Not sure what inquiries to ask at a job fair? One way to stand out from the competition is to have the right questions at hand.
Here are the best questions to ask at a job fair, as advised by experts.
Michael Trust, MPA, SPHR, PHRca, SHRM-SCP
Human Resources Director, Michael Trust Consulting
The overall types of roles available
The idea here is to figure out the scope of roles that are available in the organization. This helps you understand where you may fit, given your background and experience, as well as an understanding of possible vertical and horizonal career paths.
If the scope appears to be very rigid, like one might find in a governmental agency versus one that seems to be more fluid (roles are more loosely defined), this tells you a great deal about career paths and possibly even flexibility in the organization.
This helps you determine where you potentially see yourself in and how you best work and what you’re looking for.
What makes the ideal applicant for roles at the organization
This helps you determine how to answer any questions if you ask this question early on in your conversation.
At a job fair in particular, when you’re first at the employer’s booth or table, and you’ve exchanged pleasantries, you can ask something like “so, I’m very interested in (name of company); can you tell me in general what you look for in the ideal candidate?”
You can then use this information to your advantage. And, you determine if you like what you hear and/or if you would be a good fit for the organization. For example, if the answer includes “we like people who don’t mind traveling 50% of the time”, and you know that this is something you do not like to do, you can politely end the discussion and move on.
What types of skills, education, and experience do they find makes someone the most successful
This answer will give you insight that you can use to compare your own background to the organization’s preferences and their typical prototype of what they find is successful. If you don’t have this background, and you have a background that is equivalent or even better, you can use this information to draw comparisons to your own background and how it still fits in with what they are seeking.
How do they evaluate applicants who don’t have any experience yet
If you’re a new graduate, or changing careers, or re-entering the workforce and lack any or the specific experience the organization is seeking, this is a great question to find out what they do in this situation.
For example, do they offer internships? Externships? Do they offer a paid training program (often the case in sales, for example)?
If they don’t generally hire people without experience, then you can use them as a resource by asking how you can get that experience to come back to them when you have it, so that you can demonstrate the experience and your desire to work for them.
How valuable are internships and externships?
This is a great way to do three specific things:
- Get experience;
- Get your foot in the door of an organization to show them what you can do, and hopefully leverage this into a full-time opportunity
- Build contacts for networking – both amongst your internship colleagues (if any) and with the people for whom you work.
Both are extremely valuable even if you do not end up staying with the organization full time later on. This gives you references (if you do a great job) and contacts that might be able to help you get into other organizations.
What is a typical career path for particular types of roles?
This question will give you an idea of the vertical and horizonal career paths for specific functional areas. Modernly, many want to have not just a vertical career path, but also a horizonal one, where they gain exposure and/or functional expertise across many areas so that their experience helps them eventually to move vertically.
In some organizations, there is a formal program for advancement based on the attainment of experience and meeting or exceeding goals, and this is great information to have. As you evaluate the organization, this is great information to have to see if the organization meets your needs as well as your meeting theirs.
What level of training and development support does the organization give to new hires
Along the same lines as asking about gaining experience and career paths, this is another key factor, particularly for someone new to the working world, re-entering the working world, or changing careers.
Some organizations will fully support an additional degree or certificate program, others will offer some level of cash reimbursement, and some do nothing.
Depending on what your needs are, and where you want to see yourself, ascertaining the level of commitment to ongoing training is important. It’s also important to note that many organizations have an in-house “university” for job-specific training. Some are excellent, some are not.
As part of your evaluation, you’ll want to consider where you want to be and what you need, and if the organization can provide it in some manner with an established program. If not, and you receive a job offer, you can always try to politely negotiate this point.
Polite doesn’t imply that you shouldn’t be assertive; it means using judgment and tact in negotiating for your own interests without causing the job offer to be rescinded or starting off on the wrong foot with a new employer; ideally, you want this to be a positive for the employer and for you.
What do they (the recruiter) most enjoy about working at the organization? Least enjoy?
This question can tell you a lot about the culture. Much of recruiting is like sales and marketing, so how accurate the answers are can vary wildly. But in any response, there is truth, and there is fluff. Try to tease out the truth.
What someone might dislike (if they share that) may be something that appeals to you and vice versa. Everyone has different preferences. This is an information-gathering exercise to help you make informed judgments about the organization and whether or not you want to pursue opportunities there.
