Attending a careers fair as a first year student can be a relatively disconcerting experience, as I discovered at the Finance, Consultancy and Professional Services (FCPS) Fair last week. For instance, as a first year, it can appear as though you don’t really belong there. Walking around the maze of exhibitors, (who had some impressive set-ups and decent freebies!) I observed that most people at the fair looked older than myself and, listening in upon some of the conversations between the employers and the students, it became clear that I was one of the minority. It also makes getting a job seem scarily real compared to the (relative) comfort of study. Furthermore, first year students may not have a clear idea of the exact career sector they wish to end up in, having not completed any modules yet.
However, these issues should not deter first years from attending a careers fair; I found that I learnt a lot about the types of companies I want to work for, the types of internships I can apply for and most importantly how hard I’m going to have to work to earn the right to a placement in a company.
Although the exhibitors kind of expected me to be in my second or third year, they were still more than happy to answer my questions. Having questions prepared for exhibitors is, in my mind, the key to gaining the most from a careers fair. Going through the list of exhibitors beforehand (found on the careers department website), is a big help, to look up any that I didn’t recognise, and highlight those that I would be interested in speaking to. This makes it far easier to tailor the careers fair to your own interests and means you don’t have to embarrass yourself asking exhibitors what their company actually does! Make sure, though, that you don’t just head straight to those you want to speak to. Take a general walk round as there may be companies that you didn’t know would be there, but that you would be keen on speaking to, as I found with the Home Retail Group.
With the fair being primarily for finance-based opportunities, it wasn’t 100% suited to me. I study Business Management with Communications and I’m aiming for a job in marketing or public relations. However, it is rare to have the opportunity to converse directly with representatives of huge companies such as IBM and Bloomberg and going to speak to exhibitors such as these is highly beneficial, as they were happy to tell me what they knew about other internship opportunities their companies have available, and where to find more detailed information. It is also worth enquiring about the application processes for internships and graduate schemes; in my case, I was told that telephone interviews are often used as well as face-to-face ones, and I had no clue these even existed. As a result, I can prepare more readily for the applications I make.
The biggest gain I received from attending the fair was that, after talking to various representatives from a range of companies, a general concurrence was that there is nothing to stop first years from applying to most internship or summer placement opportunities that are offered by companies. Certainly it is the case that second year students are favoured, having completed more of their courses, but this knowledge has encouraged me to apply for places this year on the off-chance that I am accepted. If not, the process of applying will be useful for next year and if I get lucky and submit a strong application, I will have extra work experience under my belt, which many companies value more highly than the quality of your degree.
So my advice, however under-qualified, would be to go to as many careers fairs as possible, if they are even loosely related to the subject area you’re studying. After all, a company is a company and they need all sorts of graduates for all sorts of departments. Get applying to anything and everything; if you believe you fit the bill, there’s nothing to stop you!