5 questions you need to ask at NYC tech job fairs

Networking with potential employers at NYC tech job fairs is a bit like speed dating. For savvy job hunters, finding out whether an opportunity might be a good fit is all about asking the right questions.

Written by Emerson Dameron
Published on May. 19, 2016
5 questions you need to ask at NYC tech job fairs

Networking with potential employers at NYC tech job fairs is a bit like speed dating. Job seekers and companies have a fleeting amount of time to get to know each other. Unlike poring over an online job ad or crafting a cover letter, communicating in real time requires thinking on one's feet.

For savvy job hunters, finding out whether an opportunity might be a good fit is all about asking the right questions. Not only is it useful, but expressing curiosity is also one of the most effective ways to make a good impression.

But what particular questions should you ask? Here are a few that say good things about the questioner, help collect valuable information, and inspire intriguing and memorable conversations. 

Once you understand the fundamental concepts behind them, you can tailor these questions to suit your own personality and the opportunities that most interest you. It is always more useful to be specific.

1. What roles are you currently hiring for?

If you're perusing online job boards, you can get details about specific opportunities before making contact with employers. At a job fair, you may encounter companies with opportunities that aren't being advertised just yet. 

In the tech startup world, job descriptions and requirements can be quite specific. AlleyBoost CEO Jason Malki suggests asking about open roles right away, even before you've started describing your own qualifications. Malki should know—AlleyBoost is a job fair focused specifically on NYC tech startups.

"Knowing which roles they are hiring for will make the conversation laser focused and will allow for you to reference distinctive knowledge and experiences that you have around those specific roles," Malki said.

Hearing about open roles directly from potential employers in their own words will give you insight into whether you're a good fit that even the best written online job description simply cannot provide. 

2. What is the company culture like?

NYC tech professionals and employers are always thinking outside the cubicle, giving rise to new sorts of teams and working environments. If you go to work for a company, its culture is going to be an enormous part of your life, so it's essential to understand it before you make a decision.

"Startups have truly shifted the company culture paradigm, and some startups do a better job than others of building it up," said Malki. "You need to make sure that the company that you may be joining offers the type of work environment that you are seeking."

Once again, don't be afraid to get specific. If questions about company culture yield vague answers, ask follow-up questions that will help give you a clearer picture of what working for the company is like. Is it developer focused, alive with geeky humor and Linux jokes? Or is it more designer-driven, with coffee table books and co-workers who spend their evenings at AIGA events? Is it part of a large, established company, or is it a small team making its own rules and working off-site?

"It would be a shame if you spent weeks or even months going through the hiring process to ultimately find that you are incongruous to the company culture," Malki said.

3. How will I be able to add value to your company?

Here's where you have a chance to show off your own skills and qualifications. After you've shaken hands and given your "elevator pitch," or explained a specific achievement in detail, ask how you can contribute your skills to supplement the company's existing strengths.

"People are typically ardent about things that they are exceptional at, so having a deeper understanding of how you can add value will calibrate your thinking when it comes to your potential at the company," said Malki.

This question has another clever advantage—it invites a potential employer to form a mental picture of what it would be like to have you on their team, and what your skills and personality might contribute. This is an enormous advantage of doing your professional networking in person, one-on-one.

4. What is your day-to-day work like?

Now it's time to dig into the details and get as specific as possible. Work is a marathon, not a sprint, and some of your tasks will necessarily be repetitive and ongoing.

Many tech startups are driven by highly detailed and specialized "under-the-hood" work as much as by big ideas, so it's important to understand the engine. Go for specificity here and visualize whether can you imagine yourself caring about this work even on days when it becomes frustrating. 

"Knowing employer expectations is paramount," Malki said. "Understanding what your more laborious, day-to-day tasks are will allow you to have broad insight into your potential role and will allow you to decide if you are are passionate enough about those tasks to commit to them on a daily basis."

5. What big projects and initiatives would I be involved in?

Almost everyone who has done a few job interviews has been asked where they see themselves in one, five, or ten years. This is like that, but in reverse.

"Outside of your consistent day-to-day work, it's important to know what the bigger picture is as far as your role," said Malki. "Understanding what major campaigns and projects that you will embark on will help you to discern whether or not the role is for you."

More broadly, it will give you an idea of the goals that are most important to the company and where it may be headed over time. Work is an ongoing process of consistent improvement, and it is important to know how you will able to grow along with a potential employer, not just for your sake, but for their's as well. 

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