Should postgrads bother attending careers fairs?

scifairOur two big Autumn recruitment fairs are taking place on Wednesday 16th October (Engineering, Science and Technology) and Thursday 17th October (Finance, Business and Management) at Manchester Central (G-Mex as it used to be called). Time is tight … but it’s still a difficult job market, so should you go?

Well, I reckon it all depends:

  • Yes – if employers you’d like to work for are attending, and you haven’t already met them at a recent recruitment event. You can find a list of who’s attending on our website (Finance etc Fair attendees and Science etc Fair attendees).
    In particular, in a very competitive job market, any extra information you can glean to add to your application is worth the effort.
    Also, most of these “big names” won’t be back at careers events in Manchester until this time next year (don’t expect to see the same employers at the Summer Fairs).
  • No – if you’re looking for a niche job with a small employer or a job in the non-commercial sector (though we do have some Government departments attending). It tends to be large recruiters who want several graduates/postgraduates who go to the expense of sending someone, so check first so you’re not disappointed.
  • Yes – if you want to talk about jobs suitable for postgraduates
  • No – if you are expecting lots of jobs and promotional material aimed at postgraduates.

Confused? You’ll probably be disappointed to find out that few exhibitors specifically mention postgraduates in the Fair Guide – but that doesn’t mean to say they don’t want to recruit you. Some of the biggest employers of postgraduates in the country promote their jobs at this time of year simply as “graduate jobs”, even though we know they’re very keen to speak to postgrads.  This re-inforces some research we did a few years ago at the fairs, when

  • only 2 organisations out of 80 we talked to didn’t want postgrads
  • but only 5 specifically targeted postgrads
  • all the rest were perfectly happy to talk to you – but called all their jobs “graduate jobs”

Some of them may have separate career tracks for postgrads, but many will bring you in on the same level as the undergrads. However, time after time, we hear of postgrads whose careers rapidly outstrip their fellow undergrad new starters, as they prove what they can do with that extra maturity and experience.

networkingWhat should you ask? Get some inside information
If you are going to attend one of the fairs, you’ll get a lot more out of it if you recognise that you may not be able to talk to someone who can give you detailed info on the specific job you’re interested in. You’re much more likely to get to talk to a recent graduate who will tell you to “look on the website” for the specific vacancies.

So what can you get out of them? Easy! You get to figure out whether you would want to work for an organisation by the way it treats its recent recruits (and with a bit of luck, the new grads will be unguarded enough to tell you the truth about what it’s really like at work).

I’d suggest asking about:

  • What training did they get/do they offer?
  • How do they get measured? (If you find out what the organisation values in its employees, could you realistically expect to deliver the results which will result in fast promotion or increased pay?)
  • Do they know any postgraduates working for the organisation, & what jobs are they doing?
  • What’s their boss like? (probably just for the new grads, that one!)
  • What do they think is different about their organisation compared to their competitors

It’s all good material for that bit in the covering letter or during interview on “Why do you want to work for us?”. It’s so much more impressive to say “when I was talking to your R&D Manager …”, rather than “well, it says on your website …”, which every other candidate will have read.

Where are all the science jobs?
We often get disillusioned scientists complaining that the Engineering, Science and IT fair is all just engineering – or IT. That’s not actually the case – there are jobs for scientists (ie. doing scientific stuff – not just those “any degree” jobs) but they’re sometimes less obvious. Did you know that British Sugar want chemists, Tesco want material scientists, PA Consulting want physicists and Tessella want biologists?

However it’s true that many specialist scientific employers just don’t attend fairs. To help all the scientists attending the fair, we’re having our own stand at the entrance to the fair to highlight those employers who do have science roles, and also to talk to you about how to find all the other science jobs. We’ve also got our friends from the professional bodies for biology, chemistry and physics joining us, so this is your chance to ask us all lots of questions about employment for scientists, all in one place.

Finally – get there early
If you get there earlier, you’re more likely to get a reasonable amount of time with exhibitors, you will get to talk to them before they get into their “fixed patter” mode (where they’re so tired, they just reel off the same thing to everyone they see), and, of course, you should get the pick of the freebies.

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