How open days give you a unique insight into company culture

Did you know that companies hold open days? They're a great way to gain an insight into the organisation and boost your applications.
Jessica Murray
Jessica Murray

There’s only so much information you can get from a company website.  You’ll probably come across lots of glossy images of people sat in board meetings and chatting by the coffee machine, and some description of the company’s values, but these only touch the surface of what it’s like actually working somewhere. And that’s where company open days come in. 

These are opportunities to get a ‘day in the life’ glimpse of what you would actually be doing if you were to secure a job within the organisation. You’ll meet senior members of staff and graduate trainees, wander round the office and eye up the dress code. You can ask all the burning questions you could possibly want, whether it’s about the application process or the working hours. 

They’re a crucial way of breaking down the ‘scary’ recruitment process and adding some much needed transparency to what recruiters are actually looking for. It’s also really important for you to know whether you would fit in well with the company and its culture – there’s no point in going through a rigorous application process for a job you’re not going to enjoy if you get it.

What do open days involve?

open days Shearman & Sterling
The entrance to Shearman & Sterling’s London offices

To find out exactly what a typical open day involves, we went along to multinational law firm Shearman & Sterling’s open day. Around 55 Debutants headed to the company’s swanky headquarters for an informative afternoon that took them through the company’s history, its specialisms and its trainee programme. 

Of course open days will vary from company to company, depending on their values and priorities, but most will involve meeting current graduate trainees, or senior staff in charge of recruitment. At Shearman & Sterling, students used these opportunities to ask a vast range of questions to enhance their knowledge of the company and help them with any future applications. 

Other open days might involve a tour of the workplace, a networking session, or participating in a group task. You might even get some free food out of it – FYI, the Shearman & Sterling cookies are divine. 

They’ll give you information you can’t find anywhere else

The one thing that most impresses employers in an application or interview is an extensive knowledge of the company itself. Being able to whip out a key fact, company priority or impressive statistic during an interview is bound to set you above the rest. You may be able to take some bland figure off the company’s Wikipedia page, but so will thousands of other applicants and your interviewer will see right through it. Hearing the information from those who actually work there will give you a unique insight and make you sound much more authentic. 

At Shearman and Sterling, attendees were given an oversight of the firm’s impressive history, as well as gaining an insight into its plans for the future. Attendees were able to speak to three current trainees about exactly what they do on a day-to-day basis, and were taken through a case study that helped them get to grips with some of the complex issues they’ll be dealing with on the job. 

Arti Vadher, a MA Law graduate from the University of Birmingham, said: “The open day has been really informative, and it’s gone into much more detail than the literature on their website and in brochures. You get to meet the people so it’s more personable and you get a feel for the firm. It will definitely make me more likely to apply, 100%.” 

They will almost certainly improve your chances of getting a job

open days Shearman & Sterling recruitment process
Debutants learning about Shearman & Sterling’s recruitment process

Open days are all about finding out information that you can’t find on the company website or Facebook page. They’re an opportunity to ask those niggling questions about applications and interviews that you’re not quite sure about. And with this exclusive information under your belt, you’ll already be ten steps ahead of the vast majority of candidates who won’t be as well informed.

Every company has different priorities when it comes to recruitment. For some, your educational background and university modules might be important, for another, extracurriculars will be given far much more emphasis. This is your chance to find out exactly what it is their recruiters are looking for, and then you’ll be able tailor your application accordingly. At Shearman & Sterling, a senior recruiter took candidates through a few example application forms, pointing out what they were impressed with and what didn’t work so well – what better insight into the company recruitment process could you possibly ask for?

You also might get the opportunity to network with staff members – if you go for an interview and you’re recognised by your interviewer from an open day, you’ll instantly get 50 bonus points for dedication. 

They’ll help you decide where you want to work

While I’ve been focusing on all the positives of open days, it’s also perfectly ok to go along to an open day and, well, hate it. It might be completely different to what you expected, or you might not be keen on the type of work you will be doing. But this is a great way of helping you find where exactly you want to work, and where you will thrive.

Your first job is as much your decision as it is the decision of your employer. Don’t just apply for a job because it’s a ‘big name’ that will impress your friends; if you take the time to go to an open day, you’ll be able to decide whether the company is actually right for you.

Will Lucas, a second year French and Spanish student at the Shearman & Sterling open day, said: “I never like to say anything unfounded in an application, so I would hate to apply for a law firm and say ‘I think your culture’s great’ without actually meeting the people and being in the building.

“What makes [this open day] unique is that a lot of law firms ask you to go through quite a lengthy application process before you can come to an open day, so to have an open day where you can just come and see the firm makes it a lot more open, which I think they’re quite proud of in their culture as well.’

The paper overflowing with notes showed just how much the students gained from their experience. If you hadn’t heard of company open days before today, then don’t panic. You still have plenty of time to do your research – target a few companies you’re most interested in and find out if they have any open days coming up and register your interest. With graduate recruitment season just around the corner, keep your eyes peeled and make the most of any opportunities that come your way – remember, there’s no such thing as too many questions.

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