Questions to Ask Employers at a Job Fair

Stumped on how to start a conversation at a job fair? Shy or awkward when talking to strangers? Just not sure where to begin? Here are some questions you might consider asking as you network with participating employers.

  1. Can you tell me more about the positions you’re hiring for today?
  2. How would you describe the culture at your company?
  3. What’s the best thing about working for XYZ?
  4. How long have you been with XYZ?
  5. What majors do you frequently hire?
  6. What would you say the most important skills are for ABC position?
  7. How does your company define success?
  8. What’s the best way to apply?
  9. Is there anything particular I should know about your company or the hiring process before I apply?
  10. Would you like a copy of my resume?

Keep in mind that interactions at job fairs tend to be brief, so don’t expect you’ll be able to ask all of these questions. Be mindful of the recruiters’ verbal cues and body language, and be ready to wrap up quickly if they seem ready to move on (or if a line starts forming behind you!). If there’s no crowd, you might be able to have a more in-depth discussion.

You should be ready to answer questions, too! At a minimum, be prepared to talk about what kind of job you’re looking for and what experience and skills you have that qualify you for employment.

Good luck!


Welcome to Your First Job Fair!

If you’ve never been to a job fair before, you may not know how to prepare or what to expect. Large-scale hiring events can be intimidating: they’re big, busy, and loud. You might feel like a face in a crowd—job fairs can attract hundreds of hopeful applicants. Happily, they can also be fun, exciting, and productive, especially if you spend some time preparing for the experience. Read on for suggestions on how to do just that.

Research the Job Fair

Just as you would research a company before you applied for a job, you’ll want to do as much research about the job fair as you can.  Figure out the basics, like where it is, what time it starts, and how you’ll get there. Will you have to pay, either for the job fair itself or for incidentals like parking? Is the fair designed for general job seekers or a more specific population? What companies are planning to attend? You may not be able to answer all of these questions, but the more you find out beforehand, the better your job fair experience is likely to be.

Plan to Go Early

If possible, try to arrive during the first half of the job fair. It’s even better if you can be there as close to the start time as possible. It will likely be more crowded if you go early, but if you arrive later, employers might be tired, out of materials, or ready to go. If you can’t get there early, it’s still a good idea to go!

Choose Appropriate Attire

Job fairs are more casual environments than interviews, but you should still dress as though you were interviewing. You want the company reps to remember you as polished and professional, not as “that one person that was wearing sweatpants.” Sometimes companies will even interview on the spot, so go in prepared for that possibility.

Have a Plan of Action

If you found out ahead of time what companies will be in attendance, it’s a great idea to make a top-10 list to ensure you visit the employers with whom you’d be the most interested to work. Can’t find out who’ll be there? Spend the first few minutes walking through the venue, taking note of who’s there. Then you can go back and talk to your key prospects. If you have time afterwards, you can visit more tables—you never know who might have a great opportunity for you.

Stay Positive

Job seeking is hard, and job fairs are no exception. It will still benefit you to maintain an optimistic outlook. Be open to opportunities, and try not to be discouraged. Always, always be polite and professional. This is your first impression—make it a good one.

Things to Do at a Job Fair (in Addition to Finding a Job)

When you’re searching for a job, it’s a good idea to take advantage of any opportunities that come your way. Job fairs can be a great way to meet lots of companies at once and hear what jobs they’re looking to fill. You may even be able to get your resume into the hands of a hiring manager. That’s not all you can do, though! Read on for six other things you can do at a job fair.

  1. Check out who’s hiring.

Companies often pay money to attend job fairs, and they do so because they have a business need they’re looking to meet. Chances are very, very good that if a company paid for a booth at a job fair, they’re probably looking to hire. It’s quite likely participating companies have multiple hiring needs. One of the most valuable things a job seeker can acquire from a job fair is a list of participating companies; once you have that list, you can regularly check the companies’ websites for job postings.

