Diary of a Third Year: Freebies are the only reason to attend a careers fair

By Duncan Robinson
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The Independent Online

Every man has his price. Mine, it seems, is a small bar of chocolate. I found this out when the Graduate Careers Fair came to town. While some political students held a protest in front of the Royal Bank of Scotland stand, I couldn't resist the chocolate they were handing out and picked up a brochure. Student solidarity be damned, there's free chocolate to be had.

Freebies are the only reason to attend a careers fair. You go to a stall, pick up a brochure and pretend to listen as they brag about their final salary pension. But really you're only there because they hand out four-colour clicky pens (thank you, Transport for London). There is very little in the way of actual information to be gained.

The brochures you receive rarely answer questions about what working for a particular company entails. There probably isn't enough space between the pictures of the good-looking staff and inspirational headlines. Transport for London's brochure had quotes from Malcom X, Shakespeare, Martin Luther King and a 14th century Japanese monk called Yoshida Kenko. None of these, however, were relevant to running a tube station.

Any text is usually so full of managerial jargon that you have no clue what the company actually does – other than offer "solutions". If it's not jargon, it's clichés. RBS promises "life in the fast lane". GCHQ reassures me "it's who you are on the inside that counts". Executive management at HSBC is "all about the bigger picture".

Those running the stands were often just as unhelpful. I went in the afternoon and five hours of slack-jawed undergraduates asking the same questions had obviously worn them down. Most queries were answered with a resigned "take this brochure and look on the website".

In some ways, the fair seemed quite surreal. "What recession?" I thought. "There are thousands of jobs here". Then I realised that this was the same fair that was going to every other university in the country. My university alone will be spewing out more than 6,000 graduates this year. If this fair was just for us, then we might – might – all get jobs. But it's not. Companies are still recruiting, but on a much smaller scale. As a result, there are going to be more graduates pulling pints, serving coffee and signing on than ever.

A happy few graduates will land on their feet. But if you're graduating this summer, like me, the odds are not in your favour. The nice woman at the RBS stand told me they were taking on 400 graduates. Asked how many apply, she replied: "I dread to think. But I got in, so it can't be that hard!" There is always hope.