Undercover applicant: careers fairs

We get an honest account from a student who had a successful experience at a careers fair

We spoke to a recent graduate who is now working in the City at an investment bank, and asked them to share their experiences of careers fairs. They first made contact with their current employer at a careers fair.


"I'd already been to one careers fair before this one so had learned from a few of my mistakes that time round.

At my first one, I treated it too much like a social event and spent more time speaking to fellow students than making an impression on employers. I also entered the room fairly unprepared, with no clear idea of who to speak to.

Thankfully, I didn't have to wait long before there was another careers fair event at my university. This time, I researched all the firms that were going to be at the fair in advance, and made sure I had a clear sense of which ones did and didn't fit my preferences for my preferred future working environment and job role.

I came up with a "battle plan" of sorts, consisting of two lists.

One was of the firms I felt it was essential to talk to, give a CV to, and get as much information from as possible. The second was of smaller, boutique firms that I knew less about but that I felt would still be worth speaking to in case my other conversations weren't productive.

I then made sure I had a more than sufficient number of CVs and business cards ready to take with me. I didn't want to be in the awkward situation of running out."

On the day

"The fair was in the evening, but I had a busy day of lectures to get through first. As I wouldn't have time to go home in between, I wore a suit for the whole day. It got a few odd looks around campus but quite a few of the people on my course had taken a similar approach.

I took an hour before the fair started to go over notes I'd made and rehearse questions in my head. I didn't want to come across as stilted or forced so asked a friend to join me to run through a couple of mock conversations. It may have been a bit OTT, but I felt it was worth doing if it would make a difference!

I made sure I got to the fair just before it started, and there were already quite a few people there. It was a bit nerve-racking waiting for the fair to start, but once I was actually in it was amazing how quickly I relaxed. The important thing to remember is that people there want to talk to you, so it's not as daunting as you'd expect a crowd of strangers to be.

Swept up in it all, I initially didn't make it that far into the room as I kept stopping to talk to representatives of various employers, but I made sure not to spend too much time on firms I felt I was unlikely to be interested in. After about half an hour, I made sure to start working my way through my "battle plan" list of essential firms to speak to.

Nearly all my conversations with people went really well. I was surprised just how interested and helpful people were, as keen to hear me talk as I was to listen to them.

I did find myself forgetting a couple of questions I'd wanted to ask at particular firms but as I'd got contact information from everyone I spoke to I knew I could follow it up the next day."

The outcome

"I left the fair feeling confident with how it had gone, with lots of new insights into how various firms operated as well as lots of business cards.

The next day I needed to motivate myself to send a quick message to absolutely everyone I'd spoken to. I'd spent the night thinking about what I'd learned and had been really impressed by the passion and interest particular employees had shown when I asked them about their jobs. Many of them were recent graduates so they were able to give a really good representation of what I could expect on the graduate scheme at their firm.

In the end, when it came to applying for summer internships, I was offered a place at two quite different firms, both of whom I'd made initial contact with at that fair. It was difficult to choose between the two, but one employee I'd spoken to at the fair had been particularly helpful and for me that tipped the scales in their favour.

Now I'm on the graduate scheme there and I don't regret my decision at all. More importantly, I'm so glad I made the effort to put some work in before that careers fair, or I might never have spoken to anyone from this firm at all!"