An age old traditional of graduate recruitment and universities/ college is The Careers Fair. The laps around the venue speaking with various employers, hoping someone will engage with you whilst picking up freebies and chocolates. Oh the Nerves! All whilst in the hope the fair will help you decide which employers you want to work for and that you may make some good contacts to help you secure a job.
How times have changed, careers fairs are reducing in frequency year on year, they are still alive, but certainly not the shining light they used to be. Both employers and students have different expectations and motivations for attending.
Students still use careers fairs globally to engage with potential employers and learn about their organisation, find out what it may be like to work for them and what they may be doing, all the while hoping to get a chance to leave an impression face to face. That one interaction can leave a lasting impression, of which you can’t get any other way.
Employers are looking forward to engaging with you, however expect a much higher level of engagement and questions than ever before. Don’t let this throw you off… read on and let Undercover Grad Recruiter help you understand how to perfect the art of Careers Fairs.
Careers fairs are competitive, but if you are well prepared, feel confident and know who you want to engage with and on what topics, it will go a long way to a successful fair.
We have listed below Undercover Grad Recruiters top tips for a careers fair that will take you places and yield results. Each section highlights the importance of preparation prior to attendance.
Preparation– Prep is essential… remember our preparation motto?!
You must ensure you consider a few different factors in your preparation:
- a) Which employers you want to speak with: With often over 70 + employers per fair, it is important you know who you want to speak with so you don’t wonder around aimlessly and waste valuable time. Prior to the fair, get the listing, choose employers based on the factors that are important to you (for help read the UCGR Blog) work out where the stands are positioned (this will be published for your prior) so you know where to head when you arrive.
- b) Understand what they do: Ensure you do all the research possible prior to the fair… the idea of a fair is not to ask the employer ‘what do you do’, it’s to ask questions that aren’t available on their website about the programs, development opportunities, application advice or discussions about current trending industry topics. Employers get frustrated answering the same basic questions about what the company does student after student. To stand out ask questions based on the topics mentioned above, for example: “Can you share with me the traits and competencies candidates require that you deem critical to success in your recruitment process?” (This will tell you what traits to focus on & display as well as what competencies they are measuring you on) or “What is the strategic direction of your company (use company name here) in the next 2-5 years? How could graduates help shape this future?”
You can find plenty of information about employers on their company website, but it’s also worth looking at other news, financial and industry publications, ask your networks, look on their social media pages and know their competitors.
- c) Be prepared to talk about yourself. Employers are going to ask you questions about you such as: What has brought you over to speak with us at XXX today? What are you currently studying and what line of work do you want to go into? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? How can XXX company help you get where you want to go in your career? Tell me about your work experience and how it has helped developed your customer service skills? It should now be clear that not only do you have to understand the employers, you need to ensure you are able to clearly vocalise points about yourself.
- d) Take your resume with you: Ensure you have a strong, tailored resume that you can hand around, (UCGR Resume blog). Don’t forget to have plenty of spare copies, you never know how many people may ask for it or how many extra employers you didn’t consider as interesting until you arrive.
What’s the ideal conversation sound like?
We can hear you screaming out to us saying- what do we actually talk about? Below we have listed a step by step guide on ideas and topics to talk about with employers. Worth noting is the average conversation only lasts a few minutes, so you must ensure you put your best foot forward.
Step 1- The hello, introduce yourself, make eye contact with a firm handshake and then ask for the name of the person you are speaking with & remember it.
Step 2- Tell them you are excited to be at the fair and have been looking forward to engaging with their company (use the company name) because you are passionate about the IT/ FMCG/ Consulting/ Telco industry (whatever your reason is).
Step 3- That leads straight into asking them smart, intelligent questions such as “ I saw in the Financial times last week that you are aiming to grow the business through the UAE region, can you tell me a little more about what’s involved in the expansion, time frames and how that may change the future of the business?” OR “I have heard about your competitor bringing out the new product XXX, will that have an effect on your business and are you looking to compete and develop something similar?”. These type of questions make you look engaged with the company, intelligent and well prepared… all the things we are trying to help you achieve. We strongly suggest not to ask questions like “What does your company do, exactly?” or “Do you have a graduate program?”
Step 4- Now you have had a little engagement, it’s time to ask about why they like working at the organisation, what the culture is like OR factual questions about their graduate program, such as what modules are included in your development sessions, can you tell me about some of the work your current or past graduates have been involved in and/ or are there any outstanding stories of what your graduates have been involved in or got to experience?
Step 5- By now surely the representative will have asked you a few questions about yourself (we touch on this later in the blog) to understand who you are and your drivers. If however they haven’t asked you anything you can let them know “I am currently studying a degree in XXX, I will be looking to apply for programs this year and want to pursue a career in XXX.
Step 6- This is the stage where you now ask for their contact details as well as provide your own so they remember you. The next topic of Networking will guide you through how to ask for contact details and what to do if you don’t get them.
Step 7- Be gracious, enthused and thank them for their time, let them know if you plan to apply and keep any eye out for your application.
Step 8- Move onto the next stand and repeat again with a big smile and driven nature.
Networking is a fundamental skill needed to transition from study to employment. It is about building and maintaining connections.
