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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.

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.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, you may be attending virtual careers events this year. Plenty of the information in this article remains relevant, and we’ve added a section dedicated to considerations specific to virtual events. If you’d like to get a better insight into the differences and similarities between virtual and in-person careers events, take a look at this TARGETjobs article.

How to start conversations with employers

Recruiters and company representatives attend careers events to meet students, so don’t be shy about approaching them. Don’t worry about trying to say something clever to introduce yourself: smile, make eye contact and shake their hand. For instance, you could open with, ‘I’m Anna Jones. I’m a first year law student at Reading University.’

It’s fine to join a group that’s already in conversation; listen and respond to what’s being said and join in the conversation if appropriate. If inviting yourself in the conversation or speaking in front of a group makes you feel shy, wait until the 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 bring up.

It is a good idea to research companies that are attending in advance and prepare questions to ask. It’s better to try and ask more in-depth questions about the company than you could answer yourself from a simple search or a quick scour of their website. You could alternatively pick up on an interesting point the speaker made in a talk or in response to a question from another attendee. 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.

Impressing at virtual events

During a virtual careers event, the ways in which you communicate with employers may change slightly. It’s likely that you will either have to send a message to employer representatives to ask them if they would like to set up a one-to-one call or ask questions during live sessions (eg webinars). So, having a polite introduction and some questions ready will be particularly useful. At a face-to-face event, an employer might see you near their stand and start talking to you or (as mentioned above) you may be able to get involved in a conversation that’s already taking place between an employer representative and students. This won’t happen during a virtual event.

Part of networking during a virtual careers event is filling in a profile, which provides employers with information about you. This might be the difference between a representative choosing you or another student as the last person they talk to, so make sure you complete it, check for grammar/spelling mistakes and include the information that you think will help you to come across as an impressive candidate (where there is a relevant section).

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.

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.

Things to avoid doing 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 they may assume that you’re bored and on Instagram.

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.

Article last updated 23 February 2021.

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This describes content that has been written and edited in close collaboration with the organisation, who has funded the feature; it is advertising. We are committed to upholding our ethical values of transparency and honesty when dealing with students and feel that this is the best way not to deceive consumers of our content. The content will be written by GTI editors, but the organisation will have had input into the messaging, provided knowledge and contributors and approved the content.

In Partnership

This content has been written or sourced by AGCAS, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, and edited by TARGETjobs as part of a content partnership. AGCAS provides impartial information and guidance resources for higher education student career development and graduate employment professionals.

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