in, Alicia. You added some great thoughts to the discussion here!

  11. so they have charged for similar events in the past? weird if so

  12. This is their first career fair, so there is no history on that. I'm just saying, they do charge for events. I think while touting philanthropy in their university seal, though, they should do some things (like this!) as a community and alumni service. Especially when the economy is so bad and so many people need a little help.

  13. Hi Amber,

    I have not attended a job fair and agree if a job fair is sponsored by your alma matter you should not have to pay to attend.

    What I really want to zero in on though is your point about the job role. You make an excellent point with your analogy about a wonderful company you WANT to work for but they are looking for accountants. Not only does it not benefit you (or any other job seeker who isn't an accountant) but it wastes the company's time as well.

    Why would a company want to talk to applicants who can't fill their immediate needs? If it is to fill the files with applications then it is a waste of the job seekers time. I understand EEO comes into play but it can be very disheartening to those who are motivated, ready to apply their skills and give a company an honest days work in return for a paycheck.

    For what it's worth I have reaped a much greater reward by networking with people online (Twitter!) and taking the steps to meet them. Once I make those connections I make an effort to get to know them, their stories and find out what I can do for them. I have been utterly amazed at the number of people I've met who freely share information, advice and job leads after we have talked. You better believe I go out of my way to help them as well--pay it forward!

    I would rather spend the money on gas to get to a free event than pay to go to a job fair where I have no idea if my resume is going into a black hole.

  14. Good input, Katie! And, I couldn't agree with you more about the power of networking.

    There was a big career fair a few months back and I sent a neighbor of mine who was looking for work and complete lost about what to do. She said there was a long line to get into the venue and once she was inside, everyone just referred applicants to the company's website. I felt terrible that I had wasted her time.

    Perhaps, organizers think if they list titles that fewer people will come. But, if so, I'd have to counter "don't you want the RIGHT people to come?".

    Thanks so much for stopping by and adding to the dialogue, Katie. Always a pleasure ;-)

  15. I'm very sorry your friend had such a negative experience that just stinks!

    You may be right about listing titles of people who will be representing the company that fewer people will come. Hopefully someone can chime in and respond to that point.

    In the spirit of offering solutions/suggestions I'll say this:

    1. If a list of company's attending is provided perhaps the job seeker(s) could visit the company website prior to attending, view open positions, and then decide if the opportunities match their skills and/or needs.

    2. Conversely when a company decides to participate in a job fair provide information ahead of time about what they have available and their specific needs. This would ensure the right candidates attend the job fair or as you said "the right people would come". It reminds me of the ongoing conversation about a high number of twitter followers vs the quality of interaction with fewer followers :)

  16. Katie, checking a company's website is an EXCELLENT suggestion. Good thinking! A+ for YOU today!

    As for #2, wouldn't that be nice? I'd love it if the companies did that. That would help them AND the applicants. As you say, quality over quantity!

    Wear to don that thinking cap, Katie!

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