Career fairs can feel more like Carnaby Street market than an opportunity to introduce yourself to prospective employers. The truth is that whether or not they have vacancies many companies attend career fairs and other recruiting events. Shopping for talent is part of their development strategy. In many cases the CVs they collect will be perused almost immediately and either discarded or sent on for a second round of critique. With all the companies setting up stands, designed to entice talent, how do you discern which ones are worth your time and which ones are just there for show?
This first step is simple. Do your homework. Which industry do you want to work in? Do you have the minimum requirements for companies hiring in this industry? Which companies from that industry will be present? Check out their corporate website. Call reception or HR and ask general questions about the company (try not to be creepy about this). Is it a youthful progressive company with flexible work options or is it a long-established multinational with a strict corporate atmosphere? Do the employees look like hipsters or clean shaven mad men? Understanding a little about the companies and their corporate culture will help you weed out the places where you just won’t fit, thus avoid wasting time.
We have all heard the saying “dress for the position that you want”. This is especially true for career fairs and recruitment events in general. There is nothing wrong with funky ties, messenger bags and bright red dresses, unless you are trying to get a job with a dark suit and matching tie kind of company. Dress the part. Look the recruiter in the eye and make sure you exchange a firm handshake. Have with you copies of your CV on quality stock paper; try not to bend or fold. Ask a unique question. Make them remember you. Remember, this is as much of a hunt for them as it is for you.
Practice. Practice. Practice. This is the time to dust off your elevator pitch and practice it in the mirror, with friends and family. Ask them to listen to your pitch and give you honest feedback. Nothing is worse that meeting a recruiter, handing over your pucker CV, seeing the light go on in their eyes, and then you freezing as soon as you have to talk about yourself. Whether your CV gets passed on or thrown away has as much to do with what you say as with what is written in your CV. On the day of the fair, it is useful to give your pitch to a few companies that are further down on your list of preferred employers. Warm-up. Then march confidently over to the exhibition stand of your target employers and sell yourself.
There is nothing easy about finding the right career. The recruitment process can often feel arbitrary at best. It’s therefore important to be flexible and open to alternative visions of what your future could look like. Career fairs are an invaluable resource for recent graduates and final year students. With a little preparation, you can fully take advantage of the opportunities they present. Remember, setting out on this journey without planning is likely to be a recipe for disaster, so let’s start planning.