Sinead O’Connor may not have covered this song (although the original is rather divine) but this is the topic of this post: graduate careers fairs, and how to make the most of your attendance there.
Yes, it is that time of year again. The leaves are changing colour, the nights are getting darker, and suddenly campus is a canopy of sound, resplendent with crowds of students weighed down with freebies. Careers fairs, however, are more than just a date in the diary and an opportunity to stock up on pens, notepads and coffee flasks. Careers fairs provide students with a unique opportunity to come face-to-face with firms and companies in a relaxing and informal setting, and therefore can help with future career planning. Spending an hour or two of an afternoon strolling around stalls carefully and taking notes will prove invaluable come application time (and believe you me, that will come around all too soon).
I opted to write about careers fairs today, as today actually marks Day Two of my university’s Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair. This runs across three days, covering different career sectors and practice areas, and as I was promoting the Fair on social media today, I was inspired to write about not only how you can make the most of the day, but why exactly you should go in the first place.
In a nutshell, attending these fairs is an essential step in planning your future career. The people you talk to, the information given, the questions answered and the interest taken: this all will assist you in gauging which firm, company etc. will truly suit you, what you desire to do, and your personality.
…I was inspired to write about not only how you can make the most of the day, but why exactly you should go in the first place.
You can meet recruiters and hear directly what it is that X firm or Y company is looking for. Moreover, if you have a good conversation in which you display enthusiasm and knowledge about the firm, chances are you will leave a positive impression, which will only stand you in good stead when you submit an application. (Remember that, as cliche as it may sound, you need to stand out from the crowd in an application. Should a recruiter remember your name and your interest, this can assist your application.)
In addition to meeting and engaging with graduate recruiters who can tell you about internship opportunities, deadlines, what they are looking for from a candidate etc., you may have the chance to meet trainees/recent graduate employees. They can give you an account of what it is like as a recent graduate and moreover, as a successful candidate. Reading graduate recruitment material and websites only gives you one side of the entire deal – talking to those who underwent the application process and are now working for the firm will give you the other side. This is important, because it will give you an insight into the work a graduate employee will be assigned and training afforded, whilst also hearing about the mentoring and social aspects. (I have noticed in recent years that many graduate employers are keen to stress a work/life balance, and like to talk about the socials which new graduate employees are encouraged to participate in. So do expect to hear about this.)
You will hear more about the industry, more about the market and will be provided with lots of information, hence the need to keep a clear head and take notes.
So, why should you even bother attending? This is a brilliant opportunity to see the graduate recruiters and trainees, and hear directly from them. Information comes to life when spoken, and when not confined to the website on your computer screen. You will receive tailored advice and answers to your questions, as opposed to generic answers under the ‘FAQ’ section of a website. And this will genuinely help you, whether in determining your opinion of the firm or in writing an application, I can assure you of that based on personal experience.
In sum: this is your chance to assess the assessors in the field of your setting. You can basically interview the graduate recruitment team present, and any graduate employees if they are present. Just as firms etc. determine your suitability with them, you can determine their suitability with your interests and goals via the careers fair. Seize upon that chance!
Well, you decided to sacrifice that lie-in and attend a careers fair. But the place is filled with students asking questions, with smiling representatives outside their colourful and freebie-laden stalls, and graduate recruitment brochures are everywhere. What now?
Without further ado, allow me to offer some tips regarding how to make the most of your university’s careers fair.
In sum: this is your chance to assess the assessors in the field of your setting. You can basically interview the graduate recruitment team present, and any graduate employees if they are present.
- Research is key: Okay, I know that going to the fair is research in itself. But if you want to impress the graduate recruitment teams, and be able to ask intelligent questions that are not answered on their website, you need to research before you go. If you know the basics e.g. the deadlines for applications and the application process, then you can delve right into a deeper, and more rewarding conversation.
At the very least, you should browse the employers’ websites and specific careers websites, and scan the news headlines prior to the fair to see what is currently undergoing in their sector (that’s commercial awareness at work right there.) Lastly, go to their respective stalls at the fair armed with questions and knowledge about what they do, and how they do it differently compared to others in the market.
Law students beware: please do not forget that firms and chambers are distinct from one another. (I was told once about a student who asked a member of an international commercial law firm’s recruitment team about pupillage opportunities…)
- Don’t do a white rabbit, plan ahead: you do not want to run late, nor do you want to miss talking to firms you are genuinely interested in because you did not plan your day properly. Time is limited and you are one of many interested students clamouring around stalls. It’s all about strategy and organisation! Find out in advance which employers will be there, prioritise visiting those you are interested in applying to, and take note of the opening times – be there as early as you can.
- Prep that CV: not all employers accept CVs, let alone at a careers fair. However, some many just do that, or at least glance over it. My advice is to ensure your CV is current and updated, and well structured so that you can easily refer to it if needs be. Also, some careers fairs run workshops during the fair itself, covering everything from interview and application advice to CV clinics. As these tend to be organised by employers themselves, it wouldn’t hurt to bring your CV along to avail of their services.
- Presentation matters: basically, you want to dress to impress, but that doesn’t mean wearing a suit – opt for smart casual. So no scuffed trainers or ripped jeans, please. If you look professional, this will boost your confidence, helping you start and then engage in conversation.
Presentation is about more than your clothes, however. Remember to smile when you meet graduate recruiters, channel your nerves into enthusiasm and confidence, and above all be mannerly and courteous. It helps if you have prepared a brief introduction about yourself, before you ask specific questions. Do not travel about in a pack of friends, because chances are you will potentially feel awkward engaging in a conversation with recruiters if your friends are not interested in that employer. It also creates the impression of you lacking independence!
- With pen and paper in hand: it is both useful and recommended that you take notes after each conversation. Not only will it serve as a reminder of provided answers and contact details, but you can also write honestly about how that particular firm made you feel. As you more from one stall to another, take some time to record your impressions:
What does the firm do that makes it stand out from the crowd?
Could you imagine yourself working there, and being content?
How would you be able to use your skills there? What training is provided?
How would you fit it?
- Follow-ups:You will most likely find yourself referring to the contacts you made when applying, or during interviews. Therefore it is vital that you follow-up on the conversations and contacts made during attending the fair. Always send an email to those who provided you with their email address – thank them for taking time to talk, for answering questions and providing information. Be polite and show an interest, and this means that you can cite this contacts in applications, knowing that they will actually know who you are.
Above all, do not be nervous! Whilst a careers fair is an important step of planning and researching future careers, it is also quite relaxed, so do try to enjoy the day. Remember that graduate recruiters are human, too! They have travelled out to universities because they genuinely think X university’s students are potential employees. They want to get to know you, and for you to know them. Therefore, as you move through the fair, simply be your good self on the day, and not who you think the recruiters want to see.