Careers fairs and events are a great way for all university students to explore their career options, ask questions directly to employer representatives, build their networks and potentially boost their chances of being hired by making a great first impression on recruiters. Students with disabilities may also want to use these opportunities to assess how diverse and inclusive an organisation is or to ask questions around disclosure or reasonable adjustments.
Yet, we know that many students will have concerns or worries about attending careers events, ranging from potential access issues to whether they are disclosing more than they want to by asking questions about reasonable adjustments. Therefore, we wanted to provide some practical tips around handling careers events and turned to disability recruitment expert Helen Cooke, the founder of MyPlus, an organisation that supports students with disabilities to start professional careers.
What careers events are available for university students?
As Helen says, all careers events and fairs should be open and inclusive to all students. Events on offer typically include:
- Careers fairs, where multiple organisations have a stand and are ready to answer questions
- Insight events, where a number of employers get together to introduce students to a particular profession
- Employer presentations, where representatives from an individual employer talk about their opportunities and what they seek in candidates
- Panel events, where representatives from a few employers get together either to talk about their employers or discuss a theme, such as diversity and inclusion
- Speed-dating-style networking events, which are designed to allow students to meet and build relationships with employer representatives
- Mock-recruitment events, where employers may take part in a practice interview or assessment centre to help candidates prepare for the real thing.
However, students with disabilities may also find events designed for them. ‘There are specific events that address some of the unique challenges and questions that those with a disability have, for example how to disclose a disability to an employer or how to ask for support during an interview,’ says Helen.
In the wake of the coronavirus, most events have switched to being virtual – webinars in particular have come into their own. This may make it easier for those students who have physical disabilities.
How can students find out about disability-focused careers events?
Events and fairs are typically organised by university careers services, by recruitment-related organisations such as MyPlus, by professional bodies and by employers themselves. Contacting your careers service, who can point you to their own events and outside resources, is a good first step.
Helen recommends that you join the MyPlus Students’ Club for free, which holds three types of events for students with disabilities or health conditions:
- Insight events into law and banking. ‘These half-day events typically include a panel with representatives from the firm who have a disability. In addition, there is the opportunity to network at these events and ask questions,’ says Helen.
- Interactive webinars from the MyPlus team on topics including ‘What is a disability – am I included?’, ‘To inform or not to inform – talking to an employer about a disability’ and ‘Adjustments during the recruitment process’.
- Interactive webinars that are run in partnership with the employers who work with MyPlus. ‘As well as finding out more about the employer and their opportunities, there is the chance to find out about how they view disability and the support they offer, as well as how to access it. We also advise you on how to share information about your disability with an employer and gain the support you need,’ Helen adds.
Helen stresses that while most of these events are aimed at undergraduate students, the information is also relevant to those who have recently graduated. You can find out more about MyPlus Students’ Club, and the free resources they provide, on the employer hub page on TARGETjobs.
What should students do if worried about attending or signing up for events?
‘Depending on the impact of your disability or health condition, there are a number of concerns that you may have about attending careers events,’ says Helen. ‘For in-person events, you may be concerned about how accessible it will be, how crowded it will be, whether you will be able to hear people or whether the busyness of it will cause anxiety. However, these can be overcome by seeking out support from your careers service who can talk to you about access requirements, or who may be able to provide a buddy to accompany you during the event. In addition, some careers fairs will open an hour early for those with a disability or health condition to mitigate these concerns and it is therefore worth enquiring about this.’
Helen adds that, for both in-person and virtual events, ‘it can be daunting asking questions about disability support with someone that you don’t know.’ However, a session with a careers adviser can also explore with you how best to ask questions relating to your disability or discuss your needs with employers before you attend.
How can students make the most of events?
‘The key things are to think about what you want to get out of the events and then prepare really well,’ says Helen. She urges students to view events as opportunities to network and to get to know the employer and what they look for in the people they recruit. But to do that well, you need to go armed with knowledge. ‘Research the firms that will be attending, decide which ones you want to talk to and think about the questions you want to ask,’ she advises. ‘Ask questions that you can’t find the answers to on the website such as why they enjoy working there and whether or not they have a disability employee network.’
Take the time, too, to consider why you would make a good employee. ‘Think about your skills and strengths, particularly those you have developed as a result of managing your disability or health condition,’ Helen adds. ‘Work out how you are going to positively position your disability to ensure that you will stand out for the “right reasons”.’ At insight events in particular, employers tend to keep in contact with impressive candidates.
While this may seem like hard work, remember that many students go away from careers events feeling inspired and uplifted by the possibilities open to them. ‘It can be very motivating to hear from panel representatives,’ Helen reflects. ‘And, for students with disabilities, it is important to hear about the support that employers can and will provide and how they can access this.’