How many graduates do they hire from the school where the job fair is taking place or from this geographic area (non-school affiliated job fair)
This is designed to gauge how serious the employer is about hiring. Some employers attend job fairs even when they don’t have any current openings; they are building a talent pipeline. This is perfectly acceptable. But if you need a job now, this isn’t going to help you in the short term.
It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t engage; you should – you never know where your next role may come from.
Perhaps a recruiter knows another recruiter at another organization and such. But manage your time judiciously. You might want to ask if and why they like to hire from this particular school or region – that can give you insights as to key attributes that they are seeking in terms of the quality of the program or the richness of the area in terms of a skilled workforce.
Executive & Career Coach | Author, “Winning the Game of Work“
When you’re going to a Career Fair, take the time to research the companies that will be there and the types of roles they are hiring for. Remember that when you’re looking for a job, it’s about finding a good mutual fit, so prioritizing who you want to talk to beforehand will help you use your time productively.
Here are some questions that you can ask the company representatives, why you might ask them, and what it demonstrates about you:
“How does the open position support the strategic business objectives of the firm?”
This information will provide you some context for how the role fits within the business and how it adds value. It shows you are interested in adding value for the organization and not “just getting a job.” It also gives you an opening to talk about how your previous experience fits with the position.
“What are some of the most important attributes that are needed to be successful in the role?”
This shows that you understand that you want to make sure there’s a good fit between the expectations of the role and your strengths. Again, it provides you an opportunity to give examples of how you possess those attributes and how you’ve added value in previous roles.
What do you like most about working for the firm? This question allows the representative to share their personal insights and passions for the company. This can provide you with a feeling for the culture. The level of enthusiasm (or lack thereof) that the representative expresses can be a strong indicator of what it’s really like to work there.
“What surprised you most about going to work for your company?”
This is another question that can help you “pull back the curtain” and get beyond preconceived notions about the company. Sometimes a company’s brand image is very different from what it’s like on the inside (for better or worse).
Hearing about someone else’s experience from inside can gauge whether it’s a good fit for you and uncover potential points of connection that you can make with the company representatives and your fit with the role and company culture.
One final point to keep in mind when going to a career fair is that people hire people.
When you show up authentically interested in the representatives and the company, your chances of making a positive impression are much higher.
Business Purpose Coach | CEO, 822 Group
If you want to be fulfilled and happy in your work, it’s essential to use the opportunity of looking for a new job to make sure it’s going to give you more than just a paycheck. Think ahead about what would fulfill you most in a job and work those things into your questions.
Here are four other questions to ask at a career fair to find opportunities that align with your true purpose:
“What is the mission of your organization and how do you see the organization make decisions and take actions that reflect the mission?”
This one is important because it will show you whether the company you’re talking to understands their own purpose and how committed they are to living it each day.
“What are your values? Do you look for people that fit your values and how do your employees live your values every day?”
Values are code for – how do you expect your employees to conduct themselves. This is a critical part of being fulfilled in your new job – finding an organization that’s thoughtful about what they value and rewarding those values creates happier work environments.
“Are there opportunities to explore new things and build new skills for new employees?”
Your purpose is revealed through you over time so you want to find a place where you can explore, try new things and really get to know yourself, what brings you joy and what you’re good at.
“What’s something you are personally most proud of about your company or your role?”
This will give you a chance to hear directly from the representative about their own experiences as an employee and not just a representative who is there to put on a good face for the company.
My experience in participating in career fairs both as a participant and as an employer, has led me to note some of the best questions people have asked me.
“What does your company do?”
The first one is the stereotypical “What does your company do” question. In reality, you should already know this answer and be able to ask something insightful about the company instead, but if you don’t know, it is good to ask.
“What does a day at work look like for you?”
The next question is, “What does a day at work look like for you?” This question is frequently asked because it will decide, for the most part, whether you want to be doing what they are doing every day.
“Did they change anything during quarantine in this business?”
This question is very specific for this year, but it will show anything that won’t be on Glassdoor or any other site about their business. It will go more in-depth on what they are doing for employee safety and how much they are innovating to change with the times.
“I am a _ (job title), what would I be doing in a similar role in your company?”
If you feel uncomfortable asking the question about their daily work, this is another question that is very similar but will delve in your specific field. However, many times the person may not know about that specific marketing or logistics (example) daily work.
“What was your favorite day on the job so far? Why?”
One of the better questions I have been asked is, “What was your favorite day on the job so far? Why?” This allows me to explain what my best day looks like, and if that is sitting at my desk in peace and quiet for 30 minutes, that should tip you off to the workplace being loud and scattered.
