5 ways to make the most of careers fairs
With a number of employers all under one roof careers fairs provide a great opportunity for you to research your options and network with recruiters. Find out how to make the most of these graduate recruitment events
Traditionally run during the autumn, careers fairs are aimed at final-year students who are ready to start filling out job applications. However, they can also give first and second-year students a head start on looking into their options or finding work placements and internships.
Some careers fairs are general, while others focus on particular areas of employment such as law, engineering and business. The format of careers fairs may also vary with some being held in-person, while others are conducted online. To see what's available, search for open days and events.
Morwenna Jeffery, careers consultant at Aberystwyth University explains 'careers fairs offer an excellent opportunity for recruiters to network with and meet potential candidates and they allow you to research a range of possibilities for your career path while building contacts and asking essential questions.'
Chelsea Gregory, events assistant at Loughborough University adds 'careers fairs are still important to attend even if you are not actively looking for jobs. They're a great way to get your name out there and raise awareness of your profile.'
Just turning up to a careers fair is rarely enough if you want the event to be worth its while.
Chelsea recommends establishing what you want to get out of the event prior to attending. 'Is it more information about a specific role? Is it to build your network? Or are you looking for a graduate role or placement?'
'When you sign up ahead of time most careers fairs will give you a list of attending organisations,' says Morwenna. 'This is your chance to find out a bit more about them in advance and to make a shortlist of the companies you would most like to speak to on the day.'
It's unrealistic to think you'll have the time to speak with every company, so creating a list like this gives you more focus and helps to manage your time.
That said, even if you have a 'hit list' of organisations 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.
It's also worth digging a little deeper and researching the companies that are attending, as this will allow the conversation to flow more naturally and help you build a rapport.
Other things you need to do in advance of a careers fair include:
- update your CV.
- create or update your LinkedIn profile
- think of some questions you want to ask employers. Chelsea suggests asking questions about the skills and experience employers are looking for, what positions at the company would be a good fit for your degree/educational background and what the company culture is like.
Make a good impression
While you don't need to be in formal business attire, you're still meeting potential employers so looking smart and being organised helps make a good impression.
'Plan in advance how you will introduce yourself to potential employers and prepare an initial introduction that outlines your name, subject area and what you are looking for,' advises Morwenna.
In addition to how you look, think about how you behave. 'Approach employers with a positive, engaged and enthusiastic attitude,' says Chelsea. 'This will leave a lasting impression and will allow them to see you as a great addition to their team.'
Avoid walking around in-person events in groups or with a friend. You run the risk of being distracted and missing opportunities to talk to employers of interest to you. These events typically last a few hours and if there are a number of recruiters you'd like to speak with, time will be of the essence. You'll be more focused if you navigate the event alone.
To ensure you get a worthwhile amount of time with each employer you'll want to miss the crowds, so another good tip is to avoid attending at lunchtime as this is usually the busiest period.
Sort your online set-up
One of the main benefits of a virtual careers fair is how accessible they are as you can log on from home and work around lectures and other commitments.
If you're attending a virtual event the same advice about preparation and presentation still applies, you'll just have additional things to consider such as ensuring your technology is working properly ahead of the event.
Depending on the platform you will need to create a personal profile that gives employers some information before you meet them. This differs from physical events where they don't know anything about you until your approach. Take your time and think about the impression you want to give in your profile.
'In a virtual fair, you will be able to direct message and book brief meetings with the organisations attending. Reaching out to recruiters proactively during an online fair is important since you won't be able to catch an employer's attention in the same way as you might at an in-person event,' explains Morwenna.
Even though you're not there in person you still need to consider how you’re coming across to recruiters. 'Find a quiet location with a neutral background, where you won't be distracted by noise,' advises Chelsea. 'Ensure that you maintain eye contact and actively listen to the employer, this will show you are interested in what they have to say. Where possible, have a backup device in case of any technical issues and ensure your device is on charge.'
It sounds simple but taking notes during the event will prove useful. Whether the fair is held in-person or online make sure you have a notepad and pen to hand.
Careers fairs tend to be busy, and you'll often have a number of people to talk to in a short space of time. With that in mind it can be hard to remember the details when the event is over.
Once you leave an employer's stand take a minute to record your thoughts. Write down what you've learned about the organisation and your first impressions. Based on the information you received would you be happy working for this company? Also note down information such as opening dates for job applications or graduate schemes, entry criteria for roles, personal contact details and social media handles.
If you secure a job interview with an employer these notes could help with your interview preparation.
Follow up after the event
Making connections at a careers fair is a great start but what you do with them after the event is what really counts.
If you've had a positive conversation with a recruiter, remember to ask for their name and contact details. When you get home connect with them on LinkedIn and drop them a message or an email thanking them for their time and help at the fair.
'Reiterate your interest in their organisation and remind them of who you are,' says Morwenna. 'Emailing a company promptly after you have met them at a careers fair leaves a positive impression and reminds the contact of your interest in their organisation and opportunities.'
If the employers you spoke to suggested that you do something (such as send them your CV or contact details) ensure you do this promptly.
Most importantly take action - start those job applications or make a note in your calendar of when they open.
Find out more
- Search graduate jobs and view all graduate schemes.
- Learn more about getting a job.