You've read the first three installments in the series on how to organize a career fair, and you're thinking about getting started. But very few things in life are free, so how do you pay for supplies and expenses? In this article, we'll cover some costs to think about while you're planning the fair, as well as how to find the funds and in-kind donations you'll need to make the fair a success.

Costs

One of the first things you should do when you start planning is come up with a list of items and resources you will need. This becomes your wish list, and you'll begin looking for sources that will pay for or donate the various items.

  • Space

    Your institution may be happy to let you use a room for free (unlike a hotel or convention hall, where there will be a fee). However, even at your own institution, there will likely be small costs associated with the room. A setup fee may be charged to cover the time the maintenance staff spends arranging the room's chairs and tables. Additionally, there may be a fee for AV equipment (microphones, projectors, etc.). And a cleanup fee may be applied, especially in rooms where food has been served.

  • Food

    During a morning or afternoon break, you may choose to serve coffee, soda, cookies, and/or other munchies. The advantage of these informal gatherings is the opportunity for attendees to network with one another and with the corporate representatives. You and your career fair committee can do these coffee breaks yourselves--buying the supplies and setting up--for a fairly reasonable amount of money. Many delicatessens or bakeries will deliver products to your door for little or no charge. Although a professional catering service would make your job easier--handling many of the logistics--it would cost significantly more.
    If you decide to have a break room and/or storage space for your corporate representatives--where they can store valuables or make necessary cell phone calls--you may wish to stock this room with some refreshments and munchies. Keeping corporate reps happy is a great step toward assuring their participation next year!
    You may also wish to serve lunch. This gets expensive quickly, but many attendees and corporate reps may not mind paying $5 or so for a box lunch.

  • Copying, Printing, and Paper

    According to Kim Paul, Vice President of the Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Association (JHPDA), this will be the second biggest expense, after the room/refreshment allocation.
    What documents will you need to create? First are the invitation letter and registration form. At Hopkins, the JHPDA created its own letterhead and printed out the invitation letters on high-quality paper. With the ease of creating logos and images via computer, you could do the same and save money in this key area.
    The JHPDA, much like the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Trainees Assembly, found that most paper letters were not answered . For the Hopkins postdocs, the PDF versions of the invitation and registration form were the most useful, and they are considering dropping paper letters altogether for next year's fair. Obviously, this will save the postdoc organizers both time and money.
    If you go the paper route, your registration form, directions, and publicity flyers can all be photocopied on regular paper. To begin estimating costs, decide how many copies of each item you will need. If you choose to do something fancy, such as using colored paper, that will increase your costs. You'll also need to decide how you would like to print your program with the day's schedule and company descriptions. Will it be an all-glossy program, or a couple of photocopied pages with a snazzy cover? Obviously, this is one choice that will probably be heavily influenced by your financial resources.
    Other printed items to consider: Do you want to do a large version of the poster? In color? Or mount a poster on foam core to place on easels the day of the fair? Size, color, and mounting choices will increase your costs.

  • Faxing

    In addition to e-mail, the fax machine will be one of your prime points of contact with corporate representatives. Make sure your association can cover the necessary costs.

  • Postage

    You'll need to send out initial letters, the acknowledgment-letter packets, and thank-you letters. These costs can really add up!

  • Envelopes, Folders, Other Supplies

    Although printing and copying costs include the charges for paper, you'll also need envelopes for your letters and packets. And you may need such items as folders (to create packets to send to your corporate attendees) and name badges.

Funding

  • Association Budget

    If your association is like the JHPDA, you may be fortunate enough to have a budget. The PDA used some of this money to defray the costs of paper and printing.

  • Corporate Support

    In planning a career fair, one option is to charge corporations for their booth space. How do you decide how much to charge? Estimate the cost of the fair and divide this amount by the number of potential attending companies--resulting in the per-company cost. For example, Hopkins was looking for about $2000 of funding from corporate fees, and the JHPDA estimated that 20 companies would attend. Thus, the fee per company was $100. However, only 13 companies signed up. Kim Paul's recommendation, based on her group's experience this year, is to estimate the number of companies and then make calculations based on half of them signing up. Some postdocs may be hesitant to ask companies-- which have people traveling over large distances and are paying for airfares and hotels--for attendance fees, but most companies have recruiting budgets to absorb these costs.
    If you have a particularly enthusiastic company sending representatives to the fair, or a sympathetic corporate representative, you may want to suggest that the firm support the fair in different ways. One option is to sponsor lunch or a coffee break. This will cover your costs and also give the sponsor increased exposure. You'll want to highlight this sponsorship in the program, and perhaps with a sign or banner at the refreshment table.
    Another option is to seek sponsorship of the fair itself. A company may be interested in giving your organization funding to underwrite the general costs, in exchange for prominent placement of its corporate name and logo in the program and on any career fair publicity.

  • Your Institution's Administration

    Approach everyone and anyone who may be interested in your career fair--the graduate deans, the dean or provost of research, your institution's career services office, and, of course, your departmental directors or chairs. These individuals and groups may be able to offer several different kinds of support. When asking for help, have a couple of suggestions on hand as to how they might help, but be flexible and ready to accept any support offered. For example, a provost may be able to provide funding to defray costs or may be able to charge room fees to one of her accounts. A sympathetic department chair or two may let you use the fax machine or the department's postage meter.

  • Grants

    Ask your dean or provost about grants. Some institutions have education grants that can be used for your career fair. You will also want to contact local professional organizations or technology centers, which may have grants for which you can apply. For example, the NIEHS Trainees Assembly was able to secure a small grant from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center to fund part of its fair.

  • Other Options

    One option is to charge the attendees for the fair. However, you may want to consider this carefully (and ask around), because attendance may drop as a result of the fee. You also may want to consider partnering with other organizations or institutions. For example, the graduate student organization may have resources that it is willing to contribute, provided grad students are invited to attend the fair. If you are fortunate to be in an area with a number of other institutions, consider partnering with them. In both these cases--working with the grad students or another university--you may make your fair more attractive to companies, because they will get to see more qualified potential employees during the fair. (You'll also be able to make the most of the more peripheral, but nevertheless useful, opportunity to learn how to work cooperatively with other groups or organizations.)

One Final Note

Wherever you obtain funding, be sure to review carefully your institution's regulations and procedures on profit making and conflict of interest. Remember, money and the law go hand in hand! Ask for the advice of a dean, provost, or another administrator if you need help figuring this out. If the career services office at your institution has held a similar event in the past, it may be a good source of information on what kinds of funding you can and cannot accept.

As you plan your career fair, remember that you do not need a huge budget to pull it off. You'll need some funding and resources, but with a little creativity and flexibility, you should be able to cobble together the necessary support. Good luck!

The Postdoc Network would like to thank Heather Cross, Arti Patel, and Kim Paul for their insight and suggestions on the costs and funding of a career fair.