One of the most enduring fixtures on the university calendar is the careers fair season which kicks off this week with the Autumn Fair and ends with the Law Fair on 8th November. You might wonder why employers still spend much time and money sending groups of recruiters and recent graduate hires to campus sports halls (or even a Great Hall) when they can reach out to you online. The answer is that besides the benefits of human interaction between prospective employer and employee, careers fairs enable employers to meet students at Birmingham and other universities which year after year provide the graduate talent they’re looking for.

Given that around 250 employers will be coming to Birmingham’s fairs in the next few weeks how can you make the most of these events in your career thinking and job search? There’s plenty of advice online-see the end for suggestions-from preparing for fairs to what to wear (quick answer: look presentable, and if dressing more formally helps you be professional, do it). Here are five further tips for making the most of careers fairs:

  1. Find out which employers will be at the fair by looking at the events section of Careers Connect or downloading our new Careers Fair Plus Make a list of about five top priority employers to meet and another five you’re also quite interested in. At the fair aim to meet as many of your priority employers as you can, being flexible to come back later if some of the stands are very busy. And perhaps visit a few you hadn’t planned to, particularly if they’re in the same business or have other common ground with your favourites.
  2. Don’t assume from its title that a fair will have nothing to interest you. The Engineering, Science and Technology Fair on 18th October features large, diverse companies including BP, Jaguar Land Rover, Mars and Network Rail. They don’t only recruit engineers, but are interested in graduates of any discipline including arts and humanities for functions such as HR, marketing, project management and communication with employees, customers, governments and other stakeholders. You won’t be surprised to find major recruiters of graduates with any degree subject such as Deloitte and PwC at the Business, Finance and Consultancy Fair on 1st November. You’ll also find various banks and the main accountancy professional bodies. Accountants are found on company boards and in top jobs in all kinds of organisations-the prospects for accountants are as good as for lawyers, and it’s a much easier profession to enter.
  3. You don’t have to be a final year student to benefit from careers fairs. Start identifying prospective employers early and you’ll have longer to get to know them and work out if they’re good options. Many employers at the fairs offer summer placements, insight days and other experiences which will enhance your CV and give you deeper insight into their business or professional area. That will help whether you eventually apply to them or to other organisations.
  4. You’ll develop your professionalism by talking with employer representatives at fairs, and possibly go a long way to impressing them as a potential colleague. This will boost your job search confidence; you’ll almost certainly feel that you have more to offer than you think and can channel that confidence into your job applications.
  5. Look out for other fairs to meet more employers and follow your interests. The National Graduate Recruitment Exhibition is at the NEC on 3-4 November (free coaches from outside the Barber). Postgraduate study fairs are held at several venues between now and February and London Grad Fairs provide fairs with a London focus.

If you want to read more about preparing for and getting the most from careers fairs visit:

How to make the most of graduate job fairs

How to make the most out of a law careers fair

For full details of University of Birmingham fairs visit our website.

So, an hour or two at a careers fair should be time well spent and may even be the start of your future career. And telling your parents you’ve been to a careers fair is a quick win to reassuring them that you’re on the career case. If they went to university they probably remember reluctantly acknowledging that they wouldn’t be students for ever by visiting a careers fair.

Chris Packham, Careers Consultant, College of Arts & Law