10 ways to make the most of careers fairs

A Career Fair is like going to a craft market, but for a job.

A Career Fair is like going to a craft market, but for a job. There’s lots to look at, lots of people crowding every stand, everything’s different, and everyone’s trying to make a sale. They’re noisy, take lots of time and, unless you are prepared, they could leave you with very little of value. 
Here are ten steps to making the most out of a graduate careers fair:
  1. Do your homework
  2. Plan your attack
  3. Prepare a list of questions
  4. Take a notepad
  5. Allow plenty of time
  6. Talk, don’t read
  7. Go with friends
  8. Make personal connections
  9. Follow up
  10. Don’t obsess
Do your homework
The average university careers fair has more than 140 exhibitors in attendance. If you had a five minute conversation with the top 1/4 of companies, you’d spend more than 3 hours talking! Make a list of who you want to talk to about a career, and research the company. Recruiters will take this a sign that you’re serious about working with their company, and it means that, in a few minutes, you can have a vastly more meaningful discussion.
Plan your attack
Careers fairs aren’t organised with easy navigation in mind. Use the map to identify the companies you want to talk to, and use your time more effectively by moving directly between their booths. This isn’t window-shopping – talk to your first priorities, then take your rime if you want to.  The more time you spend with the companies you’re interested in, the more productive you’ll be.
Prepare questions
At a careers event, there’s no shortage of people who haven’t studied up on a particular company, and are standing at a booth asking the basic questions a little research could have answered. Go into a dialogue knowing that you want specific answers to questions, as well as some general information. It will make it easier to compare employers if you’ve got the same information from all of them, and make for a far better dialogue with the people manning the booth. Also, it makes you look prepared, and no company in the world would look unfavourably on that. 
Take notes
If you want to remember a particular piece of information, take a notepad and pen. No one will mind, and often you’ll find out information that isn’t in the brochure. NOTE: take a pen with you. While you can usually find one at a careers fair, it’s best to be prepared and take your own. 
Allow plenty of time
You would think that a careers fair that goes for more than two hours would give you plenty of time to talk to the people you want to see. So many students attend that you may not get a chance to talk to recruiters on your first tour around your preferred employers. Allow yourself enough time to talk with more of the companies you want to, and plan for it to take twice as long as you think it will. 
Talk, don't read
Lots of companies will have brochures, along with the inevitable web page, drink bottle/pen/keychain/bottle opener, etc. Some will even have plasma TVs and videos to watch. This is all great stuff for getting the company log out there, but odds are, it won’t answer the specific questions. Talk to the company representatives there, and dig deep into their personal experiences and goals. Lots of companies have a marketing department that puts the message together. Only by talking to the people on the stand will you find out if it’s true or not. 
Go with friends
Odds are, your friends will have thought about some different questions than you that you want to ask. If you go with two or three people, you can trade ideas, and have a good group chat about what you think of potential employers. You’ll also hear and pick up on different things when talking to companies, so it’s a great idea to catch up afterwards and swap stories. 
Make personal connections
Most companies will have a recruiter or HR professional on the stand, to talk about the process of applying and interviewing. It’s worth making the point of talking to the recruiter, and having a serious discussion with them about the company and what they’re looking for. If you make a strong impression on a recruiter right from the outset, chances are they’ll pay more attention when your application comes through. 
Follow up
If you really want to make an impression, get a business card from someone on the stand, and email them promptly to thank them for their time. Email any follow-up questions you have (some companies have a Facebook presence specifically to ask questions too) and let them know once you’ve applied. Not only will you draw their attention to your application, you’ll show yourself as dedicated to establishing a good reputation. And that can only pay off!
Don't obsess
Finally, remember that careers fairs are the tip of the iceberg. You can always ring companies to talk to a recruiter, visit their website, Facebook page or other online resource to find out more information and apply. If you miss the careers fair, just send an email to the companies you want to work for, and start a one on one discussion with them.

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