How to network at careers events

Even the most confident of us can get tongue-tied when starting conversations with potential employers. Follow our tips on how to communicate at networking sessions, employer presentations, careers fairs and other graduate recruitment events.
Students networking at careers event
It’s fine to join a group that’s already in conversation, as long as you don’t immediately cut across it with your own questions.

Careers events provide the dual challenge of uncovering the information you want about specific industries and employers while making a good impression on those with the power to give you a job. Here we help you to communicate confidently and create a good impression on the day. See also Careers event tips: what to wear and how to prepare for what to do beforehand and How to make the most of graduate job fairs to read advice specifically for careers fairs.

How to start conversations with employers

Recruiters and company representatives attend careers events to meet students, so don’t be shy about approaching them. But do it politely.

It’s fine to join a group that’s already in conversation, as long as you don’t immediately cut across it with your own questions. It may look as if a recruiter is having an in-depth, private conversation with other attendees, but if that makes you feel shy, remember that they’ve actually only just met today. Join the group, listen to what’s being said and join in the conversation if appropriate. When that chat has wound up and the other students have moved on, the recruiter will know that you’re ‘next in the queue’ and you can raise the topic or questions you wanted to.

When starting a conversation with a recruiter, give them a heads-up as to who you are and what you would like to talk about. Introduce yourself with your name and little relevant info, such as: ‘I’m Anna Jones. I’m a first year law student at Reading University.’ You might want to ask questions you’ve prepared in advance, or pick up on an interesting point they’ve made in a talk. If you’re stuck for words, try: ‘I was interested in point X you made in your talk. Could you tell me a bit more about that?’

Don’t just talk to company representatives. There will be other students present who may well be your colleagues or business contacts in years to come. Having a chat with a fellow student or the event organiser can also put you at your ease for when you talk to employers.

If you’re an introvert

If you’re terrified about approaching employers, consider pairing up with a fellow student and doing so together, or even asking one of the organisers if they could introduce you.

Introverts may find extended periods of networking draining. If you need it, grab yourself five minutes’ quiet time during a break. Nip outside for a breath of air or find yourself a quiet corner.

Networking and buffet meals

Remember to eat! If it’s a long event with food provided, tuck in and keep your energy up. Juggling buffet food, plates and cups while holding conversations can be tricky, but everyone is in the same boat. And you can take advantage of queues for food to strike up conversations.

Women – unless it’s a female-only event, the food will go quickly. Get to the front of the queue!

Asking questions in formal settings

Some events include talks to large groups in lecture halls, with a chance to ask questions. Sometimes you’ll be asked to submit questions in advance to ask on the day; at other events it’s open to all and you can raise your hand if you want to ask something. Either way, do the following when invited by the chair to ask your question:

  • Stand up. This will allow the person who’s answering your question to see you and talk to you directly. It will also help your voice to carry.
  • Introduce yourself – give your name and, if it’s not obvious from the context, your university.
  • Ensure you ask your question loudly enough to be heard both by the person you’re addressing it to and students at the back of the room.

Avoid questions that are overly political or confrontational, or that the person you’re asking is unlikely to be able to answer, eg questions on very technical or specialist matters. You may want to be perceived as clever or clued-up, but could easily come across as showing off or trying to catch out an employer.

How not to look rude at recruitment events

Using your technology when you’re supposed to be concentrating on something risks looking rude. If you want to take notes on your tablet or laptop in a group session or one-to-one chat, ask if that’s OK so the employer knows that that’s what you’re doing. Otherwise he or she may assume that you’re bored and on Facebook.

Mobiles should be away and on silent. If there’s a very good reason why you can’t comply (eg you’re waiting for news of a relative in hospital) let everyone relevant know.

Don’t do any of the following, either:

  • Leave in the middle of a group session without having warned the leader at the start (if there’s a very important reason why you can’t stay till the end of the event).
  • Use language or gestures that could be perceived as offensive, even if you use them all the time among friends. For example, using the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘stupid’ risks creating a bad impression.
  • Nip out for a cigarette when you’re supposed to be doing something else.
  • Drink too much. The alcohol on offer isn’t an invitation to get drunk, even if you’re feeling nervous or relieved at the time of consumption.