Chances are that you have attended a careers fair at some point. They all look roughly the same – a hall full of stalls emblazoned with company logos, stacks of business cards and brochures, and possibly some branded lollipops or free merchandise to draw in students.
There are people who want to breathe new life into this ageing format. This month, at the University of Westminster, a different type of careers fair was created. The Creative Talent Festival showcased both employers and students and aimed to prepare students for life after university.
Sophie Phillipson is founder of the graduate and student support site HelloGrads, which worked with Westminster’s Creative Enterprise Centre to create the innovative event. She shares her thoughts on how it went.
What is the Creative Talent Festival?
Our goal was to take the old careers fair format and make it an interactive and inspiring experience that engages students, graduates and employers.
The festival gave students a stage to showcase their talents with live performances and an exhibition of student and graduate work. We had CV workshops, discussion panels and speeches from entrepreneurs, coaches and professionals. We had experts teaching soft-skills seminars: “what to do if you don’t know what to do”, how to network, how to create your personal brand, time management and an introduction to mindfulness.
How is it different from the usual careers fair format?
Normal careers fairs are mainly big employers promoting graduate schemes. For some students, that does the trick. But these aren’t for everyone. Not all students want to work for big companies and some just want to understand the next step after university a bit more.
This event was catered towards promoting lots of different pathways after university. We made sure that there were plenty of opportunities for one-to-one discussions in less-intimidating settings so that students felt that they could ask anything. It was encouraging to see students networking with speakers for a long time after their talks had finished.
Perhaps most importantly, we had panels and talks not only on employment but also about preparation for how to live life post-university and overcome the stress of job hunting. This is something that is too often overlooked.
Also, we wanted to offer access to smaller and local businesses. The stalls we had were free to those who paid a small, refundable deposit, so we attracted plenty of smaller businesses that usually fly under the graduate radar. These companies can offer graduates a vibrant culture and more opportunities for fast career growth, so we felt it was important to get them there.
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Should you study for a postgraduate degree or join the workforce?
Tips for getting your dream graduate job
Why universities should encourage student entrepreneurship
What was the feedback from the students and businesses that attended?
Many people praised the variety on offer. The speakers included entrepreneurs, freelancers and employees to show different types of work. We had discussions about employment, employability skills and talks on how to access specific industries.
Also, the chance to get feedback from employers was rated highly. One issue identified with job hunting is that no one responds to emails or provides anything constructive if you are rejected. The constant “sorry, we do not provide feedback” auto responses are really disheartening.
The university provided CV and portfolio workshops with HR teams, which many people signed up for and were well received. The HelloGrads goodie bags also contained our LinkedIn guide to help make profiles stand out.
What is the thing that you want people to take away from this festival?
Two very important messages: that graduate schemes are not the only way into employment and that preparation is key before you dive into applications. Students need to plan for how they will approach life after university, especially in those final months before graduation. It is worth it to reduce the sense of being overwhelmed when their exams finish.
We also wanted to let students know that they are employable, that businesses want to hire them and that now is the time to start exploring what they may want to do after university. Waiting until after graduation isn’t always the wisest move, not least because universities have the resources to help you decide.
The employers, the speakers and the students left feeling inspired. They are more clued up about what is out there and they feel more prepared.