Career fairs have been a regular feature of careers programmes for decades. They are very much part of the ‘careers furniture’ of a school or college – even pandemics don’t stop them happening – many of them have moved online, as you may have experienced! How many of you attended a virtual careers fair over the last 2 years, either through school or through another organisation?
It can be very easy to assume that students know how to make the most out of careers fairs as they happen so regularly. This blog will try and demystify the process a bit more, so that you know what to do and what to expect.
First things first, why do careers fairs even exist? There are a couple of reasons. Your college or school know that as students, you don’t get to talk to many employers, universities or colleges that often. And they know that having these conversations can be really helpful for you in planning your future. You should be able to find out some really interesting things about what a career or course involves, routes in and what different employers or universities are looking for in applicants. You may well be able to find out about opportunities for summer work or volunteering too. Those employers coming are actively choosing to offer their help and advice. They won’t want to stand there and not have people to talk to, so this could be a great way to find out more!
Before you attend its worth thinking through what you want to get out of attending. Are there particular employers or universities you know you want to talk to? Why not spend some time looking at their website, to find out what they do and what roles you’d be more interested in? You will come across a lot better if your first question is NOT ‘so what do you do exactly?’. There’s nothing wrong with having some question already written down. And depending on what year you are in, it might be worth having your CV ‘refreshed’ before the fair. Why? If you are looking to get some experience in the summer or to apply for an apprenticeship after GCSE’s or A levels, following up the conversation with an email and your CV will be a great way to ‘carry on’ the conversation with someone. And no, this won’t be seen as you being pushy! If you need help with writing this type of email or your CV do ask in school or college. Employers will actually be really impressed if you can do this, you’d be surprised how little it happens, even at universities careers fairs. And if you know a sector or employer that you want to work for, do mention it to the staff organising the fair. They will like to hear suggestions of student want to see there.
It is also worth thinking through how you want to make a good impression. So for instance, making eye contact, having a firm handshake, asking questions that are informed, ensuring it’s a two way conversation and building on what other students have asked. Fairs can be noisy and busy, so you may not get long with each employer though! It might be worth getting there early or timing it to go in the second half, when it may get quieter. Some schools and colleges will have ‘quiet times’ during the fair. These are set up so that students who would get more out of the event whilst its quieter can go. There are a range of reasons why, from students with hearing issues (cutting out the background noise really helps!), to students who might be anxious or who are on the neurodivergent spectrum who’d appreciate a less busy environment.
So, practically speaking, there are a range of top tips to bear in mind too,
Go in prepared, what do you want to get out of the event?
Don’t be shy about talking to people there – they have come to talk to you!
Be confident about asking what you want to know – what do they look for in applicants? What skills/experience would make you stand out? Are there universities they actively recruit from?
Get their email address/linkedIn details and follow this up with a thank you email/message.
Many of these tips will work in a virtual environment too. As Covid becomes more ‘lived with’, many virtual events are likely to stay. Mainly because they can be easier to attend, can attract more people and involve less setting up. If you are going to a virtual fair there are a couple of things to be aware of. Do have your camera on – employers like to see who they are talking to, as do most people! And if your camera is on, do make sure you look smart. Also, make sure what the camera can see is ok too and not facing a window!
We hope some of these suggestions have helped on how to make the most out of careers fairs. Would you like to know more? This link is a good one https://www.prospects.ac.uk/careers-advice/getting-a-job/5-ways-to-make-the-most-of-careers-fairs, as is this one https://targetjobs.co.uk/careers-advice/finding-a-job/how-make-most-graduate-job-fairs.
And lastly, do remember that finding the right university course or career can take time. Spending time talking to employers and universities at fairs will be a great way to kickstart the process!
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