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7 questions to answer before hosting a job fair

February 20, 2017
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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Being organized, punctual and prepared aren’t just ideal traits for job seekers aiming to make a favorable first impression. Representatives from potential employers need to put their best foot forward, too.

“We want to make people feel comfortable at our job fairs,” says Sean Lynch, head of recruiting for Recovery Centers of America (RCA). “We want people to feel glad they’re there, whether they get the job or not.”

With four treatment centers and corporate offices, RCA now employs more than 500 individuals, and Lynch estimates that 30% were hired through job fairs. As RCA continues to expand, Lynch estimates the organization will speak with 600 prospective candidates at job fairs regarding a variety of positions in 2017.

Meanwhile, Spectrum Health Systems, which operates substance abuse and mental health treatment centers across Massachusetts, counts 1,200 employees under its purview. CEO Kurt Isaacson estimates that 60 of those employees have come to Spectrum via career fairs.

So, what does it take for behavioral healthcare providers to create a successful hiring event? The minds tasked with managing hiring events for RCA and Spectrum weighed in with answers to the seven questions organizations should be considering before opening their doors to prospective employees with resumes in hand.

What positions are we looking to fill?

While the company doesn’t seek to fill senior-level positions at its job fairs, RCA has found qualified family therapists, primary therapists and counselors, as well as support staff, including drivers, groundskeepers and food service professionals through job fairs, Lynch says.

Most of Spectrum’s job fair attendees fall into two categories, Isaacson says.

“We have seen over the years there are two groups job fairs attract the most: nursing (both LPNs and RNs) and entry-level staff who are people just coming out of college and getting their degrees,” Isaacson tells Behavioral Healthcare Executive. “Those types of people are attracted to a job fair, and they come in great numbers so we have a lot of choice there as well.”

Who should represent our organization at our job fairs?

Spectrum staffs its career events with recruiters and other human resources staff members to speak with attendees and answer questions. Hiring managers, particularly for specific programs for nursing staffs, are typically present, as well.

Senior leadership has a strong presence at RCA events, Lynch says. The company brings management from its corporate offices, as well as executive directors from its other treatment centers as needed.

Where should we host our job fairs?

While career events on college campuses and those organized by third parties offer the benefit of attracting a larger pool of candidates, experts recommend hosting job fairs on your own property.

“We like to hold them at our facilities because the potential staff member gets an idea of where they’ll be working and who they’ll be working with,” Isaacson says. “And, we’re the only ones there typically. If we’re doing it with a chamber or other organizations, you have more people there, but you’re also competing with other organizations for the same talent.”

Lynch adds that RCA, which does not typically participate in career events hosted by third parties, is open to holding its events at nearby hotels, if the opportunity should arise.

How often should we host our job fairs?

A schedule of quarterly events is ideal for attracting candidates within a designated geographic area.

“If you do it more, you’re not getting a different group of potential employees,” Isaacson says. “If you do it less often, you’re probably not getting as many people through the door as you’d like.”

For RCA, Lynch and his team have fine-tuned a blueprint for job fairs that it rolls out three months prior to the opening of a facility. Such events typically will be used to fill all positions at the new site, although RCA has also run job fairs geared toward nurses, call centers and specific disciplines.

One other note on scheduling from Isaacson: Spectrum makes it a priority to have career fairs open between the hours of 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. The thinking behind this, Isaacson explains, is that nursing shifts often run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., and a midday event is accessible to those working either shift.

Should we interview candidates on site or simply greet and collect resumes?

Experts agree: Interviewing on site is the way to go.

“The individual walks away with the feeling that they didn’t waste their time,” Isaacson says. “They hand in a resume, and it may be viewed by someone in HR or a hiring manager. But if they actually have an interview, they’re walking away with sense they’ve been heard and had a chance to share who they are.”

That kind of face time can be particularly valuable when reviewing the experience and qualifications for applicants who have not previously worked in the field, says Deni Carise, RCA’s chief clinical officer.

 “A woman came in and said she had worked in IT in the past,” Carise says. “She said she wanted to be a recovery support specialist. This illness had touched her life, and she wanted to work with people.”

Upon reviewing her experience and qualifications, Carise says RCA found an opportunity for the woman to work in an IT position, and her role now includes patient-facing aspects as well, including showing elderly patients how to use social media.

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