Career Tips for International Students

Questions International Students Should (and Should Not) Ask at Career Fairs

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

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?

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Questions You Should Ask at a Career Fair

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. 

1. Ask: "How long have you been working for Company A?"

If they are new to the company, say “congratulations” and ask them about their interview experience. Since they are still new, they are more likely to remember the recruitment process and share tips with you.

Follow up with open-ended questions like “What was it like during your first few months at the firm?” or “What did you do before joining this company?”

2. Ask: "What did you do here at University B? What was your degree?"

Many of the representatives who visit your campus will be alumni of your school. Your conversation can evolve around your school and mutual connections, such as your school’s professors, advisors, and majors. Ask them if the school reputation gave them an advantage when applying for the job, and find out which skills their company or industry needs . Knowing the employer’s needs is key to successful personal branding and productive interviews.

3. Ask: "What is the culture like at your work?"

Almost all representatives participate in career fairs because they are happy with their workplace. This question gives the representative a good chance to do the job of a brand ambassador. They can share how proud they are of their company and how much they enjoy working with their co-workers. They will normally talk about positive things, so your conversation should feel positive and enjoyable.

Since this question concerns culture, you can talk to them about trends toward diversity and inclusion. Try discussing how having international students onboard can help reach their business goals as well as their diversity goals. This is a good chance for you to get a first-look at this company’s work environment.

4. Ask: "Will you be looking for an additional team member with (skills/experience) in the near future?"

Even if you do not see a position that you’re interested in on the job board, it doesn’t mean that the company will not have a demand for that position in the future. If this is the company you’re interested in but they are not hiring a relevant position at this time, keep in touch with them! Ask them if it is okay to connect with them via email or LinkedIn after the career fair.

5. Ask: "How does your organization cope with 'the new normal' at work?"

How each organization views and manages its workforce during a pandemic is an interesting topic to ask. As employers and employees are dealing with working remotely or planning to to safely return to the office, it is important to find out about their new strategies to accommodate all the changes.

6. Ask: "Will you have a chance to enjoy (our town / some sightseeing) before going back?"

For onsite career fairs, you can also talk about something delightful aside from the job and the company. If the person seems to be available, ask where they are located or which office they are from, if there are multiple offices around the country. When representatives visit from out of town, share the information about the festivals or attractions that visitors should not miss.

You can also ask about their city. If you’ve visited their city before, share your impressions of it. If you haven’t been there, ask for some tips about the city. At the end of your conversation, wish them a safe trip. While this question may not be directly related to a job, it is a great way to leave an impression and showcase your personality. 

7. Ask: "May I contact you if I have further questions?"

Normally, people will say “Yes, of course.” Instead of treating this as a job application, try to connect with the person you speak to and maintain a long-term relationship. Connect with them on LinkedIn and send them a follow-up email right after the career fair. Foster this connection as your future referrer.

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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