Manchester from above

What no-one will tell you about rocking employment fairs! (specifically the Manchester Digital talent fest)

All you need to know:

  1. Get a ticket
  2. Turn up.
  3. Talk to as many tech companies as possible to try understand what they do and how they operate

All you need to know to rock it:

Do:

  • Ask people lots of questions – especially about the area you’re most interested in. People LOVE anyone who’s interested in learning about how they do things – and this is what is likely most interesting to you. You can ask things like:
    • What technology does you use? What sort of tooling do you use on your frontend projects? What’s your backend architecture?
    • What sort of software development methodology do you use? What’s your process for turning requirements into code?
    • Is there anyone here who I can talk to about networking / programming / how you do project management / marketing etc?
    • What are the skills or technologies you feel most new graduates are missing that I can start familiarising myself with?
    • There is a question people love answering but students never ask: “What’s your background? How did you get your first tech job?” Ask it!
    • What’s it like to be a junior employee in your organisation?
    • How many women do you have in your tech team? 
    • What does your company do to help support minorities entering the world of tech?
  • When you hear something mentioned you’ve not heard of, consider asking “sorry, what’s X?” (Eg. “Sorry, I don’t think I’ve heard of Cucumber?“). It’s ok and very normal not to have heard of things, and asking about them will impress who you’re talking to.
    • When they start explaining, make a note of the name of the thing, and say something like “Thanks for explaining, I’ll look this up more when I get home“.
    • “Do you know where I can learn more about X?”
  • Personally take a note of everyone’s email address whom you meet.
    • You can easily get this “Do you have an email address? Mind if I drop you an email later if I have anymore questions about FooCorp or X technology?”
    • “Sorry what’s your name? Do you mind if I grab your email address?”
    • If they want your email, give it them – but insist on taking their name & email too.
  • Follow up afterwards with everyone!
    • After the fair, on the same day, go home and email, tweet every single company or person you spoke to. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.
    • You can say “Thanks for explaining about XYZ at the event today.
    • You can say “@steve Great to meet you today Steve, reading up about cucumber and test driven development now – thanks for the pointers!“.
    • You can say if you don’t have a name of a person: “Just wanted to write and thank the Foocorp team for taking the time to explain about your project management process to me today – I’m reading up more about Scrum – do you know any good resources I could go look at?
    • You can ask “Great to learn a bit about Foocorp today, do you have any more info or links about that thing you mentioned?”
    • If you can find them on LinkedIn and you had a good chat, add them! (This is not an alternative to following up properly)
    • This is a general life pro tip. If you get good at sending a message after you meet people, you will be lucky much more often than you feel is statistically likely.

Don’t:

  • Whilst you’re there, you may see people “drive-by-CVing” where they’ll waltz past a stand, give their CV and run away. This is a time consuming method advanced method called “not getting a job”. Sure, perhaps someone has a story of it working, but a stopped clock is right twice a day.
  • bother asking about pay. Lots of people will tell you highs, lows, and averages – but they’re all pretty pointless. You’re most interested in learning what YOU will earn. No-one will tell you until they interview you and offer you a job.  And there’s so much more to your first job than pay – for example – whether you hate everyone you work with, or like everyone you work with. Tech salaries are good – there is a time to ask and think about whether what you’re being offered is fair – but don’t bother trying this part at the employment fair stage. :)
  • The employment fair isn’t about your porfolio, level of experience, CV, etc so I’d suggest not focusing on these things too much beforehand. It’s just not time well spent. If you want to help yourself, read the next section and/or consider making index cards of questions you could ask people.

All you need to know to rock it and be one of the wisest people at the event:

Do:

  • Before the day, Google each of the companies who are listed as coming. Make a note of those who you’re most interested in talking to, and least interested. Prioritise your time and chat to those you’re most interested in learning more about. The companies will be very happy if you know vaguely what they do already too.
  • Turn up early. I don’t mean on-time, I mean, be there 10-15mins early. There’s a lot of companies to talk to. Even if you’re not allowed in early, it’ll be worth it. If you are let in early, go talk to people who look mostly setup and ready.
  • Talk to the downtrodden, small, less grand, stands. They may be smaller, they may look the least organised – this may be indicative that they’ll more focused on doing the thing you’re interested in, rather than “professionally hiring people”. Be wary of flashy, well organised stands with lots of branded outgoing people. They may not be as representative of organisations that value all the things you value most. Give the small and large stands equal attention.
  • As well as real life, talk to everyone on twitter.
    • I get it – chatting to people is your worst nightmare – that was why I first started playing with computers too. Talking to people gives you a massive edge – even when you feel you’re pushing yourself to be the most social you can be. It’s not easy, and face-to-face is hard and scary. Fortunately there are tools that can can make it slightly less intimidating.
    • Ask other people on twitter who you can see who went to the event “@jane12345 I loved #eventhashtag too! Who were your favourite people to chat to?
    • [Before the event]: Companies who you want to chat to  “@foocorp Looking forward to chatting to you on Fooday! Will there be anyone at #eventhashtag who I can chat to about <specific area you’re interested in – eg front end, back end, java, project management, marketing, whatever>?
    • [After the event]: Companies who you
    • To the organisers: “@eventorganisers Thanks for organising #eventhashtag today – so great to chat to everyone – thanks for all the effort you put into making it happen”
    • Use the hashtag in all your tweets.
    • Keep a twitter search going for that hashtag.
    • Follow every who looks mostly relevant.
    • psst. I think the hashtag is #MDTalentDay ;)

Don’t

  • bother chatting to recruitment agents or recruitment agencies. They’ll be very good at talking. That’s their job. They’ll be very organised. This is their job. They’re also 100% less worth chatting to at this event than the companies who hire people directly. And if you get hired directly, you’ll probably work for a company where you’ll be happier, who’ll pay you more. And everyone will be happy about this. All recruitment agents will dispute this assertion, and suggest that they’re different from the majority in this regard.  My suggestion is only to talk to recruitment agents when you’ve spoken to every single other company at the event. If you find yourself in a conversation with one by accident, here’s some ways to escape:
    • Great to chat to you. I’m going to go mingle and make the most of the event.
    • I’m supposed to be meeting my friend now – catch you a bit later.
    • Sorry I’m not interested.
    • Thanks, I already gave you my info though!
    • “I’m not a student sorry!”
    • <speak in foreign language>
  • care about freebies. Freebies are dull. Competitions are rubbish. Get a job. Then buy yourself “freebies”. 10 minutes of your time at this fair is worth more than a mars bar.
  • go round in a group. Let your friends go round separate from you. You’ll be at an advantage on your own or in a pair.
  • Stop chatting to employers after you have one good conversation. Chat to as many people as you feel able to.
  • Pick up leaflets without talking to people. Find some kind of question to ask them. I’ve given you plenty – asking what technology they use is a good one. :)

What do you know about this? I got my first job through the precursor to this event and since then I’ve helped other friends meet their future employers at the event.

What other questions could be asked? What would you say?

Share your thoughts in the comments!


Used this article to get yourself something good? Consider dropping me an email or leaving a comment to say thanks!