By attending a careers fair, you'll get to meet lots of different employers in the same place and have a unique opportunity to network - giving your job prospects a real boost
It's unlikely you'll leave a fair with a definite job offer, but you can significantly increase your chances
Typically held on university campuses throughout the year, but especially during the autumn months, recruitment fairs provide a platform for students and graduates to talk with potential employers. Some are general, while others focus on particular areas of employment such as law, engineering or IT.
While they're aimed primarily at final-year students who are ready to start making applications, they're also beneficial for first and second-years looking to do some preliminary research into their options or find work placements.
You can search for open days and events to mark on your calendar those that are relevant to your preferred job sector and any other areas of interest.
Here are five ways you can make the most of these graduate recruitment events.
Do some preparation
Although there's plenty of information available online about graduate schemes and jobs, the chance to ask employers questions directly remains invaluable, and you can make a strong impression on their recruitment staff manning the stands - as long as you've done the necessary groundwork.
'It's unlikely you'll leave a fair with a definite job offer in your pocket, but you can significantly increase your chances at the application and interview stage, if you're prepared, as companies are there to spot potential recruits,' says Lizzie Mortimer, careers consultant for the University of Edinburgh's careers service.
Before the day arrives, Lizzie suggests you review the list of organisations booked to attend and identify who you want to speak to. But even if you have a 'hit list' of companies you're interested in, don't discount those less well-known and not typically associated with your sector of interest; they might be offering just what you're looking for.
Regular fair exhibitor Amazon UK employs 19,000 people across the country in a variety of roles, from corporate and operations, through to science and technology careers. Dee Clarke, head of its campus recruiting team, says that it's important to take the time to consider the type of company you want to work for and what drives you.
For example, you can carry out research on Amazon UK by taking a look at their employee stories and the opportunities on their careers page. 'Students should then come prepared with specific questions about the role, career path options, and our unique recruitment process,' adds Dee.
Consider the practicalities
On the day, it's advisable to dress smartly. Lizzie advises, 'You don't need to wear a full suit, but business casual shows that you're taking this seriously, and helps the employers see you in a professional light.'
Annie Wallom, careers development adviser at the University of Stirling, agrees. 'Fairs are definitely 'dress-up' events,' she says. By treating them like interviews and making an effort to impress; they could well lead to one in the near future.
If you aim to arrive early, you can often avoid the queues and get to speak to recruiters before they get weary - as it can be a long day manning the stands. However, conversely, if it's a busy and popular event, getting there towards the end may prove more fruitful in gaining one-on-one time to talk with employers.
Use a map of the fair to plan a route around the stands. This ensures that you don't accidentally miss any or end up going round in circles searching for them.
A notepad comes in handy too, suggests Lizzie, as you can jot down the questions you've prepared. This shows that you've researched that particular company, while avoiding the common mistake of asking, 'So, what does your company do?'
After speaking to an employer, be sure to get their name before retreating to a quiet space and note down the key points you've discussed. This gives you time to prepare for your next conversation, and you can later refer to something interesting they said either in application forms or at interview.
The information you gathered at the fair can also help to inform your answers to job application questions.
Adopt a strategy
Lizzie advises you not to walk around the fair with a group of friends, even if you want to talk to the same organisations, as you won't stand out in this way. Instead, visit stands on your own and ask questions. If you're feeling nervous, head to your top-priority employer after you've talked with one or two others, as this gives you a chance to warm up and build confidence.
‘You'll find that people on the stands will be welcoming and friendly - they also want to make a good impression on you,' says Lizzie. 'Often, they'll be recent graduates themselves, and will remember what it's like to be in your shoes.'
Dee agrees that recruitment fairs are not just for recruiters to assess candidates' suitability for their graduate schemes. 'They're a great way for students to speak one-to-one with Amazonians and learn first-hand about pursuing a career at Amazon.
'We seek out pioneers driven by an intrinsic passion to build and invent on behalf of our customers - to improve their experience and make their lives easier. If that sounds like you, definitely come and speak to us.'
Follow up on your leads
As you think about the ongoing process of finding a job, don't underestimate the importance of keeping in contact with recruiters after a fair has ended.
'At the end of the fair you should have a better idea of the types of companies you'd like to work for,' says Annie. 'Don't be afraid to follow up on any contacts or business cards you've picked up.'
A simple introduction to an employer leading a session could result in work experience and possibly a future job. This was the case when York student Charlotte Harborow met an NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) graduate at a life sciences careers event in 2016.
'I kept in touch, and 10 months later I was starting the same job,' she revealed. 'The visit she arranged for me at her hospital is what got me the position - as without that insight, I definitely wouldn't have got through the interview.'
Engage in online networking
Janice Simpson, senior careers consultant at the University of York, suggests that in addition to events you attend in person, you should also consider opportunities such as webinars and virtual fairs - interactive platforms where you can chat, ask questions and make connections with employers, relevant groups and people who interest you.
They are usually easy and free to join - all you have to do is sign up. To showcase your skills and experience, upload your CV, and ensure that your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date.
The use of social media is a great way to stay connected with potential employers as you go about your busy life. For advice on achieving this through popular channels such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, see job hunting and social media.
Finally, check whether your university runs an alumni mentoring scheme. Graduates are often really keen to help current students and can offer information and advice about getting into their area of work.