Making the Most of Careers Fairs

Our careers fairs give you the chance to meet recruiters. It is your chance to learn about current vacancies and opportunities available.

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The recruiters are trying to market their organisation to you and inform or persuade you why you should consider applying to them. However, the fairs are also an opportunity for you to market yourself to potential employers. They are great opportunities to get insight on what makes a good application or interview as well as the chance for you to practice your networking and information-gathering skills as the recruiter stands will have graduate recruitment staff and/or senior managers, who may also review future applications. They may remember meeting you at the fair, and so making a positive impression may help you make a later, successful application. If you’ve been particularly impressive they may even ask for your name and contact details, and watch out for your name as applications come in.

It can be difficult for students to stand out at fairs; there are so many people there and it can seem overwhelming. Being prepared is the best way to make a good impression and get noticed. Think ahead and have a strategy.

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Past exhibitors have told us:

[We expect] students to have done some preparation before coming up to the stand, i.e. they should have read the company profile in the Careers Service fair booklet (even better would be to look at the website in advance!).

The best questions we get come are from those who have researched the company and have a genuine interest in the company. These questions tend to be more specific – rather than students coming along, not knowing anything about our firm or what it is we do.

Students that stand out are the ones who say ‘I noticed on your website that you recruit into the Analyst Consulting Group and within that you can be Technology or Management Consultancy aligned. Can you tell me a bit more about how these roles differ?’

Research, research, research.

Prior to attending a careers fair, check out who is attending by downloading and reading the fair booklet. Each one is available on our careers fair page, one week before the fair. Read about the recruiters signed up to attend the fairs and find out more about those of interest by following their web-links. Having such information will help you to impress them when you visit their recruiter stand.

If the fair is sector-specific, also read about the sector on our webpages beforehand.

Plan the questions you want to ask

Try to ask consistent questions to different organisations at the Fair, as this will help you compare responses to make a considered decision about later applications.

We recommend you ask questions about the organisation’s culture, application process or training, or projects they’re currently working on. There may be issues that really matter to you and assessing your ‘fit’ with their culture may determine whether you could visualise yourself being part of that organisation or not.

You will often find the organisation has a recent graduate on the fair stand. It’s useful to ask them what their first year was like and what sort of projects or responsibilities they were given. This shows genuine interest and gives you a sense of the organisation ethos.

Don’t ask organisations what they do (they’ve already written that information in the fair booklet for you).

Consider what to prepare

Even at virtual careers fairs, first impressions do matter, so wear what you think will make you look smart but comfortable. This does not mean you have to wear a suit and a tie – they know you are a student! – but do make sure your clothes are presentable.

It is a good idea to take something to make notes on – either paper or electronic – so that you can note down useful things you have learned, or the names of the people that you met. This information can be very useful when you come to fill out applications or write covering letters. 

CVs

It’s not usual in the UK to share your CV at careers fairs. Most of the employers will have formal, online application processes and so might not accept CVs at fairs. They will be more interested in finding out about you by talking to you than reading through a CV. However, recruiters will link directly to their opportunities so having a CV ready might prove useful. 

THE CAREERS SERVICE AT THE FAIR

Oxford Careers Service staff will be on hand during the fair to answer any queries you might have about the event or your career. You can reach us by visiting the Careers Service stall, listed as a company on the GraduateLand system. Please note ‘Interview’ slots are just a booked conversation with a Careers Adviser and nothing more formal.

MESSAGING RECRUITERS AND CAREERS ADVISERS

You can message recruiters and careers advisers directly on the organisation stall by using the available chat topics.

You can also schedule in a conversation with an Oxford careers adviser and certain recruiters (if they have chosen to use this function) by visiting the organisation stall and selecting your preferred time in the 'Interviews' section. It is also possible to request a phone or video call once in a text ‘chat’ with a recruiter if you would prefer to interact that way. Just ask the recruiter you are chatting with and they will be able to activate this.

The messaging function will close with the event at 18:00 BST. If you wish to continue any conversation once the fair has finished, please exchange contact details with recruiters in good time!

