School leaver career fairs, like Britain’s Got Talent contestants, come in all shapes and sizes, from the huge national events to small career fairs and events at your school or college.
Whatever the size or form the school leaver career fair takes, they usually have the same aim: to help you find out more about your career options.
They are also excellent networking opportunities and a chance to meet representatives of potential future employers.
A career fair might consist of a collection of stands from exhibitors, such as employers, further education colleges and universities, career information stands or a series of talks from people about their career or their company.
It’s all geared towards helping you discover more about the different career paths open to you.
Why should I go to a school leaver career fair?
Why ever not? These can be the best places to find out more about your options. If you know what you want to do, you can use career fairs to meet the different employers in your industry of choice or get some more in-depth information.
Don’t underestimate the value of personal contact with company representatives. It’s a great way to get insight into their industry, ask any questions you may have, learn more about their company culture and to find out what they expect from job applications.
Career fairs are also great places to hone your networking skills and practise talking to people in a professional capacity, and, who knows, you might even be able to wrangle yourself some work experience.
Yep, even if the career fair is just a very small event at your school, if you get talking to the exhibitors or the person giving a talk, who knows what opportunities might open up.
Where can I find these career fairs?
More and more schools are now organising trips to the major school leaver career fairs, like Skills London at the ExCel centre. Some schools and colleges put on their own careers events too, so make sure you attend those.
You could also try your local further education college to see if they hold events with employers that are open to people who aren’t at the college.
Your council should also have details of any career events happening in your local area and many host their own career fairs.
How can I make the most of a career fair?
Career fairs aren’t just places to show your face, grab a few freebies and then leave. If you’ve gone through the effort of going there in the first place, you’ll want to get the most you can out of it.
So how can you do that? Well, first work out what you want from the career fair. Do you just want some career ideas or do you want to find out more about a specific company or industry?
If you can pin down what you want from the fair, it’ll help you when you are there.
Next, make sure you research the exhibitors that interest you in advance. Read up a little bit about who they are, what opportunities they offer for school leavers and think of some questions that you might want to ask them.
Believe us, it’ll make it far easier to approach them if you already know a little bit about them. If it’s a big fair, you might want to identify the companies or stalls you want to target, so you can make a beeline for their stalls.
If you’re really keen on working for a company that you know will be there, and want to use this career fair as a networking opportunity, practise a pitch. This will make you more comfortable when it comes to talking about yourself and your skills.
Preparing for a career fair
Take along a CV or a small card with your contact details and a brief line about what area of work you’re interested in.
It’s also a good idea to bring a notebook, pen and a folder or bag to stash any company literature or brochures that you pick up. You don’t want to be fumbling around with bits of paper.
You should also pay attention to how you dress. For most events, no-one will be expecting you to turn up suited and booted, but try to look presentable and smartish.
You don’t have to look middle aged, but try to steer away from hoodies, “funny” slogan tees, or trackie bottoms.
When you’re there
You can do all the preparation in the world, but it’s what you do when you’re at the career fair that really matters. Here are some top tips on how to impress at a school leaver career fair…
1. Don’t walk around in a gaggle of friends. Try to approach companies by yourself or with a friend. Don’t be shy, go up and talk to the people on the stall, asking them questions and enquiring about their organisation and opportunities.
If you get nervous, you might want to think about some questions you want to ask them beforehand. Alternatively, you could try building up your confidence by approaching the stalls of companies that you aren’t as interested in first as a kind of trial run.
2. When we say ask them questions, we mean about their organisation and opportunities for their school leavers, not whether they saw Eastenders last night.
You might want to ask about the company culture, the training given to school leavers, how many school leavers they take on, or what they look for in potential employees.
These guys are here to talk to you about their organisation, so they’ll be really happy to answer any questions you’ve got.
3. Don’t just go round grabbing freebies. Think about it this way: you could go to the fair, do a freebies sweep and pick up a couple of crummy pens and a branded pencil holder.
Or you can use the career fair as a springboard to launch your own career and, when you get a job, you can buy all the crummy pens you want.
4. Go with an open mind and ask plenty of questions. Career fairs are great places to find out about the career options and opportunities out there, so don’t dismiss something just because you think it might be boring.
5. If you’re going to a big event, arrive early to avoid the crowd. Don’t get overwhelmed by the size of it, you should have a list of exhibitors you want to talk to, so just get stuck in and do just that.
6. When speaking to company representatives, don’t expect them to do all the work. Let them know what you know about their company and what interests you about them. Be enthusiastic and interested about their company.
Equally, don’t hog their attention for ages; it’s their job to talk to as many people as possible, so be aware when it is time to move on.
After the careers fair
So you’ve tramped around the stalls and talked to some people, all you have to do after the career fair is sit back and relax, right? Unfortunately, the career fair is only the start.
It’s what you do after the career fair that really matters, whether that’s following it up with further research into a career path, putting all the information you gathered into action by firing off an online job application.
You could even follow up on any contacts you picked up during the careers fair, even if it’s just emailing a couple of days afterwards thanking them for taking the time to speak to you.
You can check out some places to apply to on our jobs board.