Meeting the employers

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I meet lots of PGRs and research staff who are keen to make a move out of academia (and some who don’t want to, but the competitive job market means they have no choice), and who feel very unsure about what’s out there. Reading job adverts will only get you so far – I think that there’s no substitute for actually talking to people who work in different roles or organisations.

We’ve got our big autumn jobs fair coming up this Monday, which is an ideal opportunity to get to grips with the job market. It’s easy to dismiss attending jobs fairs, thinking that they’re mainly aimed at undergraduates, but here are some good reasons to go:

  • While many employers don’t specifically say they’re looking to recruit researchers, they’re very open to your particular skill set  Elizabeth from Manchester Careers Service surveyed the employers at their last autumn careers fair, and found that, although only 5 out of the 80 organisations in attendance specifically targeted postgrads, only 2 organisations actively didn’t want postgrads. Check out the rest of her blog post here.
  • The organisations will be promoting their graduate activities, but will be aware of opportunities available for more experienced hires. We’ve been very fortunate to get Leica Biosystems to come along to our fair, and I know from my recent conversations with them that they are really keen to recruit PGRs and post-docs in the future.
  • It’s helpful to get a sense of the non-academic working culture. Organisations usually send along a recent trainee. It’s a great opportunity to hear about what day-to-day life outside academia is like.
  • Organisations also usually send a recruitment manager, so it’s a chance to learn more about what recruiters are looking for. The big difficulty that lots of PGRs and post-docs have is understanding what non-academic recruiters want, as they tend to focus more on skills and achievements than academic recruiters (who are principally interested in your knowledge). I was just having a chat with one of our PGRs this morning, and she was telling me that she never truly understood what her transferable skills were, or what she had to offer, until she started working in a non-research environment. Here’s a chance to really grill a recruiter on what they’re after.
  • If you’re making a big career change, it may be that you have to go in at a lower level that you think your qualifications dictate. However, I’ve had feedback from some PGRs who have gone down the graduate entry route, that they have been promoted faster than the graduates they went in with.
  • Networking is absolutely crucial to getting ahead in your career these days. Even if you’re not keen on some of the organisations on offer, it’s a great opportunity to practice networking with employers. Don’t make your first ever networking conversation the one that you have with your dream employer – have a practice first!

So, how should you approach employers at a fair? I grilled a couple of our regular fair-goers over the summer, and here’s what they had to say:

Why do employers come to fairs anyway?

The biggest reason they attend is to raise awareness and help you really feel informed about what their organisation does, so that you know you’re applying to the right people.  Jen from Siemens said “We really want to listen and help students and graduates to make the right choice for them”. Katherine from PwC added “We know students and graduates can be nervous – we were the same when we were students! We’re not there to grill them about what they don’t know, but we want to help and give insight from an informed perspective”.

How should you approach an employer?

The first thing they all said was that it helps to do some preparation in advance. You could start by saying “I read about … on your website, could you maybe tell me more about it?”. Katherine said “Those who have prepared well really, really impress. It’s inspiring when a student has prepped some questions and is using the fair to find out more”. Employers usually send a range of staff, so it also helps to ask what kind of background they have – are they a graduate trainee, or one of the recruiters?

But I haven’t prepared!

Don’t worry – employers are also hoping to catch your interest on the day. All of our regulars admired graduates who are upfront about it, and are bold enough to say “I didn’t know you offered graduate programmes, can you tell me more about…?” As Jen pointed out, nobody gets black marks for not knowing.

How should I end things?

Unfortunately, most employers won’t take business cards or CVs. However, you can show your interest by taking a “what next?” approach. Ask how you can find out more, or if they’re holding any other events. Lots of recruiters have a mailing list, so you can leave your name with them to get more details.

Top tips – employment fairs do’s and don’ts

  • Dress appropriately. The employers will be suited and booted, but they don’t expect you to be. It’s not a good idea to come in shorts and flip flops, or towering heels and a mini-skirt. “Smart jeans and a t-shirt are fine – it’s what you say that’s more important”.
  • Prepare questions if possible – it will help you to deal with nerves if nothing else. Ask things that you can’t find out from the website, perhaps about what day-to-day life is like, or whether they offer community projects.
  • Speak to different staff from the companies that really interest you – they normally send a range.
  • Keep an open mind – there might be companies you’ve never heard of which have great opportunities; companies you think you know might challenge your expectations about their culture and what they do; and some companies might offer roles that you don’t expect. Check the fair guide online or on the day to see what they offer.
  • Come with a notebook – it will help you stand out by looking keen, and help you to remember their advice come application time!
  • There was only one real don’t: don’t just grab the freebies and run! Stay and have a chat instead – they know where you’re coming from and are really keen to talk!

Come along and try out your networking skills with us at JobFest on Monday – full fair details, including an exhibitor list, are available on our events pages.

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