7 tips for networking at a careers fair

Are you an extrovert who thrives on meeting new people? Or are you more of an introvert who’d rather avoid too much interaction? Either way, it’s safe to say that everyone finds networking scary at times. Even those who seem outwardly confident may have to steel themselves to approach a potential employer for the first time, and this is even more true in 2022 as we navigate a mix of online, in-person and ‘hybrid’ events.

Networking at a careers fair can be valuable…and enjoyable!

But don’t be daunted – networking events can be relaxed and fun, whilst also being invaluable to your career development. Networking events will open many doors and could even help you to narrow down the sector you’d like to work in.

At STEM Women, we believe that networking is a not only a crucial stepping-stone from university into the business world, but also a way to address inequality in fields such as science, technology, engineering and maths. Women are still under-represented in the majority of STEM-related workplaces, both in academia and industry, making up only 22% of the core STEM workforce. Events which give women an opportunity to grow their professional networks and meet STEM employers face-to-face are invaluable, helping to combat some of the barriers women face by providing a platform for discussion and shared experience.

What happens at a careers event?

The types of events can vary, from general careers fairs to events with a specific focus such financial services or engineering. They can be organised by your university careers service, a society, employer or by other organisations. As well as company stalls, many careers events will feature inspiring talks from industry-specific role models, who’ll cover topics that are relevant to you and your interests, give you a clearer understanding of what it is actually like to work in your chosen field, and tell you about their career journey so far. There will often be a Q&A session too, so you’ll have the chance to ask important questions about possible career options, direct from industry leaders.

Networking can also help you to:

  • Get to know the organisations and their employees on an individual level. If there’s a company you aspire to work at, having a positive conversation with someone who works there could give you the edge in an interview.
  • Meet like-minded people who share the same interests as you. This can be especially helpful if you are in the minority studying a subject, helping you form relationships within a business community.
  • Glean key information about preferred CV formats or company dress code. This is the type of knowledge that isn’t always on a company’s website and could make the difference when you apply for a job.

So, whether you’re new to networking or just want to brush up on a few tips, here are just some of the ways you can prepare for the opportunities the new term will bring:

Number 1: Be prepared

Be prepared…update and target your CV

Make sure your CV and LinkedIn profile are both up-to-date before you attend a careers fair, whether online or in-person. Before you attend the event, it’s useful to review the list of organisations booked to attend and identify who you want to speak to first.  It also helps to have an idea of what you’re looking for – whether it’s current vacancies, information on graduate schemes, an internship, industry advice or a mentor. Be open and honest about what you want. Whilst it’s unlikely that you’ll leave a fair with a definite job offer in your pocket, you can significantly increase your chances at the application and interview stage if you come prepared.

Number 2: Go with an open mind!

At networking events, the aim is to meet new people, have conversations and build connections with potential employers or recruiters. The more people you talk to, the more likely it is you’ll meet someone who can help you. Don’t avoid companies because you presume that they won’t have roles for you, just because of their industry or sector. A lot of companies are open to employing graduates from a range of disciplines. Keep an open mind and you might just come across the perfect role when you least expect it.

Number 3: Embrace in-person events

Yes, online networking can be great – with no travel required and the option to fit in some career-prep in between lectures… but you can reap rewards at an in-person event through random conversations and opportunities that catch your eye. If you’re nervous, try building your confidence at an online event and then using those skills face-to-face.

Number 4: You’ve come to the right place!

There’s no need to feel shy at careers networking and recruitment events – you’ll find that the people on the stands at graduate fairs will be welcoming and friendly – after all, they’re there to meet students like you, so it’s the perfect environment to give it a try. Very often they’ll be recent graduates themselves and will remember what it’s like to be in your shoes

Number 5: Be yourself

You can be professional while still allowing your personality to shine through. Everyone has something unique to offer and you might be just what an organisation is looking for. Don’t feel that you need to fit a certain mould – at STEM Women we are all about breaking down those career stereotypes!

Number 6: Keep going

Networking events are great for practicing your interview technique; learning how to talk about yourself and sell your skills can feel strange at first, but practice really does make perfect. Start by working your way around the room, and you’ll soon pick up some tips on the best ways to present yourself. You can even ask for feedback from recruiters whilst you’re there. Take advice on board to use next time round.

Number 7: Follow up new connections

Follow up on those employer & alumni connections you have made…

Gather up those business cards and LinkedIn handles to offer you more insight into the business world and the company you could work for in the future. Send LinkedIn connection requests within 48 hours of an event; include a quick explanation of who you are and how you met, to keep those conversations going.

So give networking a try and you may just find the dream job you never knew existed! Networking events can open a whole new world of opportunities. Employers will be on the lookout for the best emerging talent – show them that you have a passion for their industry, and an understanding of the sector and you’ll be well on your way to networking success!

Written by Pam McGee, External Communications and Relationships Manager,

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