Voltaire rightly said “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” Questions can speak a great deal about a person’s perspective. Questions provide a glimpse of one’s knowledge while answers can at times form temporary responses to different situations. Your questions must have a purpose- to get a specific answer- and communicate a sense of curiosity on your part. Be it an interview or a career fair conversation or a general catch up with a recruiter, frame your questions well, for recruiters are not only assessing your answers, but also the questions you pose.
The importance of prepping for a career fair cannot be stressed enough. You must be ready with a standard list of questions to engage company representatives. Companies don’t attend career fairs just to attract the best talent, they utilize this opportunity to assess candidates, collect resumes and build an inventory of potential future employees. Therefore it is imperative that you present yourself as a credible candidate, who already knows about the company and is eager to learn more. To set yourself apart from any XYZ person competing for the same position, you must tailor your conversations with recruiters in a way that not only leads the discussion towards highlighting your strengths and achievements but also leaves a lasting impression of you, one which is bound to land you an interview.
A few things should be kept in mind to excel at a career fair – prepare a list of your dream companies and go through their websites thoroughly, keep abreast with the latest news and industry trends and lastly, know your core competencies and improvement areas well. Before approaching any company official, have a list of questions prepared on the basis of which you can evaluate the companies visiting the campus. There are certain ‘must ask’ and ‘must avoid’ questions that a candidate should have a clear idea about to cast a distinct impression on potential employers.
What you must focus on:
Pose questions in a way that not only answers your queries but also establishes your credentials. Do not ask questions just for the sake of striking a conversation, be smart, avoid seeking information that is already pretty standard and public.
The ‘must ask’ questions:
- As a conversation starter, you could ask the recruiter what he thinks about a recent news or industry trend. You could also ask the recruiter how and when he started working for the company and what he enjoys most about his job. This will give you an idea about the company’s recruitment pattern, career development and employee culture. However, be mindful that you don’t ask about salary outrightly, unless you know the recruiter personally.
Company related questions:
- Pose thought-provoking questions that only an employee of the company will be able to answer efficiently. Employers seek flexibility and loyalty in their employees so ask questions that not only portray a wide range of skills but also shows that you’re interested to commit for the long term. Questions like- What are the biggest challenges faced by employees?, will tell the recruiter that you are ready to take on challenging roles. You could also talk about some challenge that you might have faced and overcome successfully.
- Ask questions about the 5-10 year trajectory of the company and the positions you are aiming for- “What are the entry level and mid-level positions that someone with my profile could target and what is the career progression ladder?” This is a good opportunity to let them know that you are not a drifter and are eager to be a part of the company for a long term. Considerable resources get wasted in the recruitment process especially when employees leave shortly after joining; so employers like to hear that you will not leave the job abruptly if better opportunities come along.
- Also ask about ongoing training programs in the company and whether the company helps employees to pursue educational opportunities and has a structured professional development program for the benefit of deserving and interested employees. Be vocal about your aspirations in this regard and specify the knowledge areas where you would like to develop your competence in.
Recruitment related questions:
- Ask about the hiring process and the associated steps. You may enquire about the number of job openings. This will help you understand how to prepare for the recruitment process and also gauge the amount of competition you will be facing. You can also enquire about the technical skills or educational background that recruiters are looking for in potential employees for the particular position. This will not only give you an idea about what to highlight in your resume, but would also help you to talk up your skills and achievements at school.
- Career fairs are an opportunity and almost a mock exercise to pose questions that you would like to ask during the interview round. For instance, you could ask them what in their view is the characterizing USP of the company that edges the competition out? This will enable you to measure the company’s vision against your career goals. You could also ask the executives about their typical day- the duties, responsibilities and the amount of authority the position commands so that you can understand and explain how you will be a great fit for the job.
Tips for international students:
- It is important that you target companies that sponsor H1B visas or will be willing to do so if they don’t already. You must ask about the job placement rate for international students and the percentage of international employees in the organisation. This will help you assess the cultural diversity of the organisation and also see how welcoming the company is towards international employees. This is important to know if you wish to grow in the organisation.
Conclude your discussion with a polite comment like “Thank you for your time,” or “Look forward to seeing you again.” Take the recruiter’s business card and ask if you can contact him/her in the future. Even if the official might not be directly involved in the hiring process, it is nice to have a personal connection with someone on the inside. Seek information about the executives who would be expected to conduct on-campus interviews and enquire about their contact information.
What you must avoid
There are also certain things that you ‘must never do’. Firstly, nothing irritates a recruiter more than informal conduct like turning up in extremely casual attire and then asking questions about a subject that is already public and pretty obvious. Networking at career fairs is a two way street, the employers want to know as much about you as you want to know about their company but you must show interest and an attitude that excites the recruiter to learn about you. Try not to ask typical questions that the employer might have answered the entire day, challenge the employer a little with different but relevant questions.
The ‘must avoid’ questions
- Don’t approach the official and ask “What is your company all about?” Recruiters want to know that you know enough about the company already and have done extensive research. If you ask questions like “So, what have you got for me?”, the recruiter might feel that you just happened to bump into their booth by accident and this in turn could raise questions about your sincerity towards the job search process.
- Steer clear of questions like “How much will my bonus be?” and “How many vacations or holidays will I get?”, in your first meeting. You must portray yourself as someone who wants to work for the company because of its vision or culture rather than just the benefits. It is important to seek clarification regarding pay structures and leave policies but reserve those questions for the final stages of the recruitment process. You need to show the employer that you have the skills and will work diligently towards company goals.
- Don’t be curious about recruitment ‘red-flags’. Asking questions like “What are the checks you perform before eliminating candidates?” might backfire onto your eligibility and commitment. Recruiters might feel that rather than strengthening your application, you are trying to find loopholes around the elimination criteria.
- NEVER ask questions like “Do you do background checks?” because that is the last thing recruiters want to worry about while hiring employees from prestigious institutions. Albeit the question is posed out of curiosity, it makes recruiters suspicious about your background when you have a clean record.
All in all, career fairs are meant for branching out and establishing industry contacts, it’s not a place for casual ‘chit-chat’. Try to view your conversation as a sort of informal interview and portray your supreme professional self. It’s a great platform to not only seek clarification about the companies, but also let the company learn about you. You could easily walk away with future interviews in the organisations of your choice, if you have the right attitude and approach towards career fairs.0