If that is what you are looking for, great, if not, then make a mental note. It can give you an insight into the person and to the job environment.
These last few questions are your leaving questions.
“What is your hiring process?”
Firstly, “What is your hiring process?” If they have job openings, you can ask for the application, too; sometimes, the employers bring those sheets with them.
If they do not currently have any job openings, you can ask them, “What kind of opportunities do they foresee in the future.”
In closing, ALWAYS ask if you can leave your resume. Even though many students feel uncomfortable doing this, it is very important.
Those resumes you leave, leave an impression, and will also help them remember you for the future. Put your picture in the corner so they can remember your face because there are thousands of people who come through a career fair.
“Who was the most successful person at your company? Where are they now?”
Lastly, the best question I have ever received is, “Who was the most successful person at your company? Where are they now?” If you strive for a work-life balance and they say that the most successful person came in at 5 am and left at 9 pm, maybe you should rethink your decision.
The best questions are the ones that aren’t direct because employers will sugarcoat those stereotypical questions. Asking questions that they don’t expect like “what was your favorite day at work“, will allow them to be honest about the work environment.
Asking questions like “what is company culture” will get you premade answers that probably aren’t true. Remember, you learn by asking questions, so spend a few hours the night before researching and writing down insightful questions.
It’s worth your time, I promise.
Partner, Surf Search
“Can you describe the successful career path for an entry-level employee at your company?”
Companies, large and small, should be able to specifically layout nice career progression. Typically this would include annual or twice-annual reviews.
A strong progression would be progressive jumps annually in the first years, in title and compensation, with the opportunity to grow into a management position if ready. The company should give examples of employees who have risen through the ranks to leadership roles. If they have lots of people coming and going from the company and can’t give solid examples, that would be a red flag.
“What does a typical 30/60/90 onboarding process look like at your company?”
The is that the new employee “get comfortable” in their new role. The first month should include LOTS of training, which should include specifics about the job and an understanding of company operations as a whole.
The second month should be all about launching you into your new role, with a lot of oversight by your supervisor. Ask questions! Learn as much as you can. Does the company offer one on one time to review your work, or is it “ask as you need to?”
During the second month, you should have lots of support from supervisors and co-workers. By the third month, your leash should be longer. By now, you should have a good handle on duties and responsibilities, however regular receiving feedback via meetings or written reviews.
“How would you describe the culture at your company?”
This is a tricky one. Most company reps are going to tell you things like “very inclusive, open, welcoming.” Maybe “work hard, play hard.” If you are working for a science-based company, you might hear “very analytical.”
You would LIKE to hear the company fosters social events to bring company teams together. Do be careful if you go to Glassdoor for insight. While Glassdoor reviews can be helpful to a degree, it’s also a place for former disgruntled employees to really let go, and there is no attribution. Generally speaking, happy employees aren’t posting on Glassdoor.
“How does a successful employee move up within your company structure?”
They go the extra mile, ask questions, eagerly take on new responsibilities, are not time clock punchers. They work well with cross-functional team members across the company spectrum. They seek out information and new challenges.
“What professional development does your company offer, i.e., tuition reimbursement, certification training, etc.?”
Most top companies pay for advanced degrees and training for job-specific certification. Generally speaking, these are reimbursement for successfully completing the courses, but could require passing tests for certifications.
“Does your company offer a mentorship program of any kind?”
Mentorships are always a great thing. In a perfect world, you would be paired with someone more senior who is not your direct supervisor, but who has been with the company, knows the ropes and can offer advice and support on navigating the ins and outs of how to fit in.
Generally, companies try to pair new employees with a mentor who might have other common interests but certainly promote the company in a positive light.
“Do you encourage employees to seek advanced degrees, like MBAs?”
The answer should be yes, and hopefully, the company offers tuition reimbursement.
“What sets your company apart from your competitors?”
Answers to this question will depend on the industry, of course. But look for things like “strong employee satisfaction and retention.” Also, innovation and a strong pipeline of new products. You want to land with a company that is always moving forward, not just content with “same old, same old.”
“What kind of programs do you offer to support working families? I.e., on-site childcare, flex schedules, work from home?”
This is a biggie for young employees who may be launching their families as well. You need to ask yourself, what is important to ME?
