Hot sauce, My Little Pony, gadgets are free for job seekers

hot sauce job fair
For Caitlin Dorman, branded hot sauce was her number one pick for best job fair swag. / Brown University’s Daily Herald Blog

While plenty of companies still provide giveaways at career fairs across the country, the nature of customized freebies may be changing.

This fall, vendors at a Brown University job fair gave away everything from the usual customized pens and stress balls to bottles of hot sauce, according to Caitlin Dorman. A sophomore, Dorman chronicled her career fair adventure in a blog post for Brown’s Daily Herald Blog in September.
In an effort to be memorable and useful, companies gave away high end T-shirts, toys and tech gadgets.
Dorman received a credit card processor from Square Up and scored Play-Doh samples and My Little Pony figurines from Hasbro that were up for grabs to the enterprising student job-seeker. So what kind of impact do these freebies have on students?

“All I know is that I have a lot of cups for when my friends come over,” she said. The Square Up device was of little use. “I haven’t tried out that thing yet because I don’t make any money,” she says. Dorman says she doesn’t feel more drawn to work for companies because of the free swag.

That sentiment may be an argument for sticking to the basics, which is exactly what companies attending the Tech Career Expo in Austin, TX tend to do. Tim Williams, vice president of sales and marketing says that companies at the Tech Expo often just give away pens, stress balls and T-shirts. “T-shirts are always a great idea,” he said. “Software developers seem to love T-shirts.”

Few ventured into the land of interactive giveaways. However Nike, Inc. gave out postcards with a QR code that linked to a web page with open positions, as well as another card that could be redeemed for a free drink at a local watering hole, Williams says.

Both electronic giveaways and the standard T-shirt are good options, according to Thursday Bram, consultant and founder at Hyper Modern Writing. “One of the reasons I like using an e-book or another digital item is because there are a lot of options for tracking engagement,” Bram writes. “For instance, I might build a job application into the e-book I offered to create a seamless way for a prospect to follow up with me after reading the e-book.”

T-shirts are still good options, she writes, if companies are willing to go the extra mile and create a custom design and print women’s t-shirts. ”It shows an added awareness of the diversity in your audience, too,” she says.

Advice for employers: choose swag wisely

Remember who you’re recruiting — students or seasoned professionals — and gear up accordingly. According to organizers and attendees, career fair giveaways still include the usual customized pens, water bottles and tote bags. A more thoughtful option can be something digital, like a free iTunes download or an E-book that allows you to follow up with a job candidate. Items that are useful, unique and initiate a dialogue between you and a potential employee will be the ones he or she remembers. Think customized designs for t-shirts, a toy or maybe even a bottle of hot sauce. Don’t think of it as a waste of money — there is no shortage of recent college grads looking for work. And a little low cost (high-spice) advertising never hurt anyone.


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