I've been on both sides of the stand. First awkwardly shuffling through crowds to hand out my CV (and stock up on free pens and branded cups!) now spending the day talking to nervous students about their degrees and interests.
Over the years of attending graduate job fairs I've come up with a list of the top tips I think will help students that are looking to impress.
Have an Online Presence
This is particularly important for students on technology related or creative degrees because it gives you a place to show off.
There are a few ways you can carve out your own corner of the internet out for free, including:
Using a personal domain name will make this appear much more professional; but, is not a necessity. Personally I use Namecheap for registering domains.
Include a CV, your contact details, and, for tech students, a link to Github. Add any interesting projects you've worked on inside and out of University.
Blog! Write about technical tasks you’ve undertaken, problems you’ve solved, discussions you've had in lectures, or with friends, about current trending topics in the news for your industry.
Include links to social media, but (!) make sure they are curated, somewhat professional, feeds rather than your personal accounts.
As an example, my Twitter (@thatonejakeb-- shameless plug) usually has tweets about interesting events I've been to, projects, or articles I've written.
What I don't (often) include are midnight ramblings after a few too many-- amusing as they may be (to me!). That isn't to say they should be devoid of personality!
Research the Company
Particularly if you’re really interested in getting a placement or graduate job with them.
I would hazard a guess that the majority companies will have a website that you can take a quick look at before approaching them.
Try to get a feel for their company ethos and core principles, any interesting projects or areas they are currently working in/on, and any tidbits of information that you think would be interesting to talk about. Make a note of these if need be.
Some jobs fairs have an app that will give you a brief bit of information about the company, and their website URL, which is useful if you need to find out some last minute info before approaching a stand.
You’ve no idea just how impressed I have been at students that come up and open with: "I saw that you've just finished a project on x..." and gone on to ask about tech we used.
Bring a CV
This goes without saying; doubly so if you don’t have an online presence. Here is some information and tips about writing a graduate or placement CV. Yes you can ask for an email address and send a CV through, but there is nothing better than having them leave with a physical copy that will stay with them as a reminder.
On the topic of CVs, I'm more than happy to read over and review any, just get in touch.
Most Universities have really great careers departments that are there to give advice to you for free. If you can, get in before the event and see what information they have online and whether they offer a CV feedback service.
Who you are talking to?
This is an interesting one, and perhaps aimed towards those interested in working for smaller companies (which I highly advocate!).
You may have a couple of HR reps or recruiters, or, you may well be talking to the team leader or lead engineer or managing director.
It is really important to find out what the person you’re talking does to as it can offer you a chance to ask quite interesting questions, and perhaps tip you off that these are the people that will be deciding who to hire.
Sometimes you'll have existing graduate/placement students working the stand. Use this to your advantage and find out what their experience has been as it will give you a good indication of what to expect.
What makes you an individual?
As a recruiter at these types of events we spend the day asking what course students are on and what they do for it. In all honest, after the first hour, it starts to really drag.
Do you work on projects outside of University modules? Do volunteer work at the RSCPA? Play an instrument? Enjoy rock climbing in Burrington Combe on the weekends? Run a Youtube channel? Stream on Twitch? Anything that sets you aside from the other Robotics or Psychology or Mechanical Engineering students we may have already spoken to.
As an example, last year I had a student talk about how they enjoyed cooking outside of University work, and it worked.
As simple as it sounds when it came to go through the CVs I instantly remembered who they were and the conversation we had.
It really keeps the conversation fresh.
Jobs fairs are a two way conversation and you should treat the conversation as an interview. Have a few questions lined up to ask to find out whether the company you’re speaking to is the right fit for you.
As an example of some that I find interesting to answer:
They're open ended so you've the opportunity to keep the conversation flowing based on the answers.
A rather extensive list of questions can be found here.
BONUS: Follow Up
Found a particularly interesting company? Get in touch! Whilst business cards might sound like an antiquated medium, they are very much still in use..
Try and get the contact details of the person you've been talking to and follow up with them a few days later to thank them for their time, reiterate your interest, and perhaps include a digital copy of your CV. This will keep you in the forefront of their mind after the fog of the fair has passed.
Most important of all: enjoy yourself. It can be quite daunting approaching people and striking up a conversation, but just remember we are actively interested to hear from you and if you've prepared beforehand; you've nothing to worry about.