Careers fairs are an important tool in connecting students with prospective employers and broadening student horizons as to the different roles, internships and schemes available to them before and after graduation. As a careers service, when hosting such events, it is important to advise employers on how to most effectively engage with students. Some employers have adept teams specialised in this, but many, particularly smaller SME or charity organisations, do not have much expertise in engaging students at fairs and rely on guidance. Ensuring both employers and students get the most out of the event is important; therefore, we spoke to Leila Siassipour, Student Marketing Manager at Group GTI, to tell us about how she manages to engage with thousands of students at freshers’ and careers fairs across the UK each year.
Leila has worked at Group GTI for just over four years and is responsible for acquiring new members and increasing engagement to the TARGETjobs and TARGETcareers website, through student-facing campaigns and competitions, on campus promotions including freshers, and careers or sector specific fairs. Annually, she hires GTI Events Promotions Executives to attend over 150 events.
She outlined four crucial ways to successfully engage students:
To engage students, Leila revealed that ensuring exhibitors have a wide range of attractions at their stand is imperative- be it interactive activities or branded giveaways in the form of merchandise and market-leading publications. These include: novelty branded items such as sporks and stationery, confectionery, and informative job-sector-specific guides. Publications can also be useful for students, informing them about application opportunities and information on the company or industry. This encourages them to research more in their own time. Not only do giveaways and activities incentivise students into approaching different stalls, but they also create a talking point and improve the likelihood of students engaging in conversation, asking questions, and for employers to create an in-depth one-on-one dialogue.
It’s also important to be as friendly and approachable as possible. Welcoming students with smiles and informal talk can be significant in getting them to enquire more freely and openly, stopping them from feeling intimidated and securing a conversational connection. Leila advises ensuring both event and exhibitor staff are briefed to be as welcoming as possible. One way to ensure friendliness and approachability is to employ current students and recent graduate recruits to participate in events (particularly during our busy fairs seasons). We found that they connect with students on a peer-to-peer level, allowing them to build a stronger rapport and, consequently, greater trust.
Another aspect which is crucial in catching a student’s eye among the many competing brands is the visual draw of the exhibiting area. Ensuring a well-spaced venue area is important; it prevents crowded standstills of students, particularly around the more popular exhibitors, which switches students off and heavily reduces the quality of their careers fair experience. The banners, logo, and posters that signify the pitching area are also significant. More brightly coloured banners, large logos, and prominent posters will always entice more students than smaller logos with dull colours and small posters. Eye-catching designs relevant to the age brand are vital; if it is interesting it will get a reaction, which will inevitably increase the level of student engagement within the fair. This is advantageous to all parties involved.
Finally, it is important for employers to have strategies in place to follow-up with students after the event. This greatly improves employability outcomes, as brands remain fresh on students’ minds and this ensures students act on the information employers have given them and sign up and/or engage with the companies they spoke to after the event. Encouraging post-event engagement could be as simple as asking students to follow exhibitors on social media or to sign up to receive communications directly from the organisations there. Handing out publications, as previously mentioned, is also great for this. Often careers services hand out relevant TARGETjobs sector guides at careers fairs, which detail advice and schemes specific to that sector.
Student Marketing Manager