Senior Event Planner Expects the Unexpected

A bilingual senior event planner for a national job fair series shares what he has learned on the job and how there are some things, like dealing with last-minute emergencies, that can’t be learned in a classroom.

What is your job title?
Senior Event Planner and Producer.

What do you do on a typical day?
I am constantly working on preparing for upcoming events. Everything from logistics, marketing, budgeting, and controlling. It keeps me on my toes. One must oversee many details daily and make sure everything is running on time. I have to pay attention to deadlines and any pending items. After this is covered, I spend time on administrating and adding content to one of our websites and planning ahead for future events and marketing opportunities.

What is your Ethnicity?
I am Hispanic. I am lucky enough to have grown up a third culture kid. So far, I have not suffered any experiences where my ethnicity has hurt me.

What languages do you speak? How has this helped?
I am fluent in English and Spanish. I’ve also been procrastinating on learning Portuguese, which nowadays I think is a must. I understand quite a bit, but I need to put time into it. Being fluent in English and Spanish has helped me immensely at work, giving me the opportunity to participate in media interviews in both languages. It has also helped me establish a closer bond with clients and job seekers at our hiring events.

What lesson did you learn the hard way?
Well, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected when it comes to events. When you work with many uncontrollable factors, something is bound to happen. I’ve learned to always have a backup plan to replace vendors, rearrange floor plans and last minute changes, and consider every possible alternative. Anything can happen that can affect the outcome of our events – weather changes, world events, and multiple external factors that we must be ready to work around.

What didn’t they teach you in school that would’ve been helpful?
Many things. The majority of processes with events are very practical, which you learn as the events evolve and you learn something new with every event that goes by. I think school gave a great foundation for preparations and things leading up to the events, such as marketing it and laying out the logistics, but as for the actual execution itself, it is very practical and no school will teach you that.

How did you get started? If you could go back, what would you change?
I started doing research and marketing support to advertise these events and after going to the first one I was involved in, I was given the opportunity to start working on them full time. Amongst other responsibilities, successful hiring events became my priority.

On a good day, when things go well, what is happening?
Well if it is during an event, we have great weather, plenty of candidates, good employer feedback, no fires to put out, and the event runs smoothly. That is a great event day. On the other hand, if we are under preparations for an upcoming event, a good day is one where plenty of registrations come in, we find good deals for advertising, and the logistics leading up to the event are more constant than volatile.

When everything goes wrong, what happens? What do you dislike?
Everything going wrong = bad event for us. Uncontrollable factors such as inclement weather and other events going on that negatively affect the outcome of our hiring events. So far, we have been lucky enough to not have encountered this to a large degree. We had lower candidate attendance in the past two years give fewer exhibitors, but we have still managed to connect job seekers with recruiters and maintain them profitable. I dislike not being 100 percent in control and not being able to prepare directly for uncontrollable factors. You can, however, prepare to react or work your way around them if they come up.

What is your favorite part of the job? What areas do you struggle or wish you could avoid?
My favorite part of the job is when I get feedback from a candidate or attendees that were able to find a job at our hiring events. It is very gratifying to see that your work, along with a team of dedicated professionals, can impact a person’s life positively and help them grow.

I wish I could avoid a lot of the administrative work because I feel I lose time with the basic paperwork and preparations. So if there’s something I wish I could avoid, its the administrative part.

How stressful is your job?
I find my job very stressful. Three months of work are virtually reflected in a five-hour hiring event. Everything comes down to those results, and it is my responsibility to make it a success. As mentioned above, I not only have the basics to worry about but also have to prepare to react to on-site problems as well as external factors and put out fires here and there. My stress level builds up more and more as we approach the event, but I’m also very confident in our experience and the great team we have. On the actual day of our events, my stress level and work do not end until I am on a plane back home; I kick back, take off my shoes, and reflect on what happened during our event, where we can improve, and how to do things better.

Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
Absolutely. We have a great work-life balance at the office and the entire team is very conscious about this essential equilibrium.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
Rough salary range is 45 to 80k. Your entire compensation is not only the salary; other factors are important such as work-life balance, telecommuting, office environment, and much more.

Whats the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done, what are you most proud of?
My most rewarding moment is a testimonial I got from a job fair we had in Washington DC a couple of years ago. A candidate sent a thank you email stating that we had changed his life because he attended, found a job, and was now able to maintain his family again. That was very meaningful to me.

Most challenging moment? What would you prefer to forget?
No matter how much you prepare for events there is always something to fix and do at the last minute. Anything from on-site last minute changes in layout, finding a lost shipment, dealing with catering issues; there are always fires to put out. As for candidates, I have seen endless amounts of candidates with very impressive resumes that do their research, that seem very well prepared, but due to the economic situation, they are jobless. We do repeat cities every year, and I have seen candidates at some locations that been attending our job fairs for two to three years. As much as I like to see them and catch up, I’d rather see them working. I would prefer to forget long lines and the many, many qualified unemployed job seekers.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
I think a good marketing foundation is essential. Business administration and management have been very useful for me too as it is important to budget, minimize expenses without negatively affecting our results, and even maximize profits. As for skills, one has to be extremely organized, think logically, but also be able to think outside the box. One has to be a people person, have excellent relationships with all clients, and be very, very patient and accommodating. Creativity. Customer service oriented. Very, very confident in your team. Reliable.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
It’s very rewarding to see results. It’s a lot of work, but with the right tools, team, and motivation, it can get done. Take a breather at some point during the event and you will realize that you are seeing the results of great teamwork. You get to meet some great people along the way. It’s dynamic, so it will keep you on your toes. You learn something new with every event. Every location is different. Get ready to work seventeen to eighteen hour days during an event. And lastly, good luck with the unions!

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I take as much vacation as I can. Last year I took fourteen working days. I really enjoy traveling and visiting family. Yes, it is enough. In fact, we host monthly events except during the Christmas holidays and the summertime, and when that time comes, I can’t wait to jump back in the saddle and head over to our next job fair.

Are there any common myths you want to dispel about what you do?
Yes. Traveling is fun, especially at the beginning, but it can also wear you down and it is tiring. During a recent trip, I had someone come up to me and say that my job was not really difficult because I just had to show up—wrong! Like I said before, it takes us around three months to plan an event, from beginning to end. Plan it. Market it. Sell it. Advertise it. Execute it. And then follow up on it. There’s a lot that goes into it that people don’t see. It’s a lot more than planning an event; it’s making sure its the right experience with the right results for everyone involved—and keep it profitable.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you be doing in 5 years?
I’d like to expand our hiring events overseas. I’d love to do some events where I think we could be successful—Canada, Panama, and Brazil all seem interesting to me. I’d also like to have some educational seminar on our events, such as interviews or resume critiques.

I would work a lot during the week and on the weekends, and I would take flying lessons. That will always be at the very top of my list!

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