Anne-Marie Martin

"TWO YEARS after you graduate you will be in a permanent job and happy with the direction in which your career is moving." This statement may be hard to believe if you are just about to graduate and have no clear idea of what you want to do, or if you are the parent or partner of a graduate who appears clueless and directionless. It is, however, borne out by all surveys of graduate careers.

Decision-making and taking risks are skills that come with experience. On average it takes a graduate two years of trial and error, of moving in and out of jobs or study to find where they fit in the world of work. While this transition is taking place their apparent indifference hides the real fear that they may never get a job which gives them personal satisfaction and the all-important status among their peers. Parents and spouses must stay calm. Allow the new graduate some time to find their feet, but expect them to pay their way - or else you may remove an important incentive.

There is no better place to start or finish the job search than at one of the 13 university-run recruitment fairs taking place around the country. The London Graduate Recruitment Fair run by The Careers Group, University of London on 22 and 23 June at the Business Design Centre, Islington is London's oldest summer recruitment fair, having started in the Sixties. Roger Hammett, head of recruitment communications at the BBC, a regular recruiter at the event, says: "The BBC has always found that there is a good buzz in the hall all day long at the London Graduate Recruitment Fair, unlike many other such events when there are moments when recruiters outnumber visitors. The BBC's recruitment is extremely intermittent and does not always coincide with the event itself. However, we feel justified attending because we can be confident that we will be in a position to inform and inspire a massive number of enthusiastic, high-quality graduates from a wide range of institutions, degree disciplines and backgrounds."

SO WHAT'S the market for graduate jobs like this year? The year started well, with many employers talking of increased requirements. But stagnation set in around the time of the election with the public sector, long the mainstay of the fluctuating market, suddenly going into freeze mode.

However, the civil service, police and other uniformed services are still trawling for mainstream and fast-track applicants. Recently, retailing has taken a nose-dive, but Abercrombie & Fitch has joined the market prior to its UK launch, joining more regular retail recruiters such as Aldi and Waitrose. IT is definitely back in business: Unilog, the European IT consultancy, makes a welcome return and, for the first time, online gambling supplier Betfair is actively recruiting. The financial sector never disappears completely, with accountants such as KPMG, BDO Stoy Hayward and Deloitte, and banks such as HBOS seemingly needing an endless supply of recruits. Insurance and pension firms, long absent from the scene, are also making a welcome return.

The not-for-profit sector is high on many graduates' wish list and is starting to recruit more systematically. The Ethical Careers Guide's Alternative Options Zone at the London Graduate Recruitment Fair offers opportunities as varied as teaching in Japan to saving the coral reefs in Madagascar.

Online graduate recruitment means that vacancies advertised today can be filled more or less by tomorrow. Each year, observers of the graduate market predict a decline in popularity of the summer recruitment fairs but, apparently, nothing beats face-to-face interaction. At the London Graduate Recruitment Fair, graduates will be able to talk to more employers in one day under one roof than anywhere else in the country. Pharmaceuticals company Merck Sharpe & Dohme leads representatives in the Science Zone, joining more generalist recruiters such as the BBC, Datamonitor, Majestic Wine and Bloomberg.

CAREERS SERVICES ensure that their summer fairs provide a one-stop kick-start to the careers search and the Careers Group is no exception. Its cyber-café provides access to career decision-making software, its bookstall offers useful publications, its cinema provides welcome alternative careers information, and its career consultants check CVs. Independent professionals deliver seminars on job-hunting whilst employers run occupationally-focused sessions. There are masterclasses on interviews, and assessment centres and premium careers advice from C2, its graduate careers shop, for which a small charge is levied. Light relief will be provided by competitions and a Bic graphologist will identify dream jobs by analysing handwriting.

Job satisfaction is all about identifying a job that works for you and the summer fairs are all about helping you to find one. Ask your university about the one nearest to you. It's free and it doesn't hurt.

Director, The Careers Group, University of London