Monday, 6 September 2010

University Careers Fair Series: Part 2 - Preparation

In a world where there are always a thousand things to do, it is easy to overlook preparing for a careers fair in advance. I know I didn't when I was at uni. After all - what's to prepare? You just rock up and ask the same questions at each stand....  But in all honesty, if you are going to go, it is worth taking an hour or two in the weeks before you go to think about what you are going to do there. It could make a big difference to what you get out of the day.

Some things to think about:
- Who's going to be there?
- Who am I interested in?
- What do I know about them?
- What don't I know about them that would:
a) help me decide if I want to work there
b) help me figure out which programme/role would be of interest
c) make me sounds knowledgeable about the company if invited for interview
- Who is attending that I haven't heard of? Who are they? Are they someone I have overlooked?

Make a note of the physical positioning of the hall / area. If you are planning to arrive early (which you should) go to the furthest away from the door companies first as they will be quietest early on and likely to give you more attention. It also shows real interest that you are targeting them.  Last year, I met a young man at a Cambridge fair. We were on the top floor of three and the fair opened at 1:00pm. He was first at our stand at 1:01pm and was incredibly well-prepared, motivated and knowledgeable. He made a great impression on me and I made it my mission to get him an internship with us, which he did as the business found him just as impressive when they interviewed him.

For companies you are interested in, DONT ask the following questions because 1) the information is always on their website and 2) if you ask them, they are liable to lose interest in you because it is therefore clear that you haven't bothered to look before you visited them:

- Do you do internships?  (If I had a pound for everytime I was asked this at a fair, I'd be a rich woman).
- I'm studying engineering/maths/languages/marketing, what can you offer me?
- Do I have to have a 2:1 to apply?
- When is the closing date?

Find out the answers before you go if you are really interested in the company. When a graduate or intern asks a specific question. e.g. "I'm interested in your Retail Graduate Programme which starts in July next year. Can you tell me more about the three weeks training that you offer and what is involved?"

As opposed to what regularly happens - a graduate walks up, reads what written on the stand before me for key words and says "I'm interested in....your....Asset Management graduate scheme..."  There is a world of difference in the impression that graduate makes.  And believe me, recruiters remember names and faces. It's the job.

Make sure that you are attending the right fair for the companies that you are interested in. Fairs are often categorised both by industry and by profession type. e.g. somewhere like BSkyB, who offer a huge range of graduate programmes, might well be found at a fair for Media type companies. But they could equally be found at an Advertising/PR/Marketing fair, an internship fair, a technology fair or a finance fair. Don't focus exclusively on the industry fairs as the profession-type fairs might be more suitable for what you are looking for.

You should also check out your university careers office website - they often have guidance as to how best to prepare for careers fairs.

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