How to make the most of careers fairs

Daniel Mason, Senior editor
August, 2016

Attending a careers fair is the only time you'll get to meet lots of different employers in the same place - here's how to make it a successful and worthwhile day

Catch representatives when they are fresh and keen to engage with attendees

Careers fairs provide an ideal opportunity to speak with representatives of organisations that you are interested in working for. You can discover companies you hadn't previously heard of and find out more about the sector you want to work in.

There is plenty of information available online about graduate schemes and jobs, but the chance to ask employers questions directly remains invaluable - you may even impress them enough to secure an interview. Attending fairs is also a great way to begin building a network of useful contacts.

While they are aimed primarily at final-year students who are ready to start making applications, they can also be beneficial for first and second-years looking to do some preliminary research into their options or find work placements.

Universities host careers fairs throughout the year, with most taking place in the autumn. Some are general; others focus on particular areas of employment such as law, engineering or IT. Search for open days and events to explore those that are relevant to you.

Preparing for a careers fair

You'll get more out of a fair if you spend some time preparing - for example by finding out which employers will be there.

'Check the website before you go and research the organisations that interest you,' recommends Annie Wallom, careers development adviser at the University of Stirling. 'The more questions you go armed with, the better.'

If you're nervous about approaching employers and starting a conversation, having a list of questions prepared will make you feel more comfortable. Not only that, but appearing knowledgeable about what their company does will leave a positive impression.

Don't forget to update your CV and print off a few copies to take with you. Learn more about how to write a CV and the common mistakes you should avoid.

What to do on the day

On the morning of the fair, think about what you're going to wear. 'You don't need to buy a suit for the occasion,' says Annie. 'However, fairs are definitely 'dress-up' events. Treat them like interviews; they could well lead to one. Some fairs are less formal, but making an effort to impress could set you apart from the rest.'

Aim to get to the venue in the morning in order to gain an advantage over your fellow students.

'The earlier you arrive, the more likely you are to get a reasonable amount of time with exhibitors,' explains Annie. 'Catch representatives when they are fresh and keen to engage with attendees.'

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.

It's then time to put your preparation into practice. Annie suggests that you give employers a brief introduction about your knowledge and skills, and develop a sound bite that will help you to get your key points across and show exactly what you have to offer.

'If you can back this up with a CV then you'll be sure to impress,' she says. 'Use your time to ask insightful questions that could give you an advantage later on in the recruitment process. You want to gather answers that provide good material for a covering letter or interview.'

For example, she advises asking about training, how staff success is measured and how the company stands out from its competitors. Try not to ask obvious questions that are answered on the company website, as this will indicate that you have not done your research.

Remember the basics: be polite, friendly and professional. Take notes on who you have spoken to and what you discussed, so that you can refer back to them later.

Following up your leads

'At the end of the fair you should have a better idea of the types of companies you would like to work for,' says Annie. 'Don't be afraid to follow up on any contacts or business cards you've picked up.'

Getting in touch with an employer after a fair to ask further questions is a great way to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the job. Now that you know more about the career you want to pursue, search for graduate jobs.

'The next step is to start applying,' says Annie. 'Many graduate schemes close very early, some before the end of October, so don't leave it too late.' Use information gathered at the fair to inform your answers to job application questions.

Another option is to access a virtual careers fair to connect with employers. These enable you to watch videos and presentations, as well as chat to company representatives online.