So the University of Manchester Graduate Fair is over and I observed many interactions between employers and soon to be graduates from all over the country. This was a great event with SME’s representing the North West, National and Global Companies in attendance to hire our graduates.
I was approached by many international as well as UK and EU students asking advice on how to approach an employer. For example what how to start the conversation, make a first good impression and what topics to avoid. As a result here are my do’s and don’ts for approaching an employer at a fair, event or networking opportunity or by going to their office and speculatively applying for a job.
1. Dress for the job you want, it doesn’t matter if it is 25 degrees outside and the sun is beaming down shorts and t-shirt are not appropriate. When you meet a recruiter you are demonstrating that you can be the face of their company. I wouldn’t want to hire someone who did not make an effort to come and see me. It doesn’t have to be a suit (in good weather we don’t want you to melt) but a shirt/blouse and trousers would be appropriate, dress smart even if the role is in a company where the dress code is casual, because you don’t have the job yet!
2. International students do not talk about visa’s, sponsorship or hiring of international graduates with recruiters at fairs or events. Do your research first and check the UK Border agency sponsor register – know who sponsors and who doesn’t before you go. This question potentially causes employers to think you only want to work for them because you need a visa not because you see your career with them. Take the opportunity to make a good first impression by asking relevant questions about the company values, innovations, projects, culture, progression opportunities, development and retention. Avoid the topic of visas this is something that can be addressed later at interview or offer stage.
3. Demonstrate passion and motivation by doing your research, know as much as you can about the company and show this through your enthusiasm and questions you prepared for the recruiter. Companies spend a lot of money recruiting graduates and they need to ensure you are right for the role and want to be a part of their organisation so know why you want to work for them. Be prepared to answer this question when you meet a recruiter “what interests you about xxxx company?” If you don’t know then you may struggle to get to the next stage. Remember recruiters make a note of graduates that stand out at events and feed this back to the team in Head Office and this can progress your application so know who you want to work for and why. Be excited and do your research!
4. Do your research and be commercially aware as this is the point where graduates fall down time and time again. We understand your degree is important and you have spent the last few years studying and the idea of more research exacerbates you but it is essential. If you do not know everything you need to know about the companies you are applying to, their values, competitors, projects, etc then you will make a bad impression. Everything you need to know is out there on the web from company innovations, how changes in government and legislation can affect how an organisation runs as well as company accounts, so there are no excuses in being able to demonstrate your commercial awareness.
5. Don’t use negative language or offer up weaknesses to employers when you engage them in conversation. It is important to only use positive language and use the opportunity to sell your skills and good points to an employer. Don’t give the recruiter a reason not to hire you straight off. Do not use language such as “just”, “but” and “only”. Remember you only get one chance to impress them so think hard about what you want to say.
6. Don’t talk about your area of interest if it is not relevant to the employer you are talking to. For example if you want a job in the finance sector don’t talk about this with a recruiter in the IT sector as it is not relevant. Similarly attention to detail is key, so double check everything before you submit it to the recruiter and ensure your cover letter is not addressed to PwC when you are applying to Deloitte.
7. Do take your CV & Cover Letter to the employer at fairs and events or their offices, but make sure it is tailored to the job and company you are applying to. Make time to tailor each application as experienced recruiters can spot a general application, CV or cover letter. You should take the time to research, examine and explore the job description thoroughly. Understand what it is the company are looking for in an employee, in terms of skills and competencies, which is usually in the person specification. Remember some companies get such a large volume of applications they can use software to scan document for key words (similar to Turn it In!) so please ensure you use similar and relevant key words in your application. Your cover letter is a sales document and must not be more than 1 page long with 3 paragraphs. The 1st paragraph is about what interests.motivates you about the role/.company you are apply to. The 2nd paragraph is about what you can bring to the company your skills, achievements and the final paragraph is signing off – thank you for considering my application ……
8. Understand what skills you do have and are they transferable? This is crucial when talking to employers at events, self awareness is key. Examine everything you have done to date or been involved in no matter how trivial it may seem because it all counts. This could include volunteering, work experience, society membership, part-time jobs, placements as part of your course, 2 day experiences in companies, open days, attending fairs or company recruitment events. This all counts towards your application and conversation with a recruiter. If you are applying for a field unrelated to your degree understand what skills you have developed and how they may relate to this new field.
Finally if in doubt contact your careers service and have a chat with a career consultant who can help you explore your skills and how best to market yourself to employers in person and through an application. Good luck with your job hunting!