Many students simply view careers fairs as a chance to pick up a couple of leaflets and have a bit of a wander around, whilst others plan on making a beeline for the freebies, empty rucksack at the ready.
Well, we’re here to dish the dirt on how to make the most out of them. After all, careers fairs can be a fantastic stepping stone towards landing yourself that graduate job, internship or placement. Furthermore, careers fairs are great places to pick up tips on applications and interviews, as well as an excellent chance to hone those networking skills (don’t groan). So it’s time to take a deep breath, banish those nerves and get talking to company representatives.
What should I do at a careers fair?
You should ignore any nervousness, get stuck in and start talking to company representatives. After all, it isn’t a formal job interview, but a fantastic opportunity to chat with employees from the companies that interest you. Arrive early to avoid the crowds; taking a moment to scope out the room. Don’t feel overwhelmed; you should have a list of companies you want to talk to, so do just that: get involved and talk to them. Ok, ok, we know it’s not that simple, so here’s our step-by-step guide to approaching company representatives:
First of all, don’t walk around in a gaggle of friends. Make like Jason Derulo and “ride solo.” You need to make it clear to companies that you’re interested in them. Be assertive, go up, give them a firm handshake and introduce yourself.
You might want to approach an employer that you’re less interested in first; this way you can refine your approach and gain confidence before you talk to the ones that really excite you. However, only do this if you have time; you want to make sure you have enough time to talk to all the companies you’re interested in. Careers fairs can be busy places, so be aware that you might have to wait to speak to certain companies.
When you’re speaking to company representatives, don’t expect them to do all the work. Tell the employers what you know about them and what interests you about their company. The best thing you can do is show plenty of enthusiasm and interest in their organisation; enthusiasm gets you far and a smile can do wonders. But don’t chew their ear off; you don’t want to completely monopolise their time. Remember, they are there to talk to as many people as possible about their company.
Keep your questions clear and concise and be aware of when it’s time to move on. As your conversation draws to a close you might want to give them your CV and get an email address or business card off them. Afterwards, jot down a few notes about the encounter so you can remember important details and any follow up instructions.
Ok, but what exactly should I be asking them?
Generally, most of the discussions you’ll be having with company representatives will be relatively informal. This doesn’t mean you can rock up to them with a casual, “Alright mate, what you doing here?” You should come to a careers fair armed with specific questions about the companies and their graduate opportunities. Don’t fret; we’ve prepared a handy list of questions as a guide:
· More about the company culture.
· About the level of training given to graduates.
· About the size of the company.
· About opportunities for travel and international secondments.
· What they feel makes their company unique?
· What they enjoy about working in their particular industry?
· How many graduates do they take on every year?
· Are there opportunities to rotate and work in different offices across the country?
· Whether they are involved in the latter stages of recruitment? If not, who is?
· What do they think makes a good candidate stand out?
· What are the characteristics of your most successful employees?
Try to phrase your questions to show that you have done a little research on the company: e.g. “I know your company is passionate about diversity, could you tell me a little bit more about…”
And here’s what you shouldn’t ask:
· How much money can I earn?
· Why should I apply to your company?
· So, what does your company actually do?
· Tell me more about your company.
· Do you get bladdered with your workmates after work?
Want a killer tip? Every careers fair and company is different, but broadly you can identify three types of company representative that might be at the fair. The first (and most likely) is a member of their graduate recruitment team, the second is a graduate trainee and the third is a more senior member of the company. It sounds blindingly obvious, but ask the right person the right question.
Direct questions about the recruitment process and the qualities the company is looking for to the graduate recruitment representative. Questions about day-to-day tasks and the graduate training scheme should be directed to the trainee, while you might want to ask questions about career progression and working in the industry to the senior member of staff. Make sure you talk to a range of people; don’t spend the entire time nattering away to the graduate trainees.
After the careers fair…
Don’t be afraid to follow up on any contacts you’ve picked up. When getting in contact, make sure you remind them who you are, as they’ll have talked to hundreds of people on the day. You might want to do something as simple as emailing them a few days after the fair to thank them for their time.
Otherwise, it’s time to put all that information you’ve gathered into action, whether it’s applying for work experience or firing off an online job application. You might want to use it as a springboard to get stuck into extra-curricular activities, which will help you develop the skills that companies said they are looking for.
Don’t feel too disheartened if you feel you haven’t gained anything directly from the careers fair. Sure, you might not have got an email address or the promise of work experience, but you’ve had done some great networking practice. Remember, any face-to-face time with recruiters is very valuable; it’s worth far more than that free company pen you picked up.