If You Do Just One Thing …

If you are aiming to get a job at the end of this academic year, hopefully you are aware that we have two of the UKs biggest careers fairs taking place in Manchester next week.

Both take place at Manchester Central – that’s the large conference centre behind the Midland Hotel.

What can you expect at the Fairs?
Loads of employers, even more students, some employer talks, a few frazzled careers advisers and loads of jobs.

From the employers viewpoint
The aim of the fairs for most employers is to promote their jobs and their organisation to students. It’s a shop window, sometimes with freebies to lure you in (though the heady days of iPod Nanos and other giveaways are probably just a dream now). They may not have a lot of detail though about their jobs, particularly if you are looking for specialist roles – the constant refrain is “go to our website at …”.

The employers are very unlikely to offer interviews from the fair, or even to take  a copy of your CV. This isn’t the aim of most careers fairs in the UK (unlike some countries).

From the postgrads viewpoint
So, why bother going? Because this is your chance to find out whether you would enjoy working for an organisation. The employers often bring along very junior staff, as well as a manager or two. These new grads, sometimes with only a few weeks experience of the organisation, are often ignored by postgrads, who think it’s a waste of time talking to them.

I think this is a big mistake. If you want the polished company line, talk to the managers on the stands – or you could just go to their website anyway.

If you want to know what really goes on, how they treat new employees, what the training’s like, what your co-workers would be like, what the recruitment process is – get talking to the new grads, get them to relax, and they’re much more likely to drop their guard and tell you what it’s really like.

Forget about your CV – for the moment
If you’re thinking of going to one of the fairs, you may be fretting about getting your CV together. Even worse, you may not think you’ve got time to sort out your CV, so you don’t bother going.

Stop right there. My advice is not to worry about writing your CV – at least not for the fair. Most employers won’t want to see your CV, or keep a copy. You can get your CV up to scratch after the fair, once you’ve talked to employers and know more about what they want to see in your applications. If you hand them your CV before talking to them, you might realise you’ve highlighted the wrong things. (Of course, there’s no harm in taking it with you if you have a CV, but don’t be disappointed if no-one is keen to read it at the fair.)

If you do just one thing …
Instead, spend a bit of time before the fair reviewing which employers are going to be there, who you want to see, read their websites and find out what else you can ask which will set you apart from the other applicants.

Then come back and make a fabulous CV, using the advice in our new, updated “CVs from scratch” handout (pdf).