If you've just started at university you may have come across the term 'Careers Fair' already, more than likely, for the first time. It sounds like something that might be important, but should you bother going? What exactly is a careers fair? What happens and what should you expect? Should you be concerned with them in your first year at uni? Within this article we hope to make everything a bit more clear, so that you can make the most of careers fairs.
A careers fair gives you the opportunity to meet all sorts of employers and recruiters, each employer will have a stand where some representatives will be around to chat about the company and the roles they have available. It's important to note that careers fairs aren't just for careers after university, so if you're looking for any part-time work or internships whilst you study, they're a great place to look. Careers fairs are also a good place to get to know your university's careers service as they will usually be about on the day to let you know about local opportunities, and give more info on the services they provide. This neatly takes us into our first bit of advice:
Do your research:
Before you go to a careers fair, it helps to have a look at who's going and work out who you would be interested in talking to. Despite your preparation, stay open-minded and remember that a careers fair is a good opportunity to find out about new companies or opportunities that you had not considered before. Bear in mind also that it's not just employers who will be present at careers fairs, job boards like graduate-jobs will also be around looking to make your job search easier and careers fairs are a great opportunity to sign up!
Find a map:
If you weren't able to find a map showing the layout of stalls and employers prior to the event, make that No.1 in your priorities when you arrive at the fair. If necessary, pick up a map and take it aside to most effectively analyse it and work out who you want to visit. Even if you feel you've got a good idea about who you want to speak to, pick up a map and have a look at it, as there may be a stall that interests you which you missed during your initial research.
Think of questions beforehand:
Hand-in-hand with doing your research on who is attending and the stalls you may be interested in visiting - think of the questions you want to ask. You can ask general questions about the hiring process or company culture, or you could ask the representative at the stand about their individual experience with the company. However, in order to show your enthusiasm for a company or role, prepare specific questions about the role or recent news/developments within the company.
Make sure you listen:
This one may seem obvious but it can be overlooked with the heightened anxiety that comes along with a careers fair. In your rush to make sure all your questions get answered you may walk away from a stall realising that you didn't quite listen to everything being said. If it helps, you could bring a notepad with you to jot down key info so that you don't forget it. Try to avoid making notes while you're talking to someone at a stall as you won't be able to focus all of your attention on what they are saying.
Dress the part:
A careers fair could potentially be the beginning of a long relationship with your future employer, and first impressions count. Treat this initial meeting with this in mind; dress professionally, wear minimal make-up, maybe tie your hair up - channel the look that you would wear to an interview.
Act the part:
You want to come across as best you can, and a good impression will depend on how organised you are. If you've followed our previous advice, you should have done your research and prepared some questions so you can confidently hold a conversation with the employers you're eager to speak with. It may be helpful to prioritise the companies you are most interested in speaking to and approach these after you have 'warmed up' and spoken to others already.
At some point during your conversation with employees at stalls, it would be a good idea to ask for their name and work out what their position is within the company. When you apply for a role, you will often be asked what drew you to a role. Explaining that you met someone within the company at a careers fair who provided an insight into company culture or whatever it may be is a great way to stand out from your competition. It shows you had the initiative and confidence to get yourself down to a careers fair and the fact that you sought out that company shows your enthusiasm. Equally, if you sign up for graduatejobs during a careers fair, make sure you activate your account and upload your CV.
Attending a career fair for the first time can be a daunting experience, but the more prepared you are, the easier it will be and the more you will get out of it. Even if graduation and a career seem a long-way off for you, it is still a good idea to attend careers fairs and get an idea of the kind of company you would eventually like to work for or the roles you would be interested in. The earlier you start building connections, learning about the kind of experience you will be expected to have and determining the sectors you would like to work within, the better.