Careers fairs offer a fantastic opportunity to learn about the job opportunities that are out there even if job hunting isn’t a current priority, dropping by a jobs fair can still be of tremendous benefit to your future job prospects. It is rarely enough however to simply show up to have a wonder around; you need to attend fairs with a strategy.
One of my student jobs was working as a helper at the jobs fairs my University held, I was one of those guys that wondered around in the brightly coloured T-Shirts that announced I was there to answer questions. My task was not just to give directions but also help the job seekers work on their strategy for approaching the employers.
I quickly noticed there was a big divide in the amount of preparation students had depending largely on what course they studied; some courses it seems really prepare their students for the job market and job hunting, whilst others left it up to students to find independently. If you are unlucky enough to be in this second category the chances are you could be finding yourself feeling really quite lost at jobs fairs. If this is you, here are a few tips to point you in the right direction.
Why do I need to attend careers fairs?
It’s surprising how many students you meet that just delete the emails reminding them of upcoming careers fairs, not realising how important they can be. Careers fairs are useful for a number of reasons.
- Even if you’re not looking for a job yet, or think you already have a job in mind, a wonder around a careers fair is a great way to get an idea about the kind of work that is available, it might give you new ideas for your future and help you get a better idea of what the different industries are all about. It is also never too early to learn about the application process, many jobs and graduate schemes have really long application processes so you might have to start this sooner than you think.
- Once you are looking for a job, a careers fair gives you a chance to speak to an employer face to face, giving you an opportunity to make your application one they will remember when going through the many, many applications they are likely to receive. Meeting someone face to face will always make a stronger impression than just emailing in an application form.
- Meeting employers can give you a better idea of what working for a company will actually be like, are these the kind of people you would get along with, does this job fit with the kind of life style you want to lead. Your job is going to have a major impact on the rest of your life; you want to make sure you choose a job that is right for you.
- There are lots of opportunities to gain application advice, most universities careers fairs will set up a stall to do C.V. checking and mock interviews, employers will sometimes give you tips about what there company is looking for, you can also network with other job seekers and give each other help and support with application processes.
- You can sometimes get really cool freebies from employers.. I got a frizbee once!
What strategy should I use at career fairs?
Once you are at the stage where you are actively looking for a job, you need to do more than just show up and have a look around, you need to form a strategy to make sure you’re getting the most out of every fair and the employers are getting the most out of you.
- Choose the right careers fair, don’t just look at your nearest careers fair, but also check out what’s happening in surrounding cities. The big careers fairs are often all visited by similar big employers who you might not necessarily be interested in. Look out for careers fairs that focus on your industry as these can be far more useful to you. Some smaller industries, such as the charity sector are seldom seen at the big careers fairs as they can’t always afford to, but careers fairs aimed at charities will often have discounted the exhibitor’s fee so be on the lookout for these.
- Research the employers online in advance, most careers fairs will advertise who is visiting the fair, so work out before the day who you want to speak to, then read up on them as much as you can so you know exactly what you want to ask, this will also really impress an employer, showing that you’re a serious candidate.
- If you decide to speak to an employer you haven’t researched, you should be able to learn quite a bit about them from the literature they’ve bought with them, as well as their banner stands. Try to skim all this whilst you’re queuing to talk, it will help you work out the questions you want to ask, as well as ensuring you look like you know what you are talking about.
- A lot of careers fairs are really busy, so once you get there work out the best order to visit employers. Prioritise the ones you really want to see to make sure you fit them in, but also leave time to just wonder around in case someone new has an elaborate display stand that catches your eye. They may be representing a career that you hadn’t previously thought of.
- You won’t have long to talk to an employer, so prepare a pitch to sell yourself to them concisely. A good first impression can really help your chances, but you need to think of something unique to say, everyone will tell them they are “hard working,” what makes you different? If you are a bit unsure about your pitch you can always practice it on employers you are less interested in first. As well as what you say take care of how you look, business dress will never go a miss, and if you take notes in a smart note book and have a business card to swap you will seem well organized and professional.
- Some employers will take resumes, so bring them along to leave behind; if you know which employers you are interested in in advance you can target some especially for them. Remember if you need help with your C.V. many careers fairs will have people that can help you with this.
- Be proactive and follow up on conversations you have with employer yourself, see if you can get some contact details, then a few days later thank the employer for their time remind them why they want you and maybe ask a follow up question, keeping you in their mind.
Attending careers fair can really help point you in the right direction when you are deciding what it is that you want to do with your life, then once you have a plan they are a spring board towards achieving it. Don’t be one of the many people who over look this opportunity; this is a vital tool that can make the job hunt a lot easier.
Ewan Cambell MacDougall left behind the bright coloured T shirt of being a careers fair helper years ago, and is now a professional blogger working with Nimlok who create some of the more elaborate booths you might see at a jobs fair.
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