I’ve never had so much fun at a job fair.

As I was walking back from the beer table at Tech Jobs Under the Big Top last night with my second (and final) Top of the Hill Old Well White, replacing the one a Durham police officer had inadvertently knocked off the small table it had been haphazardly placed on (and we had a good laugh, he couldn’t have been nicer about it), I decided to hang out at the entry to the event tent and hawk name tags of candidates as they walked in.

Within seconds, a guy walked up with “Data Scientist” on his name tag. I stopped him, introduced myself, and said I’d love to talk to him for a second. He looked at my Automated Insights T-shirt and said, “Cool. I’m here to talk to you anyway.”

After about a minute of conversation, I said, “Look, I’ll bring you in for an interview tomorrow if you can make it.”

And with that, our money was more than well spent.

By 5:15 p.m. (for a 5:30 event), the line to get into Tech Jobs snaked down one block of downtown Durham’s Corcoran street and spilled over into a second block. Other folks from Automated took to strolling down the sidewalk, starting conversations with job-seekers as they waited for the event to begin.

What’s more is we weren’t the only company doing that.

Tech Jobs, as promised, was an aggressive hunt and strong pitch to get about 450 of the Triangle’s talent to be interested in working for the 11 startups who paid to present ourselves and our collective hundreds of open positions to them.

Bronto brought hundreds of brontos. There were professionally made banners, T-shirt giveaways, frisbees and other swag, a keg of stickers, all to go along with the popcorn, candy, hot dogs, and of course, free beer supplied by Tech Jobs itself, in an open-tent atmosphere complete with acrobats, clowns, and jugglers.

Emcee Chris Heivly kept the program moving, gathering us all together before the event started to make sure we adhered to the rules, like a ref calling the captains to the 50-yard line. One rule was we weren’t allowed to talk to candidates during the three-minute presentations each company would give. Another was the job-seekers were told not to bring resumes, to encourage more dialogue between company and candidate.

Once the event opened it was controlled chaos in the tent. There was never a moment when one of us from Automated wasn’t talking to someone who had walked to our table. The first candidate I talked to seemed like she might be right for one of our positions, and after a good three-minute conversation I asked her straight up:

“I know you weren’t supposed to, but did you bring a resume?”

She gave a kind of sheepish smile and reached into her portfolio.

Lesson: People who work at startups and who want to work at startups usually know which rules to break.

The presentations were top-notch. Our own featured our 2013 year-end video, which itself had been created by Brian, who we hired from the first Tech Jobs some years ago. But each presentation had a common theme: We’re awesome. We’re growing. We’ve got good customers. We’ve got soft and hard benefits. We want you to come here and stay here for a good long career.

As I mentioned in the preview of the event a few days back, this is the real draw of Tech Jobs (and Heivly knows it). The event itself is great and unique, a standing-on-its-head of the modern-day soul-sucking job fair. But what really makes it explosive is the product, the jobs available in the Triangle’s booming startup scene. The product keeps getting better, and this year the quality of the candidates was off the charts as well.

As we broke down our table over three hours later, each of us compared notes, we all had a stack of resumes and business cards (yes, some of these folks already had jobs), and we all planned to hit as many of these people as we could the next day.

Oh, and one more awesome thing about the startup community. A project manager candidate and I started talking yesterday and he seemed more than capable, a good catch actually. However, I knew that we’re not in the market for a PM (ours is fantastic), and we wouldn’t be for a while. But I also knew that our friends at Shoeboxed were.

“Wait a second,” I said. “Let me introduce you to someone.”