How to ask good questions at school fairs and information sessions?
As someone who once stood by a school table/booth or a podium answering all sorts of questions from applicants, I can’t help asking myself: So do I remember any of those questions, any of those names or faces?
The purpose of those fairs and info sessions is to help the school staff and prospective students to get to know each other face to face, at a personal level. While there’s plenty to say about how much a prospective student might get to know the school and its people, including staff, alumni and perhaps even a couple of current students, how much the school staff or school representative might get to know a certain prospective student, remains dubious in most circumstances.
The good news is that, the outcome of such an encounter depends mostly on you, the prospective student or applicant. Yes, you do go to those events to listen and to ask questions about the school. However, depending on the quality of your questions, there’s also a fantastic opportunity for you to help the school staff remember you, in a positive way, which could go a long way for your application when it comes to be assessed.
So why did I barely remember any of the questions, or faces or names that matched the faces at a fair or an info session? I typically came back to my office with a stack of business cards and another stack of resumes, most if not all of which were recycled. It was a one-way communication, me to you, but rarely both ways, you and me, you to me. My suggestions for avoiding such a lost opportunity are:
- Do not walk up to me with a straight face, with the look of a serious professional from an office meeting, even though you are legitimately tired after a long day of work. Remember I might have just arrived in Tokyo the night before and I’m really tired, too and jet lagged. Your relaxed, smiling face refreshes me in this pretty loud and busy hall.
- Do not simply hand me your business card and your resume right away. I actually do not collect those papers and I’m accepting the ones from those ahead of you mainly as a courtesy. Say hello to me, chat and genuinely ask how I’m doing today. Give me positive feedback if I just gave a presentation by the way. Appreciation goes both ways.
- Do not ask generic simple questions, questions that you can find the answer to on the school’s website, such as what the ratio of international students is, or whether the school has a Japan Club. Unfortunately, lots of prospective students do ask those “dumb” questions. You don’t want to be among one of them, which guarantees a one-way communication.
- Moreover, do not ask me super “intelligent” questions either, questions that I would struggle to answer as well, such as what the future strategy of the school is, or how the school plans on improving its leadership program. There are always one or two people who appear intent on outsmarting the school representative. Remember it’s supposed to be a two-way communication, not a competition. I wouldn’t remember you, and if I do, it’s less likely to be in the way you want.
- So, ask questions that are specific, that demonstrate your research and understanding of the school and its program, and that even better, tie in your interest with the specifics of the school and program. Share your interest, succinctly, with me, and help me see how it is interesting to me and my school. If you do that, chances are I will look at your business card and resume afterwards, and remember you as one of the few outstanding/interesting prospectives that I have met on the road.
Parting message: The key is to do research before you go to any event, ask any questions. Once you’ve done your research and come up with your specific interesting/relevant questions, approach the school representative in a very friendly manner. Go for it.