Companies are realizing during this time of COVID that employees are doing a terrific job working from home. Employees are telling us they are working more efficiently with less distraction. Companies are currently reevaluating what “work looks like” during this time, and we expect a shift toward more flexibility, post-COVID. And that’s a good thing.
“I would love to work for your company. What can I do to increase my chances of moving forward with that plan?”
In a perfect world, if you’ve asked all the right questions, the company rep would ask you to sit down and formally begin the interview process.
Absent that, they should offer a strategy that includes a scheduled face to face with someone from the talent acquisition team. Hopefully, they WON’T direct you to the company’s jobs website because that’s a black hole.
Ask for business cards and follow up with thank you emails and then send LinkedIn connection requests. “Follow” the company on LinkedIn. Keep a respectful line of communication going with those that you meet. You are just beginning to build your career network, something that lives and breathes for the duration of your working life.
Director of Successful Release
“What kind of training program do you provide?”
One of the most important factors in being successful at a new company or in a new job is the training and support that’s provided.
Some companies provide amazing training while others throw you in the deep end from day one. You want to find out how much a company is willing to invest in you from day one to ensure your success. Companies with a long record of providing intense, structured training to their employees can be fantastic options, especially for those early in their careers.
“What are the biggest challenges new hires will face?”
Job fairs are often mini-interviews where making a good impression is important to get an actual interview. They can also be a great way to learn more about how to better position yourself as a candidate.
By asking this question, you can gain some great insight into how you can better showcase your experience. If you can demonstrate how you’re likely to overcome the major challenges you would face, you put yourself in a great position.
“Do you think someone with my credentials would be a good fit?”
Going into any job fair, you should have a short (under 30 seconds) elevator pitch about your value as a candidate.
You never know how long you’ll have to talk to any person at a job fair, so you need to show what you have to offer quickly and concisely.
Once you’ve given your pitch and discussed the job you’re interested in, you should ask if someone with your credentials and experience would be a good fit. If they say yes, that’s great news, and you can talk about the next steps to applying.
If they are more hesitant, you can learn about your application’s potential weaknesses and how to address them. Either way, you leave in a better position than you started.
Career Coach | Co-Founder of Going Places
You should ask only two types of questions, and they should be all about THEM!
Ask about the latest happenings at their company
“I saw your article about the importance of beta testing. What did you find from the beta test for x product to be the most helpful?”
Ask them for their information
- Can I get your card? I would love to follow up with you.
- Can I get your email? I would love to follow up with you.
- Can I get your name? I’d love to connect with you on LinkedIn.
Step-by-step for the best approach to a career fair:
- Look into all of the companies that will be at the fair. Pick out the ones you are interested in.
- Google the company names to find articles, blog posts, or other published media by them. Write down questions you have based on what you find.
- Write your questions for each company in a notebook.
- Bring a pen, your notebook, and a folder to the fair. You will write notes on the back of THEIR cards and keep the cards in the folder.
- Ask two questions
- Write good notes based on their responses!
- When you get home, Write an individual email (or LinkedIn message) to each person you talked to, mentioning what you discussed. Make sure you attach your resume. See the example below.
It was so great meeting you last week. I loved what you said about XYZ. I also found this cool article that relates to what we talked about [insert article]. Attached is my resume. Do you have time this week to get on a call for 10 minutes? I’d love to hear more about your experience within the company.
Marketing Executive, Minttwist
Career fairs are always a great source of inspiration for those looking to take a step forward in their professional lives.
This could be the perfect opportunity to spot the company of your dreams and ask them all that you have always wanted to ask. Make sure you have a list of relevant questions when you are approaching those firms!
- How does the hiring process look like? Use this question to find out the different steps you will have to follow up. You can mention how many interviews you would have to face if there is any test you must accomplish and exactly you would have to meet.
- Do you offer training and development opportunities within the job post? If you are looking for promotion inside the business, it might be worth asking them about training opportunities and development schemes.
- Can you tell me a bit about the culture of the company? Apart from having done your research about the company, asking them about their internal culture would help you understand how to work there. Their goals, attitudes, and values are a key premise for every company.
- What exactly are you looking for in a candidate? If you know what they are looking for in a potential candidate, it would be easier to prepare for the different stages you will have to overcome.
- Can I please have your business card? Or may I leave my resume? Take that step forward and ask them for a company contact. Or, if you can, give them your resume. Do not forget to show your interest and tell them why you want to work for them; it would be good for their ego.
Founder, The Corporate Con/noisseur
Career fairs are one of the most important and excellent opportunities for students to explore open positions and introduce themselves to hiring managers. However, knowing what to say and how to act during a career fair is as equally important as attending the career fair.
