7 Questions to Ask at a Career Fair

students at a crowded career fair

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

Career fairs can frankly be, well, terrifying. You’re amidst throngs of job-seekers, often ones with similar skillsets who are going after the same jobs you want and talking to the very employers you hope to work for. To make matters worse, these events are often (but not always) geared toward students or entry-level candidates — although there are many opportunities for seasoned professionals, too — so you probably don’t have much experience working with recruiters. You may not even know what career path you want to take, which can make the experience especially intimidating.

How do you start a conversation at a career fair? Questions are a good place to begin. But what are good questions to ask recruiters? Try these seven, and you’ll be golden.

7 questions to ask at a career fair

1. What skills are you looking for in X role?

Rather than starting the conversation with the recruiter by expositing on your many strengths and qualities, turn the tables by asking about them. More specifically, show that you’re interested in a particular role. You should have done some research on the employers you saw were going to be at the career fair, and hopefully, you’ve gone a step further by checking out open positions at companies that especially interest you. Notice that rather than asking if there are any open positions, you should ask something about a role you already know is open. The recruiter will probably be irritated if you ask a question that is easily answered by a quick search of the job listings on their company website.

Alternatives to and variations of this question include:

• What can you tell me about X role?

• What do you look for in a candidate for X role?

• What are some challenges with this role?

• What are the primary duties for X role?

• Why did the last person leave X position?

2. What’s the typical career path like for people who work at your company?

Even if you’re seeking an internship or entry-level position right now, it’s important to know what you can expect in the future if you end up working for this employer. This question will help you gauge your fit with the company. Keep in mind that if it’s a startup or newer business, there might not be a lot of movement yet. Perhaps that’s the kind of environment that suits you, since it could also mean that you’ll have more responsibilities as an entry-level, employee, too, as well as start out with a higher title. Either way, pay attention to clues, such as vague language, in the recruiter’s response. 

This question will also show the recruiter that you’re interested in a long-term career with the employer, not just a short-term job. You’re demonstrating that you hope to stay and climb the ranks.

Alternatives to and variations of this question include:

• Generally speaking, what opportunities are there for advancement?

• How long do people typically stay with the company?

• How do you ensure your employees remain skilled and up-to-date with their roles?

3. What’s the hiring process like?

The hiring process can take a long time at any company, so don’t let this deter you. This is more to inform you about what you should expect. It can give you some peace of mind if you leave your resume with the recruiter and don’t hear back for a while, especially if they’ve told you to expect a delay. Keep in mind that timeframes they give you aren’t set in stone, though. Often, people aren’t as prompt getting back to you as they intend to be. As frustrating as it can be, try not to take it as a sign that they’re not interested in you as a candidate unless a significant amount of time has passed. 

Alternatives to and variations of this question include:

• When can I expect to hear back from you?

• How long does the hiring process usually take?

• What’s hiring process like for entry-level/middle-management/etc. positions?

4. What professional development opportunities are available?

To remain a viable professional in today’s world, it’s important to constantly upgrade your skillset and stay up-to-date with the latest tools and information available. Most businesses understand this and want to help their employees grow in their careers. First and foremost, they hope their employees will use these professional development opportunities to better contribute to their companies — but even if you ultimately leave the company, you can still use what you’ve learned to inform your career.

Be careful when asking this question, because you don’t want to suggest you’re looking to boost your skills for anything other than helping the company. Instead, emphasize that you want to, for example, use the programs they offer to help you grow in your career at that particular organization.

Alternatives to and variations of this question include:

• What opportunities are there for mentorship?

• What training opportunities are available?

5. What’s your favorite part of working for this company?

This demonstrates your enthusiasm for the employer because it shows that you want to know about the culture and benefits of working there. Plus, you’ll engage the recruiter by asking it since everyone likes talking about themselves. It can also give you some insight into what to expect. If, for instance, the recruiter has trouble coming up with a response, that’s not a good sign. Or, conversely, if the recruiter has lots of things to say, but none of them seem to fit in with your idea of a great workplace, then that could a red flag, too.

Alternatives to and variations of this question include:

• Why did you decide to work here?

• How did the reality of working here align with your initial expectations?

• How would you describe the company culture?

• What surprised you most about working here?

6. How do you expect [recent news item] to impact the company?

Perhaps a merger was announced recently or the company put out a groundbreaking product. Show that you’ve done your homework and are taking a genuine interest in the employer by asking about it. If there hasn’t been any major, groundbreaking news, dig into the company website and read recent media, press releases, studies or similar items. You can also check out their social media accounts to see if they’ve posted anything of interest lately. Even just mentioned that you loved the blog post on such-and-such topic will demonstrate that you’re truly interested in the company.

Alternatives to and variations of this question include:

• What does X mean for the company?

• How will X impact Y role?

• How are you encouraging employees to prepare for X?

• I loved such-and-such. How did you guys come up with the idea?

7. How do you think someone with my background and skill set could contribute to the company?

By now, you should know what kind of qualities the company is looking for in employees. Make sure to emphasize the skills that might match up to the ones you think the company wants before asking this question (don’t lie, of course — just put your best foot forward) and show genuine interest in a real role. This will give you (and the recruiter) a sense of how you could fit in and contribute to their mission.

Alternatives to and variations of this question include:

• What’s the typical educational background for employees?

• How do you think someone like me would fit in with the company culture?

How should I prepare for a career fair?

Before you even walk through the doors of the career fair, you should take certain steps to prepare. For example, you should have looked at the list of employers present and researched any companies and specific roles that might interest you. You should also prepare a professional-looking outfit — something you would wear to an interview. Have several copies of your resume printed and placed in a folder, and if you have business cards, bring some of those, too.

Of course, you should have questions prepared — these are a starting point. But try to develop some as you talk to recruiters, too. This will show that you’re engaged in the conversation and listening to what they have to say. Who knows? You could be talking to your future colleague!

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