Fairs and Other Employers Events

It's that time of year when you might be planning to attend a Graduate Fair to meet potential employers. It can be overwhelming for you and busy for the employers too. So how do you stand out in the employers mind at the end of their long day talking to many people?


It's the same question for autumn career fairs, employer presentations, or any other event you attend where you might be in front of your future employer. Also for any other chance you get to meet an employer. Some people might say "networking" at this point, though I see people grimace when I say that and I don't like it much either, so lets just get "network, network, network" out of the way then ignore the word, it's not needed.

It might even be a conversation with a neighbour's daughter your gran introduces you too. Or someone you meet and get talking to on a train. Or a visiting lecturer another lecturer introduces you to without warning - that's how I got a research post for a year. So always be prepared.

Whatever the scenario, here are my top tips for being remembered and also getting the most out of the opportunity in terms of helping your career goals.

  • Before the event do some research. You might turn up at a lecture as a completely blank sheet, ready to sit and be fed information. This is not the way to approach any chance to engage with potential bosses and colleagues. Engage is the key word. Think about what you want to find out and do some research so that you know the basics beforehand.
  • To emphasis that first point with an example. A student who gained an internship at a top tier Management Consultancy said that once he worked there and attended the few fairs that company attended, he could see why they only target three universities. He could see the difference in students at those universities over his own. The students already knew what the company did. Now, whatever you feel about the judgements made there, you are now "in the know" about the importance of showing you've done your homework!
  • As part of your research, empathise with the employers, think what their day will be like and what might be tedious for them to answer because it's been asked 100 times and is the first thing on their website.
  • Psychological preparation, see this as a transition from university to work.
  • Now take a breath. I'm not saying you have to know and remember hundreds of facts and making that shift from student to employee is daunting and so can feel surreal. Remember anyone presenting or on a fair stand is human, just like you. They might be nervous, they don't know everything, they also probably remember being a student. Be professional but still be humble and authentic, connect on a human level.
  • Be your own person, show confidence and initiative. Attend with your friends but visit the stands on your own, ask your own questions and don't just take the freebies.
  • If stuck for something to say, ask about that person's experience. Maybe ask about their best day or what most surprised them working there, what they like best? It shows interest and takes the pressure off you having to say much if they talk about themselves. But also, it's whatever will genuinely help to give you insight. When I've visited employers the ones which leave a good sense of the job or culture in my mind, are the ones where where they describe a challenging day or unexpected opportunity. If I were choosing an employer now those would really help me to imagine if I fitted. You might be different, so find your questions, but I think most of us relate best to stories.
  • TURN OFF your phone, or certainly don't answer it. This is especially important during a presentation of course. Although I say of course, not everyone seems to realise your phone going off during a presentation isn't good. I have known employers take the names of students who are on their phones, or talking to each other during presentations. Not because they want to hire those individuals!
  • Do you need to leave a presentation or event before the end? Arrive early and tell the presenter before they start speaking, so that they aren't thrown by you getting up to walk out. Sit somewhere you won't disturb others by leaving.
  • Thank whoever gives you information and advice for their time. Shake hands if it feels appropriate and don't over step the mark in terms of taking their time and attention. It's rarer to get this right now in this culture of students being customers. Of course the company has a motive for being there, but again it's a human being who is giving their time and energy. 
  • Follow up. If you are given a name or card you may not realise what gold dust this is. Very few students or graduates do and so too many miss an opportunity. They probably liked you, so don't waste that advantage! Follow up to let them know you are applying, to thank again for advice, or maybe to ask a further question. 
  • Finally, once you've prepared, get ready to feel excited and enjoy yourself. This is probably the best chance you'll ever have to meet such a wide range of potential employers there to talk to you! Go with enthusiasm, curiosity and an open mind, as you may just find your ideal match.

    Once a degree was no longer enough to stand out broader skills became important. Then academics, plus skills, plus experience. Oh and motivation and interest too. In my experience the 'cherry on top' of all that for a few years now, has been the professional behaviour of potential candidates. A fit for the expectations of your target employer - the kind of conduct they want you to employ with future colleagues, clients or service users. That is generally more important than grades.

    Because recruitment processes are mostly very automated they can feel anonymous and rigid. Yes, the idea might be to make the process standardised. But, there is still room for personal impact, more so in fact. There is still no ideal recruitment tool (or combination of) to guarantee selecting the best applicants and people still trust human judgement more.

    That means that someone you speak to may like you enough to jot down your name, look out for your application and push it through to the next stage. Good candidates can slip through the net and if this is you (particularly if you are a bit border line on one criteria) then a great impression at the fair may be what decides your future! 


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