Graduate careers fairs (also known as job fairs or graduate recruitment fairs) are a useful tool for students and new graduates; they can offer valuable insights into a range of industries and organisations.
They are also a great opportunity for companies to source and recruit the best candidates.
A careers fair is usually a one-day event that is free to attend. It is a networking opportunity connecting potential employers with prospective employees.
You might also find independent recruitment agencies at a careers fair.
Universities and colleges often organise annual careers fairs. Others are externally organised, or even held online.
Organisations will have personnel available to speak to, usually from their human resources team. You can ask questions about the company, work culture and what graduate jobs or training schemes they offer.
You can also find out about the application, interview and recruitment process. You should prepare to answer questions about yourself as well.
Some organisations interview potential job candidates at a careers fair, though this isn’t always the case. You should make a good impression but you don’t need to pitch yourself unless they invite you to do so.
A few careers fairs will have scheduled talks – either from the companies attending the fair or the organisers themselves.
You might find the talks beneficial, as they are often on graduate employment-related topics, such as:
Some fairs may offer CV clinics or small-group sessions to discuss your CV and give tips. Others have opportunities to practice psychometric tests.
They may also conduct mock interview sessions. Some recruitment firms or organisers might even offer some complimentary coaching sessions.
Employers will often have a stall with leaflets, brochures and, of course, company-branded promotional freebies. So by all means load up on pens, badges, notepads, sweets and USB memory sticks.
The number of businesses participating in a careers fair can range from a few to hundreds. Some of the main industries you will find at a careers fair are:
Some larger organisations will include:
Other well known companies that often attend careers fairs include:
New graduates and early career job-seekers tend to apply for jobs with the big-name companies.
But you should also consider speaking to the mid-tier and lesser-known companies that attend a careers fair. These organisations can offer comparable or better benefits, and better promotion prospects.
Larger organisations attending careers fairs compete to source the best candidates. From the organisation's perspective, a careers fair is a cost-effective advertising strategy.
They will provide information about the company, its ethos and available benefit schemes. All of these are designed to recruit the best new graduates and promote the organisation.
For you, the prospective employee, it is a great opportunity to find out about a range of industries. You can meet with personnel from the organisation, giving you an idea of the people they hire.
The first time you attend a careers fair, you might find the volume of information overwhelming.
Whether you are planning on joining a graduate scheme, working full-time, being self-employed or becoming an entrepreneur, attending careers fairs can guide your journey.
Here are some of the key reasons why graduates should attend careers fairs:
Ask questions to gain insights into an industry or organisation, and understand the application process. You can also learn more about your own strengths and weaknesses, your interpersonal skills or your CV.
If you are uncertain about your future career path, attend a careers fair to find out your options. You can learn about many different organisations, industries and the competition they face.
Networking is important to most, if not all, industries.
At a careers fair, you could connect with someone who could help with the recruitment process, or with a future colleague.
Internships and work experience are important in your final years of university. A CV without one of these experiences is often weaker, meaning you might not be as successful in the job market.
Attending a careers fair could open up opportunities and connections: you might be able to secure a brief work experience placement or an invitation to apply for a graduate programme, for example.
Careers fairs are a great opportunity to boost your confidence and improve your interpersonal skills. Making a good impression can be daunting, but meeting potential employers in a less formal setting can build confidence.
Improving your handshake or fine-tuning your greeting, finding the courage to collect contact details (to follow up or connect on LinkedIn), and answering questions about yourself are all part of the learning curve.
Some careers fairs feature CV clinics, interview clinics and job coaching sessions. And they are often complimentary.
Take along a copy of your CV and get feedback on the areas you need to improve. That feedback might even come from the industry or employer you have most interest in.
Once you are there, be comfortable and confident. Have your CV accessible, keep your hands free and approach a potential employer.
Introduce yourself, have a conversation and ask questions. Don’t pitch yourself unless invited to do so.
Your very first time speaking to an organisation might be difficult. With practice, it gets easier.
Take notes after each meeting and make sure to ask for contact details, so you can follow up with the employers after the careers fair.
Remember, it is usual to ask for permission in person before connecting with a contact on LinkedIn.
A graduate careers fair is not a job opportunity or an interview.
But it is a great way to find out more about the industry you have an interest in, and a chance to speak with personnel from prospective employers.
You might even find an organisation or opportunity you did not consider.
As well as helping you find out more about employers, careers fairs can provide a wealth of information on job-search skills and interpersonal skills that will be useful whatever your next step may be.
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