6 Ways not to be a dick at Careers Fairs

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Careers Fairs are going to start appearing on a campus near you.

You might have one or two in spring or summer and you'll definitely have at least one in the autumn term. If you've not had chance to experience one of these jamborees of jobs here's the breakdown: Loads of employers pay your university a small fortune to come to campus to poach and impress graduates to apply to work for them.

This is a relatively simple concept and here at graduate-jobs.com we attend as many careers fairs as any other company, up and down the UK. While we're there to sign people up to graduate-jobs.com we effectively have the same purpose for being there, which is to interact with you interested and enthusiastic, soon-to-be graduates. We, graduate-jobs.com and other employers, are there to encourage you to apply for positions on our site or at our company.

This is not a rant but a helpful piece of advice for approaching careers fairs at your university and here it is: Don't be a dick. Many students and graduates approach Careers Fairs as wanting to be invisible and skirt through unnoticed, pocketing a freebie and looking from afar. What a waste! While others will approach the Careers Fair with the attitude of nipping in for 20 minutes, bag myself a graduate scheme place and in the pub by 11:30am. Both as wrong as can be. Here are 6 rules and scenarios to ensure you're not being a complete dick at Careers Fairs...

1. Dressed to depress...

This is top of the list as it is the first thing that becomes apparent to all of us before someone opens their mouth and this includes graduate employers and you at Careers Fairs. Our American Cousins over the pond take Careers Fairs a damn sight more seriously than us over here. In the US of A you are expected to turn up to these things fully suited and booted like you were going for an interview itself. This is the case for some of the Finance and Banking type of Graduate Fairs over here too.

I personally would consider this slightly overkill for the fairs. Employers rarely think "this guy's come in a suit - they must mean business..." rather it's a Careers Fair, not an interview. However, this alludes me away from my point - you have to still get dressed. I know that university-chic is looking like you're in your pyjamas, dolled up to the nines in your Sports Teams garb or clothes that ooze an eau de vomitte theses are also not acceptable.

The amount of people that approach the stand looking ready for bed or like they've not been to bed is not going to impress employers and while they're not dishing out job offers on the day, they're not going to give you the time. As for wearing your Sports Team gear, nobody cares and nor do employers.

2. Research

What can you do with 15 minutes? Make a cup of tea? Watch a bit of something on your laptop? Or spend 15 minutes researching which employers are exhibiting at the fair and looking into who you might like to talk to. Spending as little as 15 minutes, and I mean that's little you should do more, will mean you're leagues ahead of the less of the ignorant students shuffling round. Otherwise you can find yourself approach the stands like an embarrassing parent, boldly proclaiming "What's all this about then?"

Careers Services at universities often publish their list of exhibitors long before the Fair and if you spent 15, 20, half an hour scanning the list and spotting someone like the Civil Service were attending. Then taking the time to look into what they're offering you'll be ahead of the crowd and your marketing action plan of making the most out of the Careers Fair.

3. Filling your boots

Much like Fresher's Fairs, Careers Fairs can be a goldmine for those scavenging students. It's freebies galore at Fresher's Fairs and Careers Fairs are becoming increasingly similar. Just scanning through the stands and tables at these things graduates can pocket a year's worth of pens, notebooks, sweets and other branded tat.

Just approaching stands because they've got some great giveaways will make you look like a dick. I've had personal experience of this when we have gone for the evergreen and easy approach of giving away little bags of Haribo and students, bold as brass, have interrupted me when I was speaking about graduate-jobs.com and said "I just wanted some sweets really", then took a bag and walked off. Grade A dick behaviour.

4. Suspect opening gambit

Now you're there and looking like you've made an effort, if not at least got dressed. But the day is all about meeting people and saying hello to employers and learning more about their schemes. Graduates need to have a good opening line. This is pick-up school for employers but you need to be able to chat to them without sounding like a lobotomised zombie.

So, how do you say hello to an employer? We've mentioned approaching like a stand with something along the lines of "What's going on here then?" is a terrible way to go. While graduates thinking employers are there to sell to them is also not the way forward. The exchange needs to be mutual. Graduates need to offer themselves and their skills to that specific company. An ideal opening gambit may include what you're interested in or what you like about the company. Employers want to see you take an interest and they will take it from there. Turning up with a "go on then..." attitude will undeniably make you look like a dick and I only say this because people do.

5. Great expectations

Following on from your opening gambit it's a broader approach that is required to make Careers Fairs worthwhile. Students and graduates need to be able to interact with employers and listen to what they've got to say. Many students do, it sounds horrible to put into words, approach employers with the opinion of because employers are there on campus all students need to do is just listen and make a decision.

This is not the case. Students need to be forthcoming with employers and make the effort to learn more not just stand there and expect a pitch for why they should apply to Deloitte not KPMG or Babcock not Mott McDonald. Careers Fairs are a two-way process not just a pitching frenzy. Graduates should have no expectations when approaching graduate employers except an understanding of what they do and what they offer and they should tease out the information they need and the gaps they need filling.

6. Personal Brand Pitch

After chatting to employers and hearing about their schemes and opportunities, students need to be ready to give something back. One thing that is rarely acknowledged among students is that the people visiting campuses across the UK are often the same people that will be reviewing your applications in the coming months - so it's best to impress.

One way to do this is to have your personal brand refined and be ready to deliver a knockout 20 second pitch about yourself. Even creating your personal brand pitch before hand is important and will help you focus your approach to the entire Fair anyway. But it is even more vital that you are ready to deliver a sharp and succinct summary about yourself before you go on. The benefits for your long term are also there, if it's good enough and you leave a lasting impression with employers when they see your name crop up later it will only benefit you in terms of the application process.

Forget printing out your CV 50 times and pressing your suit for when the Careers Fair wagon rolls into your campus, but think about how you will approach and interact with the exhibitors instead. All too often students approach Careers Fairs as a freebie free-for-all and an Advertising frenzy for companies. But students should remember these are really scouting missions for companies to assess the talent at your university and would not be there if they were not considering potential employees from that institution. Don't be a dick at careers fairs, but seize the opportunity to learn more and impress employers.