Hiring managers, and the company’s they represent, will be meeting with numerous students throughout the day, so asking the right question will not only help you to stand out but also to be remembered.
When it comes to good questions to ask at a career fair, it is important to conduct your own research beforehand. This means researching the company, their current initiatives, and what open positions they are looking to fill.
Ask questions that are closely related to the company’s initiatives and outlook
When you meet with the hiring manager at the career fair, you should ask questions that are closely related to the company’s initiatives and forward outlook.
This means, don’t simply ask questions about what the company is looking for, but rather, add in detail and nuance to your question. For example, rather than asking, “what type of person are you looking to hire?”, you should rephrase and ask:
“In conducting prior research, I see that the company is exploring growth opportunities in marketing and advertising positions. As a graduating senior whom has majored in marketing and has recently completed a stint at an advertising agency, what tips would you offer before I submit my application?”
Asking questions with detail and interweaving your own experiences and accomplishments within the statement will help you to stand out and be remembered.
In addition, asking questions in this format will allow the hiring manager to provide you with direct, actionable advice and tips which can help you in submitting your application.
At a career fair, many attendees focus on questions like job roles and employee perks and benefits.
Finding a role that suits your skills and a compensation package that meets your financial needs is essential. However, you can generally find this data online; and in any case, you will have before signing on with a company.
Use the career fair opportunity to learn insider knowledge of what the company culture is like
While money is important, how you feel at work will literally be your reality each day. For example, you can talk with the company representative about how the organization approaches teamwork and collaboration.
- Do they set aside time for fun and team building?
- How are the relationships between managers and direct reports?
- Is there a system for 1-on-1s?
- Are there formal processes in place to ensure long term employee engagement and retention?
With these questions, listen carefully to nuances. For example, before applying to law firms, I asked a lawyer how he liked the day-to-day of his work. The answer seemed to focus on the benefits of money and earning power, while also signaling that he wasn’t happy with his role. To me, this was one sign that the firm wouldn’t be a good fit for my own ambitions.
The answers to these questions provide meaningful insight into whether an organization is a great place to work.
As a prospective employee, what you learn may guide whether you apply to the organization at all, and so may save you from years of low-satisfaction work with a company that just isn’t the right fit culture-wise.
Owner, Helianthus Advising
“What do the Career Pathways at your company look like?”
Alternatively, ask questions like “What is the/a career pathway that I could expect when joining your team?” No matter the age, this question gives you and your prospective employer valuable information.
As a potential employee, you learn what long-term opportunities you will have when joining that business.
- How long will it take to reach management?
- Do they have a set salary or pay levels?
- Are you expected to stay in the same position forever?
- Do they have set markers for “skills to know” or certifications to get to obtain a promotion?
- Is there a path most new hires follow? Perhaps they don’t have a career pathway at all – a red flag.
This could tell you that obtaining career growth is harder in this company. On the other hand, your potential employer sees that you plan to join a business for the long-run – a great sign.
This shows you’ll be worth the money and dedicated to the business. They’ll be more willing to invest time in the hiring and training process if they know someone is looking to stay with them for ten plus years versus two or three.
“What’s the company office culture like at your organization?”
The amount of stutters I’ve received was huge. Managers and senior-level staff hardly involve themselves in the office culture, so how will they know what goes on?
It’s important to know this kind of stuff as it’s your home for over 30+ hours a week. Especially at the start of your working life, you want to make sure you can progress whilst having fun within the workplace.
If conditions are strict, you may not feel like you belong, ultimately, having doubts about your job and leaving a few months in, believe me, I’ve seen it for myself. So make sure you find someone who can tell you the truth about what life is really like.
Of course, recruiters will want to draw you in, but take a look around, do your research about the company afterward and see if it really is a good fit for you.
Melissa Cadwallader, MBA, PHR
Human Resources, ZenBusiness
Be sure to ask about the types of qualifications and personal characteristics that the prospective recruiters are most interested in.
This information can be used to direct your study and professional development choices for the best possible chance of landing your ideal role.
You might well be surprised at the range of academic subjects that the recruiters are actively interested in. Your confidence may also be given a boost as you realize that you have some of the highly desired qualities.
The career’s conversation should be rounded off by asking the best ways of staying in touch. This will show that you have an active interest in the company and leave the prospective recruiter with a positive impression of your professional attitude.