A couple of weeks ago I was at the circus that is #SXSW, the annual geek fest in Austin, Texas. Pretty much everyone from the smallest and newest internet start-up, through to the giants like Twitter were there and throwing a party. Pretty much everyone was hiring in one form or another, and there were plenty of bright young things straight out of university looking for their first big break, with a hot off the press C.V. looking for someone, anyone to read it. There were also old hands looking to join the next big thing, eager to talk and connect.
And here’s the problem, familiar to anyone who has ever attended any type of networking event, how do you know which is which. Age is certainly no indicator. In amongst all the geekery I was immersed in for the 4 days of my stay, 2 things really stood out that were simple and practical.
Firstly there was Dice.Com, the technical job board, who were everywhere at #SXSW. They sponsored the Mashable house party, and had an interactive wall mural you could tweet to and add your avatar, designed by the girl who designed the fail whale for twitter, backed Craig Fishers excellent #TNLive event, and were generally omnipresent. It wasn’t however any of this that really impressed me, it was an idea so simple that anyone could make it work, and it was free of the internet.
Dice held a career event, and they distributed rubber wrist bands similar to the ones you might get in a swimming pool, coloured red or black with #DiceConnect pressed in to the design. Employers and those hiring were given black wrist bands to indicate they were hiring, and job seekers wore red bands. I tried both colours for a while, and when I wore the black one I had a constant stream of people asking me what I was looking for, and when I wore the red one, it happened in reverse.
Anyone who knows me will know that I wear a lot of t-shirts, and most of them are branded by technology companies or other ve3ndors in the people space. One day I put on T-Shirt given to me by Salesforce. It says Dreamforce: #Dreamjob on the front, and Salesforce.Com, were hiring. Within 15 minutes of walking out of the house in Austin I was approached by 3 people who all asked what Salesforce were hiring for, and it went on and on all day. Services like this are very powerful. In fact it only stopped when Broadbean gave me a nice green “Broadbean: We keep you posted”, T-Shirt to cover it up, and this got me thinking….. 
There’s plenty of job seeking talent out there looking to connect with people who are hiring. There are plenty of companies out there looking for the self-same talent. The problem is that sometimes it’s just hard for them to find each other. Recruiters, scared of being inundated by conversations have built a wall to hide behind, and have made themselves inaccessible to all but the very few who manage to get themselves in to the recruiting process via the ATS. Jobseekers have been so busy connecting on line, poking people; following them and making friends that they have forgotten the art of simply asking people what they do, in order to identify those who could help them.
Wearing a small piece of coloured rubber or a T-Shirt changed all that. On the ground, very low cost signposts to the fact that I might have a job. How many opportunities do recruiters miss at networking events because they don’t make it really obvious that they are hiring, and would be candidates are only a few feet away but afraid to ask? If you’re going to an event or careers fair, ditch the suit and get your T-shirt made. Have simple hiring cards that you can give to anyone telling them to connect with you. Your audience is there, don’t get lost amongst them. It is strange to say that this was my biggest lesson from #SXSW, but it was. T-Shirts and rubber bands make hires; you don’t always need the latest gadget to do it for you! Think simple to be effective. Think physical to be social.