Setting the Table for Volunteer Fire/EMS Recruitment Success

For some, it has been a while since we’ve attended a career fair or lunchtime recruitment event at a local high school or college. As I see recruiters across the country dusting off their recruitment bins and elevator speeches, let’s take a moment to look at one of the most important tools – the recruitment table. 

Setting up a recruitment table at a job fair or open house is a great way to recruit high-quality talent for your volunteer or career organization. Career fairs and recruitment events allow your department to meet face to face with potential leads and pre-screen applicants more efficiently than by looking at an application submitted online.

Organizations compete to attract potential leads to their table, so let’s look at some methods for setting up engaging and productive recruitment tables at the recruitment fair or event your volunteer department will attend.

  • Laptops and Tablets: Suppose you have a landing page or a “join” page on your organization’s website. In that case it’s easy to have the webpage up on your laptop or tablet and have leads fill out the inquiry form with all of your leads to be entered and tracked and in a consolidated place to access later.

  • QR Codes: Print out a QR code that will allow leads to access your website inquiry form from their devices. Politely ask if they have time to complete the inquiry while standing there. If they are unable to, that is okay, the page will at least be in their browser history if they decide to complete it later.

  • Do You Have A Pen?: Everyone loves pens. Not to mention you’ve now made it easy for people to sign-up.

  • Spreadsheet or Documents: Wi-Fi or connectivity can be an issue at some recruitment events. In these cases, you can go old school and use a spreadsheet to have leads fill out. Make sure it’s not too long and you get the primary information you need to contact them later. You can have the spreadsheet or document open on your device and the table. If you have hardcopy sign-up sheets, have several sheets and pens on the table so leads don’t have to wait to sign-up.

  • Lead Cards: Lead cards are preprinted cards requesting specific information. You can get fancy and have lead cards that tear off where leads get an information card, and you get their contact information.

  • Attract the Crowds: Having an attractive and engaging environment matters. An anchor piece is the table cloth. A table cloth covering the table puts a professional touch on your visibility. It allows leads to get a sense of who and what you are while deciding to stop by. Having your logo and organization name is a must. Adding mottos or call-to-action phrases can enhance your presentation.

  • Pull Out the Pull-Up Banners: These have been an excellent tool for recruiting events. Pull-up banners have also come a long way. They are lightweight and easy to set up and provide a solid visual punch to your recruitment environment. Your organization can create two or three different pull-up banners with additional messaging or themes and use one or all at your events. Think about using members of your organization on the banners, primarily when recruiting in the local community. Seeing people they may know can drive them to seek out more information about joining your organization. See how the Evans Center Volunteer Fire Company successfully utilized this strategy.

  • Show and Tell: Monitors are inexpensive and lightweight, so use them to play promotional videos to attract candidates to enter your space. It’s also a great way to multitask. While obtaining information and speaking with one lead, another can be watching a video until you are finished. If you don’t have videos, put together a slideshow. Use the videos or photos to interact with leads and explain what you or your organization does in more detail. Ask questions about what they are watching. A question I used was, “Can you see yourself doing that?”
  • You Get A Handout. Everybody Gets A Handout: Place any handouts on both ends of the tables to provide easy access for those who want to swing by and grab one and not feel like they have to stop and talk. Place your business cards in the middle of the table. This way when they reach for one you can attempt to connect and speak with them directly. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on flyers and handouts. Using various apps (Google Docs, Canva, MS Word) you can create one. The important thing to remember when creating your own is to keep it clean and straightforward. It has to be readable and inviting. If you cannot create an eye-catching flyer or brochure, reach out to a professional to do it. As Tiger Schmittendorf says, “Do what you do best, and outsource the rest.”

  • Where Are You? It is important to understand that YOU are the face of your organization during these recruitment events. You are the “Jake from State Farm,” the “Flo of Progressive,” and the “Geico Gecko” (shout out to First Arrriving’s own Steve Martin).  Below are a few things to remember while you are manning your table.

  • ABS (Always Be Smiling): Stand up when people approach your table. Regardless if you think they are stopping by asking for a free pen, some swag, or to use your charger, stand up and greet them with a smile.

  • Stay Off the Phone: It is hard to stay focused at an event when you’re answering work emails, sending coordination texts, and scrolling Instagram for entertainment. From across the room, prospects can see you doing all of this. If you have to multitask and work while working, be sure to frequently lift your head and make eye contact with those around you. To help with this, take a look at our next tip.

  • Be Out Front:  Stand in front of your recruitment table. At the next recruitment event you attend, take notice that most, if not all, of the recruiters are behind their tables. By standing in front of your table, you will STAND OUT among the other recruiters. Standing in front also increases engagement with leads and offers more of a connection. We know a podium can be a barrier between a speaker and the audience. You can remove a barrier between you and potential leads by standing in front or on the side of the table. 
(PHOTO: author taking his own advice)
  • Engage: While you are standing in front of your table interacting with leads, a great way to engage even more is to take “selfies” with them to post on your organization’s page. Make sure you have their permission to take the selfie AND post it on your page. Ask if you can tag them in the photo, connecting you to their social network. Consider creating an event specifically on Facebook. By doing this step you can invite leads to “check-in” to your event allowing you to have a record of people you can follow up with later.

  • Where Did They Go?: In most volunteer organizations, it can be challenging to have more than one or two people available to manage your recruitment event table. Having one person is better than having none. I’ve seen first-hand, recruitment tables with great set-ups go unmanned for hours or the entire event. In my opinion that is worse than not being there at all.

With a little bit of work and preparation your recruitment table can help attract high-quality leads and generate buzz about the organization. Provide visually appealing promotional material, use technology and multimedia, and interact and engage in attracting potential prospects.

Now you are ready for your next recruitment event. As recruiters we attend a lot of these and they can become dry and mundane, but try and remember to have fun, engage, and most importantly, get those leads!

If you are looking for a starting point to get your recruitment table going in the right direction, look at the marketing services and tools we provide at First Arriving.


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