Graduate careers fairs are the perfect opportunity for students to meet employers, discover more about their target industry, as well as search for work experience and graduate roles.
According to a 2015 report by the HECSU (Higher Education Careers Services Unit), over 75% of students attend graduate careers fairs.
The survey revealed that the alternative ways graduates found their first jobs were through: recruitment agencies (18.8%); personal contacts and networks (18.7%) and employers’ own websites (17.7%).
“These events can sometimes feel a little overwhelming so it is vital that students prepare beforehand by researching the employers who will be in attendance, identifying who to talk to and planning an introduction technique and questions to ask.
At employer events time is limited so the key to successful networking is having a strategy in place.”
How to prepare for graduate careers fairs
Before you arrive, think about the following:
- Location & travel
- Arrive on time
- A clear plan
- Copies of your CV
Research – as the report states, research beforehand is essential for you to get the most out of attending graduate careers fairs. Look up the list of attendees and do some online research about your target companies, take notes and bring these with you.
Location & travel – make sure you know in advance exactly where you are going and how long it will take.
Arrive on time – it’s always good to arrive early as it will give you a chance to speak to employers before the fair gets very busy. Seminars and presentations can fill up quickly so be early if you want to get a seat.
A clear plan – how long will you spend at the fair? Which employers do you want to speak to and what questions will you ask them?
Copies of your CV – keep them in a folder so they are crisp and neat, employers will keep a copy if they are particularly impressed by you.
What to wear
In terms of clothing, avoid fussy clothes, wear comfortable shoes and be generally presentable with neat hair and nails.
Dress how the people in your target company dress. It’s always better to be overdressed than under dressed. For men, it’s a suit and tie. For women, a trouser or skirt suit or a dress.
At graduate careers fairs the idea is to create the impression that you will easily fit in to their company, dress as though you already have the job.
- Walk with purpose – a confident stride
- Firm handshake
- Good level of eye contact not too much and not too little
- Put extra bits in the cloakroom so your hands are free
- Stand tall
- Avoid crossing your arms when speaking to people
- Mirror their body and how they’re standing
- Nod your head to show you are listening
- Shoulders back rather than hunched
Be aware of how you come across to other people and make sure your body language is reflecting confidence and warmth.
Introducing yourself & speaking to employers
- When you introduce yourself, be polite
- Actively listen – nod your head and pay attention. Write notes if appropriate.
- Ask open questions rather than questions which have either a yes or no answer.
- Be genuinely interested, don’t forget to smile and be warm. People like to feel valued and listened to.
- Show you’re listening by saying “I see” “yes” “ok” and “I understand” even “that’s interesting” “please tell me more about X”
- At the end of your conversation make sure you say “great thank you so much for your advice.”
Top tip – it’s not all about you. Remember, ask what the employer/recruitment professional is looking for in a candidate and how you can add value.
Take notes on what you have learnt at the graduate careers fair as you can use this information in a future interview, e.g. note down the name of the person you spoke to or the good advice you were given.
Follow up. If you were given a business card or email don’t forget to follow up.
Evaluate. Take a moment to think about whether you would fit into your target company, finding a graduate job is a two way process so take time to evaluate your options and choose what is right for you.