Student Reflections on the #SHRM13 Expo Hall Experience

by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, June 25, 2013

One of the unique aspects of our school is that they have allowed me to create a course where students can attend the SHRM Annual Conference for course credit.  Given the immersion into HR over four and a half days, 19 sessions, and the expo hall, students garner a much broader view of the HR profession than they would get in the classroom.  Six of my own students along with nearly 400 students across the nation descended on Chicago for the SHRM Big Show

As one of their requirements, students had to do an analysis of the expo hall as  a whole, as well as conduct in-depth analysis of five of the vendors.  This analysis should include gaining a complete understanding of the functions of the organization being displayed, a brief interview with the individuals representing this organization, and a critique of their trade show booth.

This was easier said than done.  Unfortunately, a common theme emerged, one that I have see all too often over 13 years of attending the SHRM conference.  I'll let the students put it into their own words:

Student 1:

One of the frustrating things that I came across in the expo hall was that many of the vendors did not want to talk to us because we are students.  You would lose their attention immediately after saying "I'm a student."

Student 2:
One thing I noticed about the vendors was that many of them were turned off once I mentioned that I was a student, with the exception of a few.  They didn't seem as willing to try and sell their business to me.

Student 3:
Once the booth found out that we did not work for a company that could use their services, but rather that we were lowly, lowly students, we were sent on our way.  I figured this would be a one or two time occurrence, but that ended up being a misconception very quickly.  Over and over, we revealed our status as students and were quickly ushered out of the way to get the next attendee scanned and entered into a drawing for a vacation or an iPad Mini.

Student 4:
I was expecting more students to be at the conference and exposition hall and I think the companies were not expecting students at all.  I could tell in their tones sometimes that they did not want to be talking to a student, but rather selling their products or services to someone who did.  Many were surprised and happy to see students while others were looking past us.

Student 5:
I was a little disappointed in some of the companies within the hall.  Now it was not too many of them, but there were a little over a handful of booths that did not take me seriously due to the fact that I was a student.  For example, when I was approached by a representative, he or she was very friendly and began the conversation by presenting me with a question about the company I worked for.  However, once I told him or her that I was a student, they immediately changed their tome.  They simply pushed me on my way and acted as though they did not have the time of day to explain to me their company.....I think it would have been very helpful for many of those vendors to attend the sessions themselves.  Many of the sessions I attended emphasized repeatedly the importance of meeting the needs of people, creating fulfillment, and showing respect; many behaviors that these booths did not show. It truly made me question their company's credibility and their performance.

Just as a reminder...these aren't students attending on a whim.
*They had to pay a registration fee for the conference.
*They had to pay for 5 nights of Chicago hotel costs (the student conference starts on Saturday)
*They had to pay for travel to get to and from Chicago
*They had ancillary costs of attendance, such as meals.
*They gave up 6 of their summer days to attend (Friday-Wednesday)....time that could otherwise be spent working to pay for school

These are passionate students who care about the future of HR.  Several were so motivated by a session that they went to the SHRM Store to buy the author's book.

Hence, it was disappointing to hear, yet again, of such shoddy treatment by some vendors.  They are your future customers. Vendors should have treated them that way.

As one student put it..."It made me not want to use their product even when I graduate."


One of my favorite events I attended at SHRM was the Young Professionals mixer, which I think I'm going to get officially aged out of at #SHRM14. But while I nominally qualify for inclusion, I enjoy the excitement and passion that emanates from student members, the perfect foil for those further into their careers who are jaded, misanthropic and apparently love Kelly Clarkson who dominate the rest of SHRM. But what I think we need to do a better job doing is connecting the two. That students have to pay for the conference seems outrageous (it's called a long term investment), and they have a lot to offer, too, considering they know Facebook and the Tweeter and that stuff that there are packed sessions on. Next year I'd like to see an initiative where those with press passes (e.g: bloggers lounge crew), who tend to be really knowledgable about HR and mostly really good people, be able to partner up with and "mentor" a student during the show. Take them under their wing, get to know them and maybe even some primary source Gen Y material, and having a way to actually add some value to student members if other vendor driven activity at SHRM is going to sour the next generation on the companies that pay for things like bloggers lounges or sponsoring the parties. Not sure if this is crazy, but pretty sure that the HRBPs in sweaters aren't going to care about much besides labor law updates and where the open bar is at, but seems like something that those on the social/industry relations side could organize pretty easily - and get a vendor to pay for it, because it's a pretty good long term investment.

by Matt Charney on June 25, 2013 at 3:44 PM. #

Students are the FUTURE recruiters. Bad move vendors, bad move.

by Readyforce on June 25, 2013 at 5:05 PM. #

Good comments Matt. Hope Curtis and Tara Fournier, SHRM's student programs manager, are listening for #SHRM14.

I agree Readyforce!

by Matthew Stollak on June 26, 2013 at 7:54 AM. #

Leave your comment