Career fairs can be tricky for students to navigate – you want to sell yourself to companies while also getting answers to important questions. So, what questions should you ask and what should you avoid asking at a career fair?
1. Never ask: "Do you sponsor H-1B? or Do you hire students on CPT or OPT?"
When you are attending a career fair, don’t position yourself as a visa sponsorship seeker. Position yourself as a talent.
Some companies have a clear written statement “We do not sponsor work visa” or “For U.S. citizens and permanent residents only.” If they are clear about their HR policy, you know that they are not your target employers. What about if they do not have that written statement?
Don’t ask “Do you sponsor H1-B?” during your first meeting with an employer. Instead, build a relationship with them and make sure they remember you.
2. Never ask: "What do you have for me?"
Don’t ask “What positions are you hiring for?” as you can look on the company job site by yourself. Instead, know who you are, what you’re offering, and have your pitch ready. Check out their opening roles on the website. If this is a virtual career fair, you can also check a tab called “Job Vacancies” before chatting with a company representative.
You can ask them “I came across a Global Supply Chain intern position on your job page. May I learn more about your expectations for this position?” They will say yes if they recruit for this position. Then, be prepared to ask your follow-up questions. If they are not hiring for this position, ask them to guide you to the hiring manager for the position.
3. Never ask: "What does your company do?"
Asking an employer what their company does tells them that you haven’t looked into them at all.
You should have done the homework, right? Research the attending companies before showing up at a career fair. If you haven’t done your homework, check out their website briefly on your phone before approaching their booth.
What Questions Should You Ask, Then?
In my previous post, I shared a few tips about what to do before and during career fairs. Don’t think of career fairs as just job opportunities. Think about the long term effects it can have on your career.
Career fairs are a great place to find mentors, explore career paths, and make connections. The representatives you meet at career fairs might come from the human resources department; they could also be hiring managers or alumni from your school who are doing well. Many of the big four consulting firms bring their consultants to career fairs on campus. Think of this as a good time for you to get to know them.
Take advantage of your face-to-face time with them to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Prepare a few questions to ask, and try to create meaningful conversations.
Important notes: Don’t forget to break the ice with small talk first! Don’t fire away without warming up. When you are attending a virtual career fair, try to make your questions easy to answer if you are using a chat feature. Not all the questions below are recommended for chatting through text via a virtual career fair.
Questions You Should Ask at a Career Fair
1. Ask: "How long have you been working for Company A?"
If they are new to the company, say “congratulations” and ask about their interview experience. As a new employee, they may have a fresh perspective on the recruitment process and can offer tips. Follow up with open-ended questions like “What was it like during your first few months at the company?” or “What did you do before joining this firm?”
2. Ask: "What did you do here at University B? What was your degree?"
Many of the representatives visiting your campus may be alumni of your school. You can explore common ground and connect over shared experiences, such as professors, majors, or clubs. Ask if their university background was beneficial in their job search and what skills are in demand in their field. This can help you with your own personal branding and interview preparation.
3. Ask: "What is the culture like at your work?"
Representatives who participate in career fairs usually have a positive outlook on their workplace. This question provides an opportunity for the representative to act as a brand ambassador and share what they love about their company and co-workers. You can also talk about diversity and inclusion initiatives and how international students can contribute to the company’s goals.
4. Ask: "Will your company be hiring for a role with (skills/experience) in the near future?"
If there is not an immediate job posting that interests you, it doesn’t mean there won’t be in the future. Reach out and ask if you can keep in touch via email or LinkedIn after the fair.
5. Ask: "How does your organization handle challenges related to [relevant issue]?"
Start with positive notes, then ask: “How does your organization handle challenges related to [relevant issue such as supply chain or inflation rate]?” Show your interest and business knowledge by inquiring about the impact of the current industry or economic situation on their organization.
6. Ask: "Do you have time to enjoy (our town/local attractions) before your trip back?"
For onsite career fairs, you can also chat about something enjoyable outside of work. Ask where they are located or which office they represent, and share information about festivals or local sights to see. You can also ask about their city, share your own experiences, or ask for recommendations. End the conversation by wishing them a safe trip.
7. Ask: "May I reach out to you with further questions?"
Most people will likely say “Yes, of course.” Rather than just applying for a job, try to build a lasting connection. Exchange LinkedIn information and send a follow-up email after the fair. This person may become a valuable reference in the future.
Last but not least: Remember to ask thoughtful, open-ended questions (specifically WH-questions: who, why, where, when, and how) and not yes/no questions. Their answers to your open-ended questions will help you think about the next topic to discuss.
Ultimately, you want to use a career fair as an opportunity to showcase yourself and to build meaningful and lasting connections. Remember to ask questions and maintain a conversation that centers around those goals, rather than solely looking to get hired. The employer will be able to differentiate between those who just want a job and those who are enthusiastic to get to know them and their company. Now that you are ready, go out there and make connections!
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