How to get the Best out of Careers Fairs
Whether you know exactly what career you want, or you are unsure and want to see what’s out there, careers fairs can be the perfect place to find out more about an industry, employers and job roles. Some may be industry-specific, whereas others may host a variety of businesses, but all careers fairs are home to exhibitors who want to meet you. Whether you’re a jobseeker, or just want to network and learn more about a particular field, read our top tips for getting the most out of careers fairs.
Firstly, prepare a brief ‘elevator pitch’. This should be a short introduction including who you are, why you’re here and what you do/want to do; for example, your qualifications/degree, what you are currently working on, and what you are aiming for, or your areas of interest. But keep it short and sweet!
Find out how to do an elevator pitch here.
Do your research
Think about why you want to attend and what you’re hoping to get from the event. Are you hoping to explore different career options? Are you hoping to get some advice for your CV? Or are there a few employers attending that you’d really like to speak to? Write a list of objectives.
Research employers before you attend. What sort of company are they? What are their main products/services? Who are their key competitors? Are they hiring at the moment? This will ensure you don’t ask obvious questions and you make the most of your time, and theirs!
Scan the media and know any relevant news that’s happening in the field e.g. recent product launches, company acquisitions or mergers, environmental issues. This could be a useful conversation starter and will show employers that you are genuinely interested.
By coming prepared with questions, the employer can see that you’ve done your research, that you’re keen and can use your initiative. It can also help you to open the conversation. Questions could include:
What skills/ qualities are you looking for in a potential employee?
Do you require previous work experience? If so, in what areas?
How can I make myself stand out on an application form?
What are some entry-level positions for a career in this industry?
Where can I find out when you are recruiting?
What to take with you
Bring a few copies of your CV. There could be a CV workshop where you could pick up tips on improving your CV. Or employers could be collecting them for their records. It is also a good reminder of your skills and achievements when you are talking to different companies. (Also, remember to have a GDPR statement on your CV e.g. I give permission for this CV to be kept on file and distributed for employment purposes).
A notepad and pen could come in useful – particularly if you are going to any seminars or workshops. It is also a handy place to write down questions you may have for employers.
If you have business cards, bring them. Not only are they good to hand out to the exhibitors, but you may meet other interesting people attending that you’d like to keep in contact with.
Take a small bag. Try not to carry around a bulky bag as it can be busy at the fair, but it can also look unprofessional. You need a free hand for shaking hands with people too!
Dress appropriately. You don’t necessarily need to go suited and booted, but you should understand what may be expected of your industry and dress accordingly – for instance, a media careers fair may be slightly more casual (but still tidy), whereas a science careers fair may require formal clothes. Show that you are taking this seriously.
Plan ahead of time
Plan your time effectively so that you don’t miss anything! Firstly, check the start and end time of the event. Is there a programme of talks and are there any that you’d like to attend? Plan who you want to talk to, so you have enough time to see everyone.
Work out your travel arrangements beforehand so that you can be on time. (Food can also be expensive at careers fairs, so plan for this too!)
Try to arrive early. You don’t want to be rushing around and feeling flustered when you want to make a good impression! Also, you will catch the employers before they tire or have met hundreds of people, so they’ll be feeling fresh and ready to chat.
At the Fair
First impressions count
When speaking to an employer, make sure you:
Maintain good eye contact
Smile – be enthusiastic!
Be prepared with your questions and make the most of the short time that you have with the employers.
Be ready for questions that the employer may ask you. These could include:
What do you know about us?
Why would you like to work for us?
What skills do you think you could bring to our company?
Why do you want to work in this industry?
Treat every conversation like an interview
Although a chat at a careers fair can feel quite conversational and casual, make sure you remain professional and leave a positive impression with the employer.
If you feel nervous, it might be worth speaking to a few other companies that you may be interested in before the main employers you’re there to see. This will give you the chance to warm up and build your confidence.
Speak to people by yourself
Although you may have come to the fair with friends, you will get more out of it if you go around by yourself. It’s more professional and will show employers that you want to give them your full attention.
Be sure to get the name and contact information for the person you spoke to, rather than just a general email address for the company.
Talk to other students/ visitors at the fair – they may be good contacts for the future. You can also ask whom they have spoken to and what they got from it.
Make it worthwhile
Try to make sure you benefit from every careers fair you attend. Have you spoken to everyone that you wanted to? Have you learned anything about yourself and the career direction you might like to take? Have you made a couple of useful contacts?
Make notes on any key information you got from the experience. Which companies did you like? Which sectors suit you? Did you learn anything about yourself? Did you learn anything about networking?
Add any contacts into your address book, or on LinkedIn.
A couple of days later, send a follow up thank you email to any contacts you made. This is a matter of courtesy but also brings you front of mind. We guarantee you will be in the minority doing this, so it reinforces your interest and helps you stand out. Start by saying it was nice to meet them, thank them for chatting with you and explain why it was useful to you. Try to refer to a topic you spoke about at the fair to remind them who you are. Add any questions you want to ask.
You may not end up with a job lead at the end of the fair, or even a few months afterwards. But you could make some important contacts and build some good relationships with people in the industry, who could help you for many years to come. That could be introducing you to other people, or just offering some great advice! You’ll also need these skills of approaching and talking to new people in virtually all lines of work and in life, so it’s a great opportunity to start practising and getting used to it.