Careers fairs are an ideal platform for soon to be graduates to get a feel for the recruitment process and interact with prospective employers, which can be a highly valuable experience when made the most of.
After exhibiting at a number of career fairs now for graduate-jobs.com, I have come to recognise the varying attitudes of students that attend these fairs. With the autumn careers fair season about to kick off I thought I would share some of the weird and wonderful approaches I've witnessed.
1. "What's this all about then?" or "What can you do for me" … Is the approach never fails to astound me.
Not only can these kind of openings come across as under prepared and self-entitled, but also downright rude. Every careers fair that I have attended has provided a guide of some description detailing all the organisations that are attending as well as a short profile of each and the kind of roles they have on offer. If someone can't even be bothered to read this, why should they be considered for any kind role on offer? Imagine going to an interview and asking what they were all about… this will not make an employer want to hire you, you should have done your research.
Of course the companies that are at the fair want to fill their roles, but you need to sell yourself to them first, BEFORE they sell themselves to you. They do not owe you anything. Even if you are the perfect graduate, they still need to see if you are right for their company. Once you've made a positive impression they will be more than happy to go through everything with you and answer your questions.
As previously mentioned, careers fairs are a great way to start getting a feel for the recruitment process and how to conduct yourself, treat it as such and respect the employers that are giving you that opportunity.
2. The" I don't really know what I'm doing here so I will talk to everyone about everything" approach.
This can show a lack in preparation and ultimately won't be particularly useful to you. You'll walk away with a pile of flyers and your head swimming with information, but probably not much more of an idea about where you want to go after graduating. This is down to the fact that if you don't know what to ask the employers specifically to help you, they can only give you all or just general information.
It is perfectly understandable to not have your future career path fully marked off and a list of top companies you know you are desperate to apply for. However you should still take a look at the kind of organisations that are attending and try to align some the skills you have, or things you currently enjoy to what specific kind roles or companies require. This way you can still come across as organised and somewhat self-aware.
If you're really struggling when trying to figure these things out, make an appointment with your careers advisor leading up the fair so that they can help you be as prepared as possible.
3. The too eager "Please please take my CV I really want this job" approach.
Being so eager that you could be seen as desperate is also not a great way to present yourself to prospective employers. Taking CV's along is great and most companies accept them at fairs. But some don't, and if you try and force them into taking yours (it's happened trust me) only shows them that you don't respect their process and is unlikely to get you any consideration. Of course they want you to want the job, but you should get this across in a way that shows your consideration of why you are interested and why you think you would be a great fit instead.
If you really think that a particular industry or company is for you the best thing to do is express your interest as mentioned above, try and make a lasting impression and make sure you take away a business card or contact details so that you can follow up. When following up it is good to mention something that you spoke about on the day, but also add something new to the mix so that you can prove that you are knowledgeable about the company and area you wish to go into.
4. The being too terrified to speak to anyone approach.
Careers fairs can often be the first kind of interaction you will have with potential employers, everyone is there to do the same thing and almost employers will be friendly and welcome you over. Being shy or nervous is fine, but don't let that get in the way of utilising this opportunity. If anything see it as a great chance to start building your confidence, as you will then be more prepared for when you start getting interviews. The unfortunate fact is that if you come across too scared to speak to people at a careers fair and don't manage to get any real interaction, it is unlikely that companies will remember you, because they didn't really get to meet the real you.
5. The looking like you've just rolled out of bed approach.
Turning up fresh out of bed, playing sports or seemly hung over is not going to win you any favours. It shows that you haven't really thought about what you want from the day or that you aren't serious about making connections with employers. Although careers fairs are not as formal as interviews, you really need to consider your appearance when attending. You will be talking to professionals in your chosen industryand they have to imagine how you will fit into their companies and the roles required. Make it easier for them by dressing appropriately for the industry and showing that you made an effort for the day. If in doubt overdressing in this case is always better than underdressing.
How to actually approach a careers fair
The "Be prepared and know what you want from the day/employer" approach.
You should have done your research on the companies that are exhibiting and have a priority list for those you wish to speak to. Consider your outfit carefully and have a stack of CV's at hand, and ideally even have questions in mind to ask each employer on your list as well as materials to note down their responses. Take their information in order to follow up and show them why you're worth remembering.
It's really encouraging to see smartly dressed students that approach with a smile and a decent idea about what they want to get from the fair and ask thought out questions in order for them to make the most of the opportunity. Of course not everyone can have their job title and ideal companies list down at this point, but bringing your personality and expressing genuine interest and background research is certainly going to make a better impression that not even knowing what the company does.
Now, attend your fair and make that great impression. Don't forget to come and say hello to us at graduate-jobs.com too!