The chances are, that if you are university educated your institution will have a careers fair event (often called the ‘milk round’).
At career fairs, representatives of companies with graduate recruitment programs will attend to try to pick up the best and the brightest.
These events are becoming more and more popular, even outside of universities. There may be sector or geographically based careers fairs that are open to experienced individuals in addition to new graduates.
The companies will generally try to make their stands, and their company, look as attractive as possible so come prepared to collect plenty of branded pens and notepads, information booklets, and so on.
In the days before the credit crunch these events were seen as a bit of a jolly both for the people attending to represent their company and by the students themselves – a chance to enjoy some free food and wine, have a laugh and get to know some people.
These days, with the cost of university being so high and with a limited job market it makes sense to treat your attendance at a careers fair as anything but a jolly.
Look at it as a serious opportunity to get to know the firms with the best opportunities in your area and impress the people who matter.
Why Go To A Careers Fair?
As we have already mentioned, career fairs these days are about so much more than the freebies.
If you are an undergraduate, attending your institutions fair will prove an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the different sectors recruiting from your specialism.
If you are not sure about what you want to do after your studies, try to attend one of these events as early as possible in your time at university. That way, you can find out about the potential opportunities available to you.
The following year you can attend again and use your second visit to home-in on potential employers in your chosen field.
Of course, if you already know which sector you are interested in then you can skip straight to the ‘second’ visit.
The companies whose stalls you visit will be able to provide you with information about their hiring schemes including how to make your application.
You will also have the opportunity to ask questions about what it is like to work there.
Before You Go
Try to get a copy of the schedule for the fair along with a floor plan showing where all the different companies will be.
They are often, but not always, grouped by sector.
If you are attending to find out more about the different types of job available to you make sure that you visit at least two different companies in each area.
This will give you a reasonably balanced view on what they are looking for and whether or not it is the type of work for you.
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If you already know what type of work you want to do use the plan to work out how many companies in the relevant sector will be attending the fair.
Once you have the names, take the time to do a little bit of background research, such as; are they well regarded in their field, are they doing well or have they been cutting jobs recently and use this to identify the 5 or 6 key companies you want to talk to.
Most fairs will also have a schedule of free talks and events. These typically range from how to write your CV to interview tips.
Having the schedule in advance will allow you to pinpoint the ones you want to attend so that you don’t end up missing the ones that will be of the greatest benefit to you.
Practise Your ‘Elevator Pitch’
An elevator pitch is a short speech about you.
It is designed to give a great deal of information in a short space of time (i.e. it should take no longer than a ride in a lift).
The introduction should cover who you are, what you are looking for and your unique selling point, how you can be valuable.
Preparing and practising this introduction ahead of time will allow you to introduce yourself effectively and sound polished and professional when you meet people.
Prepare Your Resume
Very few companies take in resumes at career fairs but you never know when an opportunity will present itself.
It makes sense to be prepared and ensure that your resume is up-to-date.
Print copies and put them in plastic folders to keep them clean and crease free, this means that you have some to hand if needed.
If you are attending a non-university fair you should bring business cards with you in addition to your resume.
How To Use Your Time With Each Company
Most companies attending career fairs will staff their stalls with a combination of HR and some of the more junior employees.
You would be unlikely to meet a senior director or partner at one of these events although it has been known to happen.
You will, hopefully, already have done some basic research into the companies in which you are most interested.
This will allow you to appear more knowledgeable than people who just wander along to the stand, it will allow you to ask targeted questions which will maximise the benefit of your time at the stand and, of course, create a good impression.
‘I understand that you have recently expanded and are marketing your widget line in South America, will this have an impact on the background skills of graduates you are looking to hire? I speak Spanish and would welcome an opportunity to use it at work’.
‘Do you hire language graduates?’
The representatives you speak to will, almost certainly, hand over their business card, make sure that you keep it because this really does provide an excellent opportunity to create a positive impression.
The people who attend these fairs will speak to literally hundreds of people in one day and the chances are that no matter how impressive you were you will become just another face in the crowd, the business card is the way around this.
Most people who attend the fairs will collect the cards and think no more of them.
Don’t fall into this trap of complacency, instead write an email to each person you spoke to thanking them for their time.
You should also try to connect with them on LinkedIn.
The chances are that you will meet one of the attendees again in the event that you get an interview with the company and it always helps to have a familiar face.
What To Wear
You will want to strike a happy medium.
If you are attending a university career fair you probably do not need to wear a formal suit but you should avoid jeans and a t-shirt.
Smart casual is the safest bet, just make sure that everything is clean and tidy, your shoes are shined, your teeth flossed and that you feel comfortable.
If you are attending a non-university fair you should either wear a suit or something just a little bit smarter than the clothing considered normal in your industry.
Bring a bag that will carry A4 size promotional brochures so that your arms are free to shake hands when you meet people.
Do’s and Don’ts
Now you are almost ready to attend and make the most of the fair here are some other points to bear in mind.
- DO make notes. After just a few stalls the answers people give you will start to merge into one. Making notes will help you keep them all straight in your mind. Key points to note include their answers to your questions, how approachable they were and so on.
- DON’T write while people are talking to you. It can appear rude and make you look distracted. Instead, wait until you have finished talking to someone and then move somewhere a little quieter to write up your notes.
- DO visit the fair with friends so that you can compare your impressions of different employers. You may also be able to divide up the interesting lectures between yourselves and share notes so that you cover more in the day.
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- DON’T visit stalls in a large group. It looks as though you are treating the fair as a ‘jolly’ and like you lack the confidence to do anything alone. If you have to wait a few minutes to speak to someone take the time to speak with another person in the queue or revise the questions that you want to ask.
- DON’T bring your parents. It is great that they take an interest in your life and they may have driven you to the fair but work is something you have to do for yourself. Park them at the café or give them a list of companies that you may not be able to get to visit and ask them to collect the information brochures for you.
- DO arrive early and visit your top companies in the early part of the event. Representatives get tired and cranky, they say the same thing over and over again and often have to stand for a long period of time. Get to them before they get jaded!
- DON’T visit your number one company first. Even if you are a career fair veteran it can take a little while to warm up and perfect your elevator pitch and questions. Try and visit a few other companies first before going to the one you are most interested in.
- DO greet people with a firm handshake and an easy smile. No one likes a ‘wet fish’ handshake.
- DON’T crush the recruiter’s hand. They are shaking hands all day and are probably sore enough already.
- DO attend a social such as a company buffet or drinks if you are invited along.
- DON’T get drunk or behave boorishly, even if the company representatives are letting their hair down.