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Job fairs: What you need to know

If you’re off to uni in 2023 (or perhaps you’ve just arrived), be prepared to hear a lot about job fairs.

A job fair is an opportunity for employers to sell themselves and their training programmes – and for you to ask questions, find out about relevant schemes, and get lots of free pens. It is also a chance for you to engage in that dark art known as “networking” – more on which below.

There are loads of job fairs for uni students – but did you know that there are fairs for school leavers as well? With many employers offering high-skilled apprenticeships and school leaver programmes these days, this is definitely worth knowing.

'Uni student or school leaver - here's what you need to know about job fairs'

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In this article, we give you the lowdown on job fairs and how to make the most of them.

What is a job fair?

Stall at job fair

At the job fair, you'll find employers on stalls like this one

A job fair (or careers fair) is an event where students can meet employers and recruiters, learn what organisations do and what careers are on offer, and find out what training programmes they can apply for.

A job fair usually takes place in a big hall or conference centre. Employers each have a stall, attended by representatives who are there to talk you through what’s on offer, and perhaps even some ambassadors from last year’s intake on hand to share their perspective.

Job fairs are often aimed at university students, with most unis hosting fairs themselves. But more and more, job fairs are being held for school leavers, so employers can share their apprenticeship schemes and school leaver programmes with you. Universities, colleges and course providers will often have a presence at the job fair.

Should you go along?

Why wouldn’t you? They are free, you can spend as little or as long there as you like, and at the very least you’ll come away with some flyers and freebies. Most importantly, you’re bound to learn something at a job fair.

How do I find out about them?

At uni, you won’t have to travel far as your institution will very likely hold a regular job fair of its own. Keep an eye on posters, emails from the careers service, and check the careers website. Check whether you need to book a place to attend the job fair. If you know what area you’d like to work in, it’s also worth Googling industry-specific events you can attend.

Student on laptop

Don't just ignore those emails marked "job fair" - you could be

missing out

As a school or college student, you might have to do a bit of work to find out about and get to job fairs, although some schools organise trips for their students.

If you need to organise a trip yourself, there are a few ways you can find out about upcoming jobs fairs:

  • Talk to your careers advisor or teacher.
  • Keep an eye on careers emails.
  • Google school leaver job fairs – do a broad search (eg “UK school leaver job fair 2023”) but also narrow it down to your area and the industry you’re interested in (if you know).

Do this as early as you can (how about today?) so you have time to book a place if you need to, and organise transport. It’s also possible you’ll need to ask for time away from school.

All set? Here are some tips to help you make the most of the job fair itself:

1. Put in some planning ahead of time

If you can, find out which employers are going to be represented at the job fair before you arrive. That way, you can make sure you speak to the organisations you’re particularly keen on – especially if you don’t have much time. You could even Google their school leaver/grad programmes as you might find there are specific things you’d like to know. Check if there are any talks being held and find out if you need to book onto the ones you’re interested in.

Even if you don’t have time to plan ahead, you’ll often be given a floor plan of the job fair when you arrive, so circle the employers you want to meet.

2. Go early

If the job fair runs all day, first thing in the morning is a great time to turn up. The event will be quiet, meaning you’ll get the undivided attention of the employer representatives, who will be fresh as daisies. There will be plenty of leaflets and stash for you to get your hands on too.

3. Take leaflets

You can reasonably expect to see a lot of stalls and meet a lot of people at the job fair. You’re probably not going to remember all those company names (let’s face it, some of them are a bit weird). Flyers and packs will provide a useful jog to your saturated memory at the end of the day – and the representatives you meet will be dead keen to hand them out. This way, you can follow up the companies and programmes you’re really interested in. Take a bag to put them all in.

Eco tip: If collecting all that paper doesn’t feel very environmentally friendly, take photos of the stalls you like on your phone, and make sure you get pics of any important web addresses.

4. Don’t be shy

Student talking to employer

Have a chat with employers to get answers to your

questions - and make a positive impression

You’re there to learn, so although you should do some research beforehand if you can, don’t feel like you have to know everything before you get to the job fair. If there’s anything you’re unsure about, ask the employers, that’s what they’re there for. If the info you’ve read on a company’s website is too jargon-stuffed to make sense of, but you’re convinced there’s something in there that might be relevant to you, now’s your chance to get detailed, first-hand answers to your questions.

5. Make a good impression

Perhaps the employer will be meeting so many people they won’t remember your name. Or perhaps they’ll remember you as the person who came to the job fair in flip-flops and kept asking the same question in different ways even though there was a big queue of people behind you.

A job fair is your chance to make an impression (check out our guide to job interviews for some ideas). Be polite and professional, and don’t forget that this is your chance to get in a bit of networking by giving the representative reason to remember you positively. You don’t need to wear a suit, but don’t come in your PJs – smart/casual dress is appropriate.

Ask for business cards so you can follow up afterwards, but be aware they may not be prepared to give out individual cards.

6. Go round quickly – then go round again

Particularly important if you haven’t done much pre-planning and there’s no floor plan. Whizz round the job fair on a recce, get a sense of who you want to talk to, then try to get round those stalls in the time you have available.

7. Sign up to mailing lists – but not all of them

Like so many things in life, mailings lists are good in moderation. If there are programmes you’re really keen on, and you want to know when applications open so you can apply, then definitely sign up, because the chances are you’ll get advance warning of the opening date. Make sure you have a sensible email address to add to the mailing list (eg johnsmith@gmail.com, not cooldude1998@hotmail.com).

8. After the job fair: Do some homework

When you get back from the jobs fair:

  • Students working at computers

    When you get home, carry on your research and planning and come up

    with a list of next steps

    Look through the mountain of leaflets you picked up at the job fair and make notes about the employers that took your fancy (if you’re feeling super-savvy you could even make a spreadsheet).
  • Do some research about their schemes, make notes about the requirements and whether you’re eligible. If not, what do you need to do to become eligible and is that realistic? Are there any extra qualifications or experience which will help your application.
  • If you were able to collect business cards at the job fair, take the networking process a step further and email your new contacts to thank them for their time. Feel free to ask one or two extra questions to show you’re keen, but don’t go overboard or you’ll annoy them.
  • Know your next steps – for example, could you gain work experience or skills through extra-curricular activities to help your application. Make a timetable for achieving them.
  • Set an alert on your phone to remind you when applications open.

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Image credits

Lead image via Wikimedia Commons, stall via Flickr, student on laptop via Pixabay, student talking to employer via Wikimedia Commons, student slouching with laptop via JISC