With Covid cases rapidly on the rise again all across the country, the ‘new normal’ of connecting with others remotely is not going to change anytime soon.

Many graduate recruiters are currently reaping the benefits of organising and participating in virtual networking events, including the ability to connect with students from a much wider geographical reach, whist drastically slashing their marketing spend.

From a student’s perspective, I fully appreciate all of us are feeling a bit Zoomed out at the moment and university life is far from ideal. That combined with a huge spike in the number of virtual recruitment events it can all become a little bit overwhelming. As such, please don’t feel pressurised into attending everything – a scientific approach prioritising events hosted by employers on your target list is likely to be much more manageable in terms of information gathering. Naturally, for aspiring lawyers I’d also recommend the talks we have coming up as it’s always beneficial to hear from non-employers who tend to be less biased!

Start by reading up on potential events in advance and consider your goals for attending. Once you’ve identified a short-list of the ones you’d like to sign-up for, check out the format and timings (note: some events combine live sessions with pre-recorded ones) as well as who’ll be there and numbers attending? Ensure you take full advantage of what’s on offer. Will it also be possible to schedule one-to-one meetings in advance or will the event follow an online expo format with ‘tent’ / ‘break-out’ areas staffed by representatives from participating organisations?

Once registered, keep an eye on your emails (including your junk box) for event updates, joining instructions etc. and remember to save a link to the registration page in your calendar so you don’t have a last-minute panic as the event is just about to kick-off. Also, make sure you’re using the correct browser when logging in and any devices are either plugged in and fully charged (that includes blue tooth headsets!).

I understand your plans might change unexpectedly and at the last minute, but if you register for a virtual event then please do make an effort to log in (besides, for webinars/talks you can simply have them playing in the background as your camera and sound are both likely to be automatically switched off). Also, as well as being the right thing to do, there’s no guarantee a recorded version of a talk will be available afterwards. What’s more, it is much more interesting immersing yourselves in live events and being able to ask your own questions to the presenter(s).

For virtual networking events / careers fairs, carefully consider which organisations or individuals are on your ‘must talk to’ list. Then, based on what you’d like to learn more about, aim to pull together a list of the most appropriate questions. However, remember – networking events are more about asking broad brush questions – so, save the deep dive for one-to-one chats.

Pre-Covid, I’d always advise doing your homework before an event by thoroughly researching employers. For virtual events this is even more important as there won’t be any opportunities for casually bumping into someone significant whilst milling about or grabbing a drink. Virtual networking requires more precise planning and deliberation.

There’s also no getting away from the fact it’s more challenging to build rapport through a screen so consider what you can do to make this a little easier. Dress appropriately; professional but comfortable clothing. Ensure good eye contact with the camera, engaged body language, sitting forward and upright, not fidgeting, slow down your language a little to ensure you can be heard and listen actively by not interrupting or talking over others. As you would with an interview or important meeting, let others in your household know that you’re ‘attending’ an event and ask them not to disturb you.

On the plus side, I think engaging with people through a screen when you’re in your comfort zone at home may feel far less daunting than walking into a room full of strangers or approaching a stand at a law fair. Related to this, though it might feel counter-intuitive to save approaching your target employers to slightly later in your schedule, doing this will enable you to hone your ice-breaker questions with those you are less interested in. But don’t wait till the last minute in case you run out of time – I’ve heard that in some events the expo tents get filled up resulting in students having to wait their turn and some sadly ending up not being able to get inside.

Make sure you use events as an important opportunity to learn. It’s not just about creating a good impression with your target employers. When conducting your research prior to an event, consider what you already know about the organisations on your list. Research the graduate recruitment pages on employers’ websites, latest news stories, their values, their culture, key areas of work, clients etc. Ask intelligent, considered questions which will show you’re engaged and interested, and which will help to leave a lasting and positive impression. I’ll be looking at questions for employers and ‘informational interviews’ in more detail in my next blog.

Finally, I’ll be representing CheekyLittleCareers at the University of Law’s National Fair on 4 November 2020 alongside our associate editor Husnara Begum and and associate executive coach Matt Verrell so hopefully we’ll see you there!

By Jane Drew, associate careers consultant