by Molly Tracy
Attending a career fair can be intimidating - a maze of booths, stacks of resumes, and long lines of students in blazers all trying to get employed. And once you do get to the front of the line, you always forget to ask the questions you meant to ask, right? Well, here’s a helpful set of questions to take with you (print this and use it as a cheat sheet!). Choose from the following to make sure you don’t miss anything vital when talking to recruiters.
1. What does your company do?
Seems like a bit of a no-brainer, but it’s a great starting point. For any company you’re serious about, do your research beforehand. If you’ve done your research, ask instead, “Tell me about a recent project your company is working on.” However, if it’s a company you haven’t researched, don’t feel intimidated. When I visited the Stroud booth at my career fair, I hadn’t even heard of them, yet I ended up working there. Don’t let a lack of prior research stop you from an amazing opportunity!
Also, once the employee finishes answering this question, be prepared for them to ask you to tell them about yourself. Have an elevator pitch (60 seconds or less) prepared. Make sure your elevator pitch gets the recruiter interested (here’s how), and try to tailor your pitch to relate to the company’s work if possible.
2. What would I be doing?
Separate from what the company does, you might want to know what your roles and responsibilities would be. What does a typical week look like? What types of positions would they recommend for someone with your skills, interests and experience?
3. What is your favorite part about working at your company? What is your least favorite?
This is a good gauge to show how passionate the person you’re talking to is about the company. If their eyes light up and they get excited when you ask them what their favorite part is, they’re likely happy to be there. If not, asking about their least favorite part is a good gauge of what to look out for. Either way, no company is perfect, so it’s good to be aware of what to expect.
Also, people who only have positive things to say about their company likely are sugar-coating their experience.
4. What surprised you the most about your company?
While not necessary to get a general understanding of the company at hand, this question is a good follow up to question 3 and helps to build a rapport with the recruiter. It’s also a more unusual question and will help you stand out.
5. Why did you choose to work here?
This gives them a chance to pitch the aspects that (hopefully) made them fall in love with the company. Do these reasons align with your job preferences?
6. How well does your company fit with my job preferences?
It is generally recommended to ask about aspects such as upward mobility, culture, and/or training programs. But what do you really care about? Training programs may not matter to you, but rapid personal development might. Is what you care about most the right location, hands-on work, or business structure? Before the career fair, figure out what matters most to you by asking questions about your job preferences. Then ask each company about those key preferences.
7. What characteristics and educational background are you looking for in an applicant?
This question can help to give you a leg up in the interview process. Do they prefer candidates with a passion for learning and growth? If so, expect them to ask about that in the interview. Does the company value strong communication skills? Prepare examples demonstrating your communication skills.
8. What makes you different than other companies in your industry?
While career fairs can feel like a way for companies to weed through as many students as possible to pick their favorites, remember that you’re doing the same. Let’s take consulting, for example. If you were interested in consulting, you would likely explore several different firms while at the career fair. Learning about which firms work with which types of clients and projects can help you to figure out which companies may interest you more than others. Remember that even within an industry, companies can vary wildly in their makeup, type of work, mission and values, strategy, etc.
9. What is your hiring process? When are interviews?
This is more of a logistics question. It’s a way of asking when you can expect to hear from them. If their interview dates pass and you haven’t received a response to your follow-up email, you know to focus elsewhere. Knowing when interviews are happening also lets you know how much time you have to prepare. Often, company recruiters visiting a career fair from further away will stay after the fair for a few days and conduct all their interviews before returning to their company which means you may need to sign up for one the next day!
10. Can I leave you my resume? Do you have a business card?
At the end of every conversation with a recruiter, always offer them your resume. In addition, make sure you collect their business card so you can send a thank-you/follow-up email within 48 hours.