The word ‘networking’ definitely sounds scarier than it is or it is to do. Nearly all people are very open and receptive to helping and giving advice, especially to students. As recruiters and HR- it’s our job to network and liaise with you, you just need to ask.
Networking at careers fairs have a strong employer focus, with the main goal of getting employee representatives contact details and hopefully leaving your resume / cover letter for them to review and to remember you .
These are our simple steps of what to do and how to network at careers fairs:
- Approach the employer (hopefully this is one you have pre-planned to visit)
- Engage in conversation based on the points we mentioned earlier about ‘an ideal careers fair discussion’
- Express your interest in working for the company and then ask for contact details of the representative you are engaging with
- IF for example they say “sorry, we aren’t giving out contact details today”, don’t get dismayed, that’s ok. Ask them if they would be ok to connect on LinkedIn or if they have corporate social media pages you can use to engage. (Often people who say no will still connect on LinkedIn because it’s their choice to connect with you on LinkedIn, but it’s a corporate policy not to give out cards.)
- Irrespective of getting their details or not, offer your resume/ cover letter to them and write something personal on the top, after a long day and huge pile of resumes, you don’t want them to forget who you were. So what you need to do is ask them their name and then write something like this:
Thanks for chatting with me today,
Keep it really short and simple and hand it to them directly so they can see what you have written- make a point of ensuring they receive it themselves.
As we have already said, don’t be shy- it’s much easier to ask the above questions than you think and after all, that’s what careers fairs are for, as employers we are expecting you to ask.
Confidence & Enthusiasm both go a long way on the road to career fair success. Remember they work well hand in hand, be confident, well-spoken and charismatic- all whilst appearing enthusiastic and excited to every employer, even after 2 hours of meet & greets. Confidence can be hard to muster up and we appreciate it can be nerve racking… but you must do your best and as they say “fake it until you make it” by projecting self-confidence if you need to. Points to remember are to maintain good eye contact, smile, have a firm handshake and don’t just head to a stand to grab the free stuff.
Attire: Dress like you would for an interview in professional business attire. You will find a lot of students dress casually; you will stand out, be noticed and look professional in business attire. Ensure you don’t go with wrinkled shirts or ties, too much skin showing or dirty shoes.
International students: We appreciate that it’s hard for many international students to secure graduate and intern roles because of your visa. Prior to any fair we recommend to research the companies attending and see if they accept international student visas (or not), that way you won’t waste time talking to those companies who won’t accept your application. Often the fair schedule will also highlight who does and doesn’t accept student visas. Remember- if there is a company/ industry that you REALLY want to work for who doesn’t accept student visas, still go in and then ask them “I understand you don’t accept international student visas, however do you know other companies in your industry who do accept international student visas?” This may give you some surprising results.
What to say & what to ask: Careers Fairs are absolutely a 2- way engagement. The representatives are not there to be careers counsellors, they are there to engage and interact with students who know the steps they want to take next. Careers Fairs were originally developed to help students find out about what companies do, & what they have to offer… it’s developed a long way since then. For you as the student, it’s a chance to learn, but more so it’s your chance to leave an impression, network and leave your details in hope that someone in the recruitment will support your application because they have met you in person. For employers, it’s our chance to present ourselves and share information about our values, culture and industry focus with you. We also hand pick students that stand out to us- for those who leave an impression we will take your resume or contact details. If we have taken your contact details, most companies will follow through by tracking your application once you apply or potentially fast tracking your application. Please understand there is huge benefit to you here. Read on if you want to know how to leave an impression.
How to leave an impression– This is a coming together of many of the points we have already highlighted.
We asked a group of recruiters how students left an impression during a careers fair, this is what they said:
This is how to leave an impression! Remember these 5 rules of engagement and think /behave & engage like it’s your ONLY opportunity to leave an impression and get a foot in the door.
After the fair is the time you have to act on the engagements you had and networks you made. Start by making notes on what was discussed (these points are so easy to forget a few weeks later and if they are insightful points on the recruitment process, we’d presume you would want to remember them, right?), who you met, including names and if you had any feeling or decisions made about a company post the engagement.
From there, start reaching out to your contacts made. Send a follow up email thanking the person for their time and insightful/ helpful/ informative information. Let them know you are planning to apply and to feel free to reach out if they want any further information on you.
Remember: Just because employers take your resume at a fair, it doesn’t necessarily translate to an ‘inside contact’ or a job application, therefore following up allows recruiters / HR to keep you front of mind.
I don’t want to/ can’t attend careers fairs this year- so how else can I engage?
There are many other ways to engage with an employer that doesn’t include attending a careers fair. This can include attending campus events where employers are present or are hosting an event such as a resume workshop. We do suggest to be proactive and engage with your careers services to attend these events as the ratios are amazing (low number of students: high employer representative), this will give you a great chance to engage.
Virtual careers fairs are becoming more prevalent and the great thing is you can do this in the comfort of your home, it’s not as stressful, however you do lose the ability to make that personal connection. Never the less, it’s still another option to consider.
Engage on social media- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram are all popular platforms for employers. It’s a great way to ask questions, learn facts, information and understand processes.
That’s it folks! We have worked collaboratively with multiple Graduate Recruitment teams to help give you the best advice on this topic. Remember to prepare, be polished, display enthusiasm & drive.
Best of luck and go confidently.
UC Grad Recruiter.