I have seen a lot written about how to work a job fair but most of those have been from the perspective of the job seeker not the employer. If you want to be effective at the job fair and make the most of your time and money I have some suggestions.
Start by putting together a nice table. If you have a company tablecloth you can use that if not those that are supplied with the table generally work fine. Make sure that you have something with the company name, location and typical jobs written in BIG PRINT. The print should be large enough that it can be easily read by someone passing by. Location may not be important if all the companies in attendance are local. A flowering plant is nice and brings a sense of balance to the table and people do notice that. Have enough copies of your job descriptions (more about those below). Have a small bowl of the best candies. If you have a company brochure bring enough copies of that as well. In many cases you can just put out a few and add more as they are taken so that the table does not look too cluttered.
Where to stand: While setting up the table well is important, the most important factor is engaging with people. What you need to do is push the table back and stand in front of the table to talk with people. This is much more engaging and inviting to the candidates walking around. It presents you as much more enthusiastic than other companies that are sitting behind the table. If you are going to be there a long time without other employees you may want to bring a tall chair or barstool with you. Stand in a place such that your BIG PRINT company name, location and list of jobs are still visible to those passing by.
What to say: In most cases you do not need to start a conversation as typical candidates will introduce themselves and often say what they are looking for. If there is a line of people waiting you will need to keep the conversations short which can sometimes be hard. Be prepared with a short description of what they company does, and be aware of the titles of the jobs that you are currently looking to fill. Once you have talked with a few candidates you will find a pattern and style that is comfortable and it should be easier.
Collecting resumes: In most cases I do not like to collect printed resumes as they just end up collecting dust in somewhere in my office. I generally suggest to that candidate that they send me a resume electronically and/or apply on-line. I tell them to mention that they met me at the job fair. The down side of this is that generally only about half of the candidates actually apply. If there is a candidate that interests you then collect the resume. Especially if you have a very strong interest in the candidate you should collect it. My own system is that I put a “+” on the back of someone that I know I want to talk with in more detail. If it is some that I really like then I will mark the resume back with a “++” and sometimes note the position and/or hiring manager. You do not need to use my system but be sure to have some way of quickly noting interest that you will understand later. It is unlikely that you will be able to remember who you wanted to talk with when you have time to get to the resume stack. And all people collecting resumes for the company should use the same notations.
Technical demonstrations: If you have a tech demo, stand such that you are not blocking visibility to the demo. If it needs an operator it should be a technical person, who can actually be behind the table to answer technical questions, leaving the front space for the people in front to meet people face to face.
Job descriptions: These should be your ‘external’ job description and should have some information selling the company as well as a brief job description. It should not be the full internal job description and should not be more than one page. If should also include the company location and the suggested method for applying for the position.
Give-aways: I do not think that these are necessary in most cases. If you do decide to give something away I suggest against pens. Make it something interesting, useful, or fun. These should have name of company, location, and method for finding and applying for positions.
The business card dilemma: There has long been a debate about whether or not to give away your personal business cards at a job fair. In my case I do because I am a recruiter and I do not mind people contacting me directly. Most HR professionals do provide their own cards, but I also know some that only provide a generic card to applicants. I typically suggest against hiring managers providing their own cards, though I always suggest that they bring some in case they meet a great candidate.
Other supplies and setup: Water is often supplied at a job fair but I generally bring some just in case. Also bring hand sanitizer and mints. If it is a long job fair bring along some snacks (but be sure to use the hand sanitizer before eating!). Extra brochures and job descriptions, and other personal possessions should be under the table (hidden by the table cloth) to present an uncluttered area.
Networking: I like to walk around the job fair before it opens to the public to get to know the other companies, people, and jobs they are looking to fill. There have been many times when I met a candidate (whose skills I did not need) and was able to refer them to a company that had appropriate positions. This may not seems to be a good use of your time, but the long term payback is great. Both the candidate and the person at the other table will remember you. It is a great way to build relationships.
I hope this helps you make the best of your time at a job fair!