‘Can I have a free pen?’ is the number 1 most annoying question employers are asked at University of Warwick careers fairs. We know because, after the careers fair on May 8th, we asked them. Now don’t misunderstand me – I love a free pen as much as the next person who loves a free pen. In fact to confess, I have a container on my desk at home stuffed full of free pens from careers fairs; I can’t get enough of them. But this is not an article about a Senior Career Consultant’s dubious attitude to free pens…
There’s nothing here…
Believe it or not, there are students (a minority) who will wander out of careers fairs with nice free pens and pretty colourful notebooks and little packets of sweets and a whole lot of other stuff that they didn’t even know they needed before they arrived, muttering ‘there’s never anything for us’, but who haven’t got as far as actually talking to an employer. Sometimes, I’m sorry to say, Student Careers and Skills hears the same lament from students who haven’t actually got as far as coming through the careers fair door, or even checking which organisations are going to turn up. They will also still be paying for their pens, the crazy profligate big spenders!
At Warwick’s most recent careers fair I had the pleasure of talking to employers who were genuinely friendly and enthusiastic about what they were doing. They were of course in a very strong position to talk about what skills and interests an individual would need to thrive in the workplace. But to tell the truth, I do have some sympathy with students who suspect there’s nothing for them. If you aren’t interested in law or finance or consultancy, there are a lot of stands which you won’t want to visit. A few stands at the summer fair just wanted mathematicians or computer science students – which is wonderful news, but only if you’re a mathematician or computer science student. But nobody is suggesting that you ought to visit any particular stand, if you don’t want to. In just an hour visiting some of the stands, I found the following gems. None of these opportunities were in large corporate organisations and none of them were restricted to specific subjects.
- A publishing organisation offering internships, subject discipline not specified.
- A small and growing local recruitment firm looking for staff to expand the business (helping organisations in the care industry to find top managers). I also spoke to a second firm also working in recruitment, looking for people to work across a wide range of sectors. It struck me that if you like the combination of building up effective working relationships with people whilst also being motivated by targets and commission, recruitment might suit you well. Subject discipline not specified.
- Two care companies. They were mainly focused on offering care work which could fit around studies (which is a very useful thing to know about!), but also clear about what they can offer in terms of relevant experience for a wide range of subsequent related roles, including finding permanent work in the same area of work after graduation. Subject discipline not specified.
- An organisation offering volunteering abroad opportunities. Subject discipline not… – oh, you get my point.
- Teach First is not the only organisation offering school-based teacher training in challenging schools. Teach First were there; so was another school-based teacher training organisation working in over 100 schools. There are some subject restrictions here, but good ‘A’ levels in a curriculum subject may be enough to get you in even if your degree subject is rarely or never taught in schools.
- An expanding IT organisation. Of course they were looking for computer science graduates. But they had customer communication roles and project management roles which were open to students from any discipline.
Why it’s so important to prepare for a careers fair
So next time you see a careers fair advertised and someone says ‘There’s nothing for us’, you have permission from Student Careers and Skills to waggle your finger crossly at them and advise them what to do instead (though we can’t guarantee they will like you for it). Find out which organisations will be there. Find out something about them before you come.
Incidentally, the employers’ second least favourite question is ‘So what do you do?’ They prefer students to have done their homework – imagine how much you will gain from a conversation if you can start by saying ‘I’m glad that you’re here since I notice you need people who can…’ [insert relevant experience, area of the world you know, language you speak, etc.]. ‘I wonder whether you could tell me more about it?’ And yes, some employers do note down the names of students with whom they have particularly enjoyed talking, which means that if you do decide to apply they will have a record of their positive interaction with you and it will be seen as a another point in favour of inviting you to interview.
Employers have come, and will keep coming, to Warwick because they know that they will have interesting conversations with enthusiastic, well-informed and motivated students. Be one of them!
After that, they might even be pleased to let you have that free pen.