On Wednesday 19th March the University of London will be having its Spring Graduate Fair, at Senate House from 12 to 5pm.
The fair will feature up to 70 top graduate recruiters, training organisations, gap year alternatives, work experience and internship options. This will be a fantastic opportunity to meet employers, so to help you make the most of it here are some top tips:
Plan who you want to see
With so many exhibitors it will be impossible for you to have a meaningful conversation with all of them. Instead, you might want to figure out a priority list of which stands you want to visit. The Spring Graduate Fair website has information on all the exhibitors and a floor plan, so you could print this off and mark each table with a 1, 2 or 3 to indicate which are more important to you.
But remember, sometimes the best opportunities come from the least expected places and fairs are a great place to get talking to organisations you might not have thought about before. So although it is good to plan ahead, don’t just come along, see all your 1s and go home. Try to make some time to see a few of your 2s and 3s or to just have a wander around the other stands.
Throughout the day there will be presentations given by Careers Consultants and a chance to have your CV checked. So try and plan your time so that you can make the most of all the fair has to offer.
Also, although you’ll have your priority list, you might find that you cannot immediately get to talk to those you’ve marked as number 1. Often at careers fairs everyone will crowd around the larger, more well-known employers, particularly at the very start of the day. Take this time to do some browsing of other exhibitorss and see some of your 2s and 3s. If you come back to a stand when it is quieter, you’ll have more chance to talk properly with the recruiters there.
Manage your expectations
Careers fairs are information events. If you walk out with a job offer then that is great but it is unusual. Feel free to take along your CV just in case (there will be a chance to get it checked by a Careers Consultant anyway), but don’t expect to be handing it out to a lot of recruiters. Instead, use the event to gather information, do some networking and leave a good impression with the people you talk to. Think of this as a first step, the next one being the follow up (more on which below).
Make a good impression
Look presentable – smart/casual is the dress code for such events, but if in doubt it is better to be over-dressed than under-dressed.
For your number 1s, make sure you do a bit of research before the fair. Find out about the company itself but also catch up on the latest news and current affairs, particularly any stories that might be relevant to the employer. Showing your commercial awareness this way will help you to stand out more in the recruiter’s memory. For your number 2s and 3s, think of some general questions. Recruiters are people too, so asking how their day is going and if they have been very busy is a nice way to strike up conversation. And as you get talking smile, be polite and show that you are listening and engaged. Jotting down notes will show the recruiter that you are really interested in what they have to say, as well as helping you to remember conversations. And if someone gives you a business card make sure you keep it safe.
It is okay to attend the event with a friend, but don’t spend the whole time together. Having a one-to-one talk with a recruiter gives you a better chance of making yourself memorable. If you find the idea of approaching a stand on your own daunting, prepare a few ice-breaker questions in your head beforehand. Again, doing some research can help you feel more confident when it comes to striking up conversation. And remember the saying ‘fake it until you make it’, i.e. even if you don’t feel very confident, try to pretend that you are and no-one will know the difference.
A day or two after the event, take the time to email those you spoke to at the fair (this is where those notes and business cards come in handy!). Thank them for taking the time to talk to you, perhaps include something that helps them to remember you (‘I very much enjoyed our discussion on ___’) and reiterate your interest in their organisation. If you are not sure how best to compose this email, the Careers Centre can help you. By following up with recruiters after the fair it demonstrates that you have real interest in their company and it builds upon the favourable impression you would hopefully have begun to make at the actual event. That way, if in the future you need some advice or information on applying to that company, your contact might be willing to help you. And remember that when you make an application or get invited to interview, you can refer to this contact as someone who has inspired you, further showing your dedication to the organisation.