Talk to employers

Do:

  • Introduce yourself to make a positive impression – tell them your name, course, and year of study.
  • Demonstrate that you have undertaken some research on the organisation.
  • Ask pertinent questions, and try to establish a dialogue.
  • Collect names and contact details in order to be able to contact recruiters after the event has taken place.
  • Thank them for their time!

What types of information could you ask for

  • More insight into the company culture
  • Level and type of training given from internships to graduate opportunities
  • Are there other opportunities to rotate and work in different offices across the country or globe
  • What do they feel makes a good applicant stand out
  • What are the characteristics of their most successful employees
  • What they enjoy most or dislike about their particular industry
  • Do they have any specific diversity, inclusion and wellbeing resources available or recognised for their approach for minority groups  such as 'Disability Confident' employer and Stonewall Diversity Champion
  • You may be interested in their approach to climate change and so ask questions ranging from 'Does your organisation have a plan to de-carbonise?' to 'Can you tell me how your business model aligns with the Paris Agreement?'
  • .... questions that help you to decide whether they are an organisation or sector you would like to be part of.

Try to phrase your questions to demonstrate that you have done some research on the organisation and are looking for more insight or clarification: eg. 'I have seen that your organisation is particularly keen on diversity and inclusion, could you tell me a little more about...'

Don't:

  • Ask questions which are answered in the fair booklet! 
  • Come across as arrogant – for example by asking 'Why should I join your company? What have you got to offer me?'

Make notes

  • Try to make notes when you click away from a stand – write down the names of people with whom have you have spoken, and what they told you.
  • You can add value to applications by explaining that your interest in their organisation stems from “the careers fair, where XYX told me YXY”… This immediately demonstrates that you have taken time to research their organisation.
  • In smaller organisations, the person who attends the fair may be the person who reviews and  shortlists candidates. Referencing their name in an application may make them remember you, which could be advantageous if you made a good impression at the fair.

Feeling overwhelmed? Practise first!

Many individuals find that they get very nervous approaching recruiters at careers fairs. If this resonates with you, then use the fair as an opportunity to practice your networking and information-gathering skills. Follow our advice above, but initially practice by talking to recruiters that are not your preferred places that you want to apply to  - or attend an earlier careers fair to explore a different sector. It will make you feel less nervous - and you might find that an organisation you thought was not of interest is more appealing than you had initially thought! You might want to prepare a brief introduction about yourself, including knowledge, skills and interests.

If you feel unsure where to start or whom to speak with then make sure that you visit the Careers Service stand for help and advice.

Recruiters appreciate follow-up contact from those that they have met at the fair. Contact those recruiters that you felt that you had built up a good rapport with: it demonstrates initiative. It will also help the recruiter to remember you, and many recruiters will note who has followed-up discussions with them. It’s all part of how to impress the recruiter and make yourself stand out.

The careers fairs can be very busy and getting the most out of attending the fair can be challenging for some, such as those with disabilities and/or long-term health conditions to being able to talk about sensitive issues, such as, recruiter attitudes to gaps in education from 'suspension in studies'.

If you feel that you may find attending the fair is difficult for you, then please do contact the Careers Service prior to the fair on reception@careers.ox.ac.uk and we will endeavour to put in place appropriate adjustments for you to ensure that you are able to fully access the fair and make the most of the event. Anything that you share with us will not be shared elsewhere. 

Examples of adjustments we have put in place for those wanting to attend the fairs include:

  • A member of staff to guide and assist students with visual or mobility impairment to navigate round the fair stands.
  • Arranging individual 1:1s with recruiters, away from the main fair, so students can talk about sensitive issues.
  • At many of our careers fairs, we hold a pre-fair session for students with disabilities and long-term health conditions that enable those that attend to access the fair early and discuss how to check out how disability-friendly a recruiter is. See CareerConnect for more details.

Contact our Information Team on reception@careers.ox.ac.uk or telephone us on 01865 274646 to discuss what you would find helpful.

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