How to make the most of graduate job fairs
Nothing beats having a bunch of employers under one roof and real people to talk to seek out graduate opportunities and get deeper information about careers and application processes. However, graduate careers fairs can be overwhelming. To get maximum benefits from these brief windows of opportunity (and a good clutch of freebies) you need a strategy.
Think ahead: plan your time at careers fairs
Some recruitment fairs run over two days and some for a day, but many last just an afternoon. Time is limited and recruiters will be approached by hordes of eager students, so you need to be on the ball and have a game plan.
- Check the location of the fair, its opening times and which employers and organisations will be attending.
- Think about why you want to attend and what you want to get from the event. For example, do you want to research an industry sector; pick up information about companies; find out about job or work experience opportunities with particular employers; get info on application processes; or network?
- Decide which employers you definitely want to visit. If you can get a floor plan of the exhibition hall, plot a route around the fair.
- Find out if there is a programme of advice talks and presentations. Decide beforehand which talks, if any, you’d like to attend.
- Update your CV. While not all recruiters accept CVs at recruitment fairs, some might and it will be a useful tool to refer to when talking recruiters through your skills and experience.
Top tip: Seminars and presentations on applications, interviews and assessment centres fill up quickly so note their times and be in the queue early. If you still have access to your university’s careers service use their CV checking services instead of a CV clinic at a fair – you’ll get more individual attention.
Research employers before you go
Surely you are going to careers fairs to do your research? Yes, but you want to find out behind the scenes stuff you can’t get from a website. Recruiters will be busy and your time with them may be short. Prior research means you can quickly get beyond the basics. You’ll also create a much better impression.
The absolute minimum research you should do:
- Visit employers’ websites to find out what they do (products made/services offered) and to find out more about graduate roles, skills and qualifications required and recruitment processes.
- Prepare questions to ask recruiters and representatives. These can be about the recruitment process, what skills and qualities are needed, trends in the profession, and so on – take these with you.
- In the days leading up to a fair, scan the news headlines and relevant industry sector pages of quality news websites to get a feel for what’s going on in the sectors that interest you.
Presentation matters if you want to stand out
The jury is out on how you should dress for graduate recruitment fairs. Some say suited and booted, while others say smart casual – it can depend on the profession. Smart casual is usually fine; clean and tidy is vital. It’s important that you are comfortable, but also be professional. How you look is only one part of the presentation package, however.
When you approach recruiters at fairs:
- Be purposeful, confident and enthusiastic, but also polite and courteous.
- Know what you have to offer – your skills, qualities and experience.
- Be ready with specific questions to ask. Top tip: Prepare and practice a mini ‘pitch’ about yourself. It doesn’t have to be a hard sell of your skills, just a simple, brief introduction. For example: ‘Hi. My name is John and I’ve just started my final year in engineering at X-factor University. I’m business-minded and I’d like to use this skill alongside my technical abilities. I’m interested in finding out more about supply-chain management roles and I noticed from your website that you have a supply-chain scheme for engineers. Can you tell me more about your scheme and what it involves?
- Arrive early to avoid queues and get to recruiters before they get weary.
- Visit your top priority employer after you’ve talked with one or two others – this gives you a chance to warm up and build your confidence.
- Don’t hunt in a pack. If you go with friends, split up to make better use of your time. Even more importantly, this will show recruiters that you are a capable, independent individual.
- Don’t take your mum or any other well-meaning relative with you - seriously (it's embarrassing for you and the recruiter!)
Make notes for future reference
Take a notepad and pen to write down the names and contact details of people you meet and to record any useful information you glean. Once you leave an employer’s stand, move to one side and take a moment to record your impressions:
- What makes the organisation different?
- Would you be happy working with these people?
- What did you find out that made you feel you would fit in? How would you be able to use your skills within the organisation?
- You may find that you refer to contacts you made and information you found out at careers fairs in applications and interviews.
Top tip: Graduate careers fairs are good opportunities to practice basic interview techniques. Think about how you will respond to typical interview questions: What do you know about us? What interests you about working for us? What attracts you to a career in this industry? What skills and qualities do you think would be important for this role/our company?