  1. Get a feel for company culture.

If you’ve had more than a job or two, you probably know that different companies can have wildly different cultures. You can spot some of these differences at a job fair. The folks representing the companies at these events are current employees, and if you want, you can ask them what the culture is like where they work.

  1. Look at what everyone is wearing.

Don’t just pay attention to your fellow job seekers, although that can be educational as well. Check out what the employees from different companies have chosen to wear. This can give you insight into office dress code, which in some cases is a reflection of company culture (see point #2 above). An important note: if you’re invited for an interview, you should still wear interview-appropriate attire. Just because you see company t-shirts at a job fair doesn’t mean you should sport something that casual at an interview.

  1. Practice professionalism.

Introduce yourself. Shake some hands. Try out your elevator speech. A job fair gives you many opportunities in a lower-stakes environment to practice being your best professional self.

  1. See what’s in demand.

What industries are hiring? What job titles are you seeing repeatedly? What key skills do the company reps say they’re seeking? Each company is different, but if you start to see pattern in industries, titles, and skills, you can bet that the stuff you see a lot is in demand right now.

  1. Find training opportunities.

Employers account for the majority of presenters at job fairs, but you’ll sometimes see colleges as well. If you find you’re lacking an in-demand skill or a lot of the jobs you want require a degree you don’t have, you might find what you need from one of the college tables.

(You’re invited to our Spring 2017 Job Fair! Please join us!)

References Available upon Request?

Think back to the last job application you submitted. Did you have to list references? Some employers, as part of the hiring process, ask for references up front, while some wait until later stages of interviewing. Almost all of them ask for references eventually. Choosing your references carefully and preparing them in advance gives you the best chance at getting a stellar recommendation.

Who should you ask to be a reference? I’ve seen novice job seekers list friends, significant others, and family members as references, not knowing that employers almost always prefer to speak with former or current managers. It can be difficult to come up with three references, particularly if you’re just starting out. Regardless of your level of experience, you need to leave mom off of the list.

The ideal choice for a reference is always a previous manager with whom you got along well. They’ll be able to speak to the things hiring managers care about: the quality of your work, what it’s like to manage you, your work ethic, and any traits or quirks that might only become apparent after you’ve been on the job for a while. When hiring, employers want to speak with several people who know your work well. The magic number seems to be three, although some will ask for more references or, less often, for fewer. It’s a good idea to keep in contact with people who can serve as references for you. LinkedIn can be a great option for keeping up with your professional network.

If you don’t have three former bosses (or your former bosses won’t give you a good recommendation–more on that in a minute), don’t give up! Think of other people who will be able to comment objectively on your work. Have you volunteered anywhere? A supervisor from a volunteer gig might make a good reference. If you’re a college student, you’ll get more mileage out of using a professor as a reference than, say, your boyfriend. A coworker’s opinion will likely carry more weight than anything a friend might say about you.

You will also want to make sure that any managers you list will give you a great reference, not a tepid or–even worse–a terrible one. This is one of many reasons that it’s important to have a good working relationship with your boss, but if for some reason you didn’t, leave them off the reference list. Prospective employers may contact them anyway, but at least you’ll know you did your best to offer references who will speak highly of you.

How should you prepare your references? First, let them know that you’ll be listing them. This gives them an opportunity to either think of what they’ll say about you or to let you know if they don’t feel comfortable acting as a reference. It is also basic courtesy, which is never a bad thing. If you’re getting ready to start applying for jobs for the first time, send each potential reference an email or give them a quick call to let them know you’d like to list them. If you’re reactivating a job search with references who’ve previously agreed to recommend you, a heads up to make those people aware is a good idea.

As you continue in your career, be thinking a step or two ahead. How you behave in one job may directly affect your ability to get another job, and you should conduct yourself accordingly. Perform to a high standard, maintain open communication with your boss, ensure you’re a team player, stay professional, give at least two weeks notice when you leave–in short, be the kind of person you would want to manage if YOU were the boss. The best way to secure excellent references for the future is to be excellent at your current job.