How To Recruit Talent At A Conference

By Paul Slezak - Oct. 12, 2014
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It’s pretty fair to say that conferences and trade shows are ideal settings for networking and business development opportunities. But they can also be the perfect backdrop for ‘talent spotting’.

I’ve been to my fair share of industry conferences and events over the years. In fact I have just returned from a very successful trade show in Las Vegas (we’ll publish more about that in the coming days). I can honestly say that it’s been at these types of events that I have met some wonderful individuals for the first time who eventually went on to become long-standing employees.

You probably wouldn’t register for (or attend) a conference or trade show with the sole purpose of topping up your own candidate pool … that could prove to be a pretty expensive exercise. But it certainly is an added bonus when while walking around an expo hall, or grabbing a bite to eat between break-out sessions you suddenly find yourself speaking to someone who you immediately realise would be a dream employee for your own company.

What do you do?

If you botch up this opportunity to impress them, you might not get a second chance to recruit the candidate. So before you try your hand at conference recruiting, it’s a good idea to review a few basic guidelines.

1. Know who you’re talking to

Whilst this might seem pretty obvious, you’ll need to do a little research to make sure that the potential candidate you’re speaking to could be a good fit for a position within your company. After all, you don’t want to waste time discussing a position that has nothing to do with the candidate’s skill set.

If you can, suss out the workshops or sessions your potential candidate may have attended or might be going along to later in the conference. Attending these workshops could provide you with more of an insight in to how they interact, the types of questions they ask etc.

2. Start with small talk

Engage your prospective candidate in a conversation relating to the conference or workshop topics. Evaluate their breadth of knowledge throughout the conversation before you bring up even a hint of any potential job opportunity. You don’t want to invest your time and effort in a person who doesn’t actually match your ideal candidate profile.

Remember this is not a job interview. These moments are the first of many conversations that may lead to formal interviews later on down the line. Whatever you do, don’t go into sales overdrive. You’ll just end up scaring them off.

3. Get sufficient background information

If the person you’ve met could be a potential fit for your team, find out a little bit more about where the person currently works and his or her responsibilities (still remembering you are not facilitating an interview). If you know the person’s job title, you can more easily gauge if he or she might be looking to make a move.

Pay attention to your surroundings. Recruits are likely to wax poetic about their current positions if they’re manning a company booth or their colleagues or manager are hanging around.

If possible, get them away from these environments if you want to know how they’re really feeling.

4. Mention a position

Despite what I’ve suggested earlier, don’t spend too much time making small talk unless you’re genuinely interested in what the person has to say. Get to the point, mention a potential position and gauge their reaction.

If the person asks questions or displays body language that signifies interest, continue to elaborate on the opportunity. Please remember you still don’t want to hard sell the position the first time you speak to them.

5. Follow up

The typical potential candidate isn’t going to bite on the first bit of bait so make sure you follow up with the individual through email, a social media connection or telephone call. That way you can provide additional information on the opportunity and explain why you believe he or she should consider your offer.

Some candidates may only give you their work contact information, particularly if they’ve just met you. Make them feel more comfortable by talking about the conference you both attended, and don’t immediately discuss the job opportunity.

If the conversation progresses naturally, they will be more likely to give their personal contact information at the end of the discussion.

Finding quality candidates can be tough at the best of times. But spotting potential talent is even more difficult if you don’t know how to approach people at conferences or in other social situations.

Next time you’re at an industry event, establishing common interests, evaluating potential fit and following up with them will help you improve your scouting efforts and attract suitable candidates who may not even realise they’re speaking to their potential future employer as you chat over a coffee during a session break.

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.


Paul Slezak

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.

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