5 lessons from a day with 300 next-generation creatives

Welcome to ERIC (via @ericfestival on Instagram)

Last Sunday I attended a careers fair.

The last time I did this was in 2004. It was rubbish.

I still remember some of the things that made it such a bad experience:

  • The stuffy sports hall with overpowering strip lighting.
  • Enforced wearing of name badges (I’m 6ft 6, at least let me be a little bit incognito…)
  • Roll-up banners featuring pixelated images of ecstatic people with whiter teeth and better dress sense than me.
  • Low-grade giveaway pens inscribed with company names seemingly made out of a bunch of barely-believable 18th century surnames.
  • Application forms full of checkboxes and essay questions.


Given this haunting past experience, why would I spend my Sunday at a careers fair?

I’m 33 years old and my weekend is sacred – I have DIY to consider (and postpone), 2-drink hangovers to wallow in, and flat white coffees to drink.

And I do have a job already.

Well, this time around two main things had changed.

First, I was one of the exhibitors, and second the careers fair in question had taken a somewhat different approach to what I was used to.

ERIC is a careers fair with a difference. In fact, it’s more of a careers festival; live music, relaxed spaces for talks and interviews, bespoke stage design, and independent food and drink vendors. The founders Mae and Sam have run two events so far and already signed up over 1,500 young people from across the UK.

I was there to introduce a new venture I’m working on that connects entertainment and education.

Accompanied by my ever-supportive partner, we focused on one part of the program (‘Soundcheck’, aka the music festival in a day that’s been running with schools, colleges and the V&A Museum amongst others). We put together a stand where attendees could pitch their own dream music festival business — on one sheet of paper.

As any iterating lean startup should, we aimed to maximise learning potential whilst providing as much value to our audience as possible.

A budget of £45 built us a stand, complete with Mondrian-style design on the walls courtesy of some coloured electrical tape (probably the best interior design idea I will ever have).

Here are a few of the things we learnt.

1. Choose the right social channel

It was all about Instagram and Twitter for the attendees we met, especially when it came to connecting and communicating about career-related matters. From over 100 people who signed up to receive updates from us, only 2 suggested connecting via Facebook.

WhatsApp is obviously a big deal, but used for the close circle only. Our visitors were pretty skeptical about brands of any kind (even our fledgling project) using WhatsApp to converse with them.

Snapchat was being used through the day, but the speed and simplicity of Instagram seemed to resonate best.

Many entertainment and b2c brands are already well on top of this; more interesting is to see how other types of businesses use social channels to connect with this audience effectively.

2. Offline engagement can still win

We were a bit nervous about our low-tech, non-shiny pitch and activities.

Surely we couldn’t compete with LED screens, live bands, free food and established brands?

It didn’t seem to matter — when a theme resonates and there’s something creative and open to get stuck into, our crowd had no problem with pens, post-its and paper.

Our one bit of tech was an iPad with a Typeform signup form; most people ignored it and put their name and contact info on a piece of paper.

The Soundcheck festival wall of fame

3. Mentoring and networks are more important than ever

We chatted with a lot of people at ERIC, and unsurprisingly most of them had attended with the goal of taking steps towards finding a job.

However, the desire to build a network and find mentors and guidance burnt just as strongly. Perhaps this is particularly prevalent in the creative industries, where issues around diversity, nepotism and unpaid internships have been heavily publicised.

This does contrast a little with some research around Generation Z in the US. 66% of Gen Z say their number one concern is drowning in college debt, and 75% say there are ways of getting a good education besides going to college.

As Elizabeth Segran recently wrote in Fast Company magazine;

“Millennials are the most collaborative generation, launching applications like Facebook and sharing everything with everybody, but Gen Z are a very independent and competitive generation, having been taught by their parents that there are definitely winners and losers in life. Millennials, on the other hand, were told that if you work together, everybody can be a winner.”

We believe that although Gen Z have a heightened sense of independence, there’s a need for them to connect with their peers as well as skills and opportunities. The creation of new types of networks and access to mentors are going to be a key part of this happening.

4. Tribes, but not as we know them

In the Fast Company report mentioned above, Generation Z is considered much more neutral and fluid when it comes to just about everything — clothing, style, conversation, even bathroom choice.

The fluidity of Gen Z tribes echoes an article from Spotify’s product team about how they get new ideas to market using Squads, Chapters and Guilds. These groups are still tribes, but not in the traditional sense. Members are able to shift between groups depending on what they’re interested in, rather than only operating in the traditional tribes designed by the business.

This is going to become a growing trend and more businesses will need to think about how they can operate in similar ways, as their future workforce will expect it.

5. Listening for value

ERIC took place on a cold Sunday morning, but 10 minutes after the doors opened, the place was packed.

Something else that struck us other than punctuality was how open attendees were, and how they wanted to listen and learn as much as they possible could.

However, they also were mindful about risk and value.

16–19 year olds are saving money far earlier than older generations, and one of their top 3 goals is safeguarding money for the years to come.

They want to pay only for what they use, and are increasingly pragmatic about getting value from the money they spend.

By spending a lot of time listening and asking us questions, we could see they were focused on assessing the risk and value of what we were presenting.

The people who are able to ask the best quality questions are also likely to be the ones to learn the most. The skill of asking the right questions is one we feel is going to be of growing importance in the future.

At the end of the day, we ended up with over 40 festival pitches. Some of the ideas included a festival for people who feel excluded by current political policies, crowd-sourced food vendors, and stages themed by human emotions.

Next up for us;

If you want to know more about what we’re up to or want to get involved, visit www.soundcheckfestival.com or contact me via www.howardgray.net

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