5 ways to make the most of careers fairs

Emma Knowles, Editor
May, 2019

Careers fairs provide the unique opportunity to network with a range of employers at the same time. There's a lot to see and do at fairs, so make sure you arrived prepared to get the most out of them

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 and business.

While they're aimed primarily at final-year students who are ready to start filling out applications, first and second-years can benefit from attending careers fairs to get a head start on looking into their options, or to find work placements.

Search for open days and events and make a note of 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 recruitment staff - 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 if you're prepared you can significantly increase your chances at the application and interview stage, 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.

Consider the practicalities

On the day, dressing smartly is an easy way to make an immediate good first impression. '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,' Lizzie advises.

Annie Wallom, careers and employability consultant at the University of Stirling, agrees. 'Fairs are definitely 'dress-up' events,' she says. By putting in the extra effort and treating fairs like interviews, they may lead to one in the near future.

Aim to arrive early - you can often avoid the queues, and get to speak to recruiters before they get weary. That being said, getting there towards the end may prove more fruitful in gaining one-on-one time to talk with employers if you're attending a popular event.

Use a map of the fair to plan a route around the stands, to make sure you don't accidentally miss any - or end up walking in circles searching for a particular stand.

A notepad comes in handy too, Lizzie suggests, 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 when writing job applications 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.'

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 a University of York student met an NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) graduate at a life sciences careers event. She kept in touch, and 10 months later was starting the same job. The graduate arranged a visit for her at their hospital, giving her the insight to get 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. These are interactive platforms where you can chat, ask questions and make connections with employers, relevant groups and people who interest you. They're usually easy and free to join - all you have to do is sign up.

Using social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, is a great way to stay connected with potential employers as you go about your life.

Finally, check whether your university runs an alumni mentoring scheme. Graduates are often keen to help current students and can offer insight into how they got into their area of work.

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