Fair play - how to make the most of a graduate fair

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 09:00

Clare Mcsheaffrey by Clare Mcsheaffrey

Having just organised the London Graduate Fair at Senate House a few weeks ago, I’ve had a chance to reflect on the visitors we get and how different their experience of the fair is depending on how well they’ve prepared and understand what to expect.

Having 60-70 employers and graduate recruiters all in one place is a great opportunity to find out about jobs, industries, and opportunities you might not have considered before, but it can also be a bit overwhelming too, especially if it’s your first time. The trick is to have a plan of attack and here are my top tips for a good fair strategy.


Location, location, location

First of all make sure you know exactly where and when the fair is taking place. We’ve been setting up a fair the day before and a few visitors have wandered in thinking the fair was open, only to be disappointed to learn they’ve arrived a day early. Check the opening times and location – use the fair website or online directions to make sure you know how to get there. Plan ahead and aim to arrive early before the doors open. Our fairs often have a queue to get in that goes around the block so grab a coffee, get in the queue and be one of the early visitors ready to impress the exhibitors when doors open.

READ MORE: Our london graduate fair checklist

Be clear about why you are visiting

You might be looking for new job opportunities; you might want to network and add to your contacts on LinkedIn; you might be researching new industry sectors or want to get feedback on your CV. Whatever your reasons, have a clear game plan and when you get into the fair, keep that in mind.

Use all the information available to you

We always have a fair website which is live 2-3 months before the fair. The website will have the full list of exhibitors, a floorplan showing where they are located in the fair, a presentation programme, directions, careers advice resources, and guides… everything you could possibly want to know before coming to the fair.

Yet it still amazes me that a huge number of visitors come to the fair without even having looked at the website except to book their place. Update your CV before you go too – there are lots of free online resources for CV writing and we have lots of advice on our fair website.


Make a top 10 list of exhibitors

With up to 70 or 80 exhibitors, sometimes with hordes of other students wanting to speak to them, you’re never going to be able to get round to them all. Make a top 10 list of those you are really interested in, grab a floorplan on the way in (or download from the website in advance) and make a bee line for those stands first.

READ MORE: Four reasons you should think about postgraduate study

Make yourself stand out

You’re only going to have a minute or two to make an impression when you get to the stand so preparation is key. Researching your top ten list before the fair is essential and at the very least you should know:

What they do – the sector they are in, the product or service they provide, the jobs and opportunities they have on offer, and their entry requirements. We ask all the exhibitors these questions in advance and post their information on the fair website so it’s all there for you to use.

Have a list of questions – having done a bit of research first, you can quickly get past the basics and start to make an impression. Questions you could ask include – what is the recruitment process? What opportunities are there for career progression? What are the current trends in your industry?

Topical news – a few days before the fair, scan the business pages of newspapers or news websites to see what’s going on in that sector. There may be a new chief executive, a share price rise or a recent takeover of a company that you’re interested in – these are all things you can mention to make a good impression.

READ MORE: How did grads find our London Graduate Fair?

Dress to impress

We are often asked: “What should I wear to the fair?” Suits and formal business attire are sometimes recommended, but smart casual usually suits all occasions. Whatever you wear, make sure it’s clean, neat and ironed if necessary. Flip flops, trainers, torn jeans are probably not ideal. At our last fair it was a sizzling 34 degrees, so ties, long sleeved shirts, and jackets could definitely be left at home! 


Smile and be confident

As you approach an exhibitor, however nervous or shy you might be, try to smile and make eye contact. Introduce yourself briefly:

“Hi, I’m Sarah, I’m a business studies graduate from UCL and I’m hoping to get into management consulting. I’m really interested in your company – I’ve read a lot about what you have to offer, can you tell me more about your graduate scheme please?”

If you are really nervous, try your technique out on an exhibitor you’re interested in but isn’t one of your top ten hit list – if you mess up with nerves you’ll be better the next time. 

READ MORE: Why postgraduate study was the best decision I ever made

Last but not least – a few more top tips

  1. Don’t go round the fair in a group of friends - it’s all about you, not them.

  2. Take a notepad and pen and don’t be afraid to take notes when talking to an exhibitor.

  3. If your well-meaning and interested mum/aunt/relative/friend really wants to come with you (and it does happen), ask them to hang back when you talk to an employer, or even arrange to meet them afterwards. Don’t let them take over - ask your own questions. 

  4. Once you get home, reflect on what you’ve learned. Did the people you spoke to make you feel like you’d fit in? Did you discover something about an organisation that you didn’t know before that either impresses or disappoints you? Do your skills match what they are looking for? Do you know how to apply or get in touch with the companies you’re interested in now? We keep all the employer details live on our fair website for a few weeks after the fair so you can always come back to the exhibitor list to find out how to get in touch with them.

Our next fair is the London Graduate Fair on Tuesday 10 October.

Registration is open now so you can sign up and use all the resources and information on our fair website over the coming months to prepare and really enjoy the experience.

Sign up to our October Grad Fair

Posted in Fairs and Events