By Samantha Lo
The LSE “finance bro” who uses spring weeks as a casual conversation starter is a well-established stereotype within and outside of the LSE community. The peer pressure to start job-searching early in first year, the abundance of keynote events, and the regular circulation of the LSE Careers Newsletter all contribute to constructing the career “grindset” at LSE, which can often appear inescapable.
The frequency and scale at which the LSE holds careers fairs act as a constant reminder for students to place job prospects at the forefront of their minds. It feels crucial to start networking to reap an early advantage in their career journeys.
The stress that comes alongside job-searching can become a detriment to student mental health. As a result, LSE career culture can often seem quite oppressive and cut-throat. I experienced this first-hand, when during a panel talk at the recent Discover International Organisations Day, I was sandwiched in between two students who were frantically typing every single word that came out of the speakers’ mouths, adding flair to the panel discussion with their rhythmic keyboard sounds.
LSE’s Careers team offers careers fairs for students interested in a wide variety of industries ranging from investment banking, law to international development. These events come in different formats, including employer and alumni insight events, recruitment events, and international career events. Booking them is like getting a Taylor Swift concert ticket – time sensitive and competitive.
So how do LSE students actually find these overbooked, highly hyped careers fairs?
When asked about his reasons for attending careers fairs, Carl*, an MSc Political Theory student interested in pursuing a career in law, expresses that “the first motivator is the fame the LSE holds in terms of career,” explaining how in his undergraduate years he never went to any careers events, but the tight association between LSE and career-building prompted him to find out what makes these events so special.
Maria*, an MSc Global Health Policy student, echoes Carl’s views: “LSE has so many opportunities and amazing speakers, so many things that other people don’t have a chance to do, I will be doing a disservice if I am not going.”
For Maria, there is a self-imposed responsibility to participate in careers fairs because she regards it a privilege to have access to recruiters and renowned speakers on campus. Such sentiment reflects a sense of FOMO among students, as if there is something inherently wrong or even shameful about not making use of these opportunities. The main objective seems to lie in going to these fairs instead of benefiting from them.
Rosie*, a law student, offers ways to maximise one’s experience in careers events and use them to one’s advantage. She explains that to get the most out of law fairs, one has to have a clear sense of purpose in attending them. She has spoken to firm representatives, aiming to learn about the specificities of the firm specialisations, clients they have worked with, and company culture.
“I was very goal-oriented in the sense that for all the questions I’ve asked, I’ve tried to shape it into how I would put it in my application form,” she recalls. “I asked questions like ‘does your firm do any volunteering or pro bono,’ so then in my application I can say that this firm aligns with my values.”
Despite the events only lasting for a few hours, there is much preparation that goes behind them. For example, contemplating the ‘right’ person to approach at the fair can drastically improve one’s overall experience. Rosie made a deliberate effort to speak to the junior lawyers in the fairs, because “they were in a very similar position just a while ago, so they were usually quite empathetic.” She also highlights the importance of familiarising oneself with the companies present at the fair: “If the students haven’t done enough research (when asking recruiters questions), they can appear quite impolite”.
James*, a BSc Economics student who is pursuing a career in banking, agrees with Rosie that identifying a definite purpose in attending a fair can immensely benefit their experience. “You want to have specific questions to ask that are not on the FAQ section, or something you can’t find online”, says James. He noted how the HR department of popular firms usually takes a long time to reply to emails, and the answers are usually vague, generic and unhelpful. Careers fairs give students direct access to a company representative who can answer their questions in a more personalised manner.
However, Charis*, an MSc Social Anthropology student who is still exploring her career options, notes that careers fairs can prove equally valuable to someone who does not come with specific goals in mind. When asked about her motivations in joining a consulting fair, Charis answers: “I want to see if there is an intersection between what I am studying and consulting.” She spoke extensively with a representative from PwC, who highlighted her advantage in applications because in a broad industry like consulting, “companies often try to get more diverse cohorts so they can represent different interests.”
Carl’s and James’ international backgrounds also affected their approaches to careers fairs. Being originally from China, Carl notes that “because of the international nature of London, I get more access to opportunities I wouldn’t have gotten if I stayed in China.” James explains that “in the banking industry, they recruit on a geographical basis, let’s say Hong Kong is in the APAC banking sphere”. There are thus firms that James, originally from Hong Kong, has not heard of before, “because they are Europe or America based so they don’t have offices in Hong Kong.” As someone who is open to working abroad after graduation, this exposure opens doors for many opportunities globally.
It is undeniable that LSE’s careers events are reputable for good reasons. They invite insightful speakers and provide invaluable opportunities for students to interact with companies or organisations that they wish to get a foot into. Although they can be stressful and time consuming, Rosie reminds us of their value: ‘‘Through these events, you pick up information bit by bit and you learn a lot over time”.
At the end of the day, we ourselves choose to sacrifice two hours of our Friday evenings to participate in these careers fairs, so it is crucial for us to reflect upon how they shape our attitudes towards job-searching. Whether our experiences so far have been productive, rewarding, draining, stressful, or all of them, ultimately we have the power to choose what we get out of the fairs we attend in the future.
*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity.
Illustration by Francesca Corno