Claire Kilroy is a content writer for the UK’s leading graduate recruitment agency, Inspiring Interns. Check out their website if you’re looking to hire a graduate, or head to their blog for graduate careers advice.
The benefits of hiring graduates and interns are clear. Young people fresh from university offer employers fresh ideas, untapped potential, up-to-date digital skills, and plenty of enthusiasm. But given the level of competition for graduate jobs – an estimated 39 applications per job in 2014 – how should you go about choosing between the candidates? And how should you approach an interview with someone who has very limited work experience?
There are some questions that are relevant no matter the age of the candidate – such as ‘Why do you want to work here?’ – or that are very specific to the job at hand. However, when interviewing a graduate perhaps the most important goal is to find out whether they are a good cultural and behavioural fit for the company. You can offer training on hard skills, but their attitude will help you decide whether you want to.
With this is mind, here are 9 interview questions that can help you determine whether the candidate will flourish or flounder in the role.
I’m a potential client. Can you pitch the company to me?
This is a great twist on the standard ‘what do you know about our company?’ question. You’ll be able to find out how much research the candidate has done about the company, and thus make a judgement on how invested they are in the role. Graduates emerge from university anxious about the future, and you need to make sure that they want this job in particular rather than any work they can get. And by styling the question in an unexpected way, you’ll make them think about their answer rather than just regurgitate what they read.
This works particularly well if they’re going for a sales or PR role, but in any case the style of their answer should tell you plenty about their communication style, and their understanding of the company’s brand and client base.
What’s the biggest decision you have made in recent years?
The candidate’s answer to this question will help you to understand their decision-making process. Did they spend a long time researching their options or did they trust their gut-instinct? Did they make the decision alone or consult others? If they don’t expand much in their answer, be sure to ask a couple of follow-up questions about how they came to their decision, and whether their judgement paid off.
Candidates may choose to offer a work-related example or a more personal one, with the second being likely amongst recent graduates. Although the former may offer more obvious help in understanding their work style, hearing about a personal decision can also help you learn about what makes them tick: what do they consider a big decision? And do they know themself well enough to make a good choice?
Tell me about a challenge you have overcome
Competency questions are ideal for graduates, because they don’t focus on industry knowledge, but on the candidate’s behaviours. By asking the graduate to describe their actions in the past, you can form an idea of how they would react to the situations the role would find them in. Depending on the demands of the specific job, you may well want to ask them about situations such as a time they worked in a team, managed a conflict, or used their initiative.
But one competency question that is always useful in graduate recruitment concerns their ability to overcome challenges. In any new role, an employee will face challenges and for graduates the learning curve can be particularly steep. It’s important to understand how they will cope and to determine whether they will successfully adapt to their new environment.
What are the most important things you want to get out of your career?
Understanding a graduate’s long-term goals can help you understand if they’re the right fit for the company. Often interviewers ask ‘where do you see yourself in five years time?’ in order to establish the candidate’s goals, but this often results in an interviewer-pleasing answer – ‘I see myself in a senior position at your company’ – rather than an honest one.
This question should allow you an insight into what will make the candidate happy at work and whether you can see a future for them at your company. Answers might include a great work-life balance, a chance to take responsibility for projects, plenty of opportunities for progression, a supportive work environment, or never to feel bored at work.
Research has shown that millennials change jobs frequently, with one 2014 study indicating that 96% do so at least once within three years after graduation. If you want to hang on to your hire then you need to make sure that your goals are complementary.
How will you make sure that you make the most of this role?
This question is a way to find out how proactive the candidate will be, and whether they’re likely to go above and beyond. If, for example, they say that they would ask for frequent feedback, seek out a mentor, or make an effort to get to know and to learn from everyone in the office, then you’ll have an indication of how much effort they will make to succeed and progress.
What do you think makes a graduate job or internship successful?
This question should help you decide whether the candidate is suited to the programme of work and training that you have devised. If you intend them to have responsibility from day one, an answer about the need to let a graduate add real value to the company will show you that they have the right attitude. And if they stress the importance of training, feedback, and targets then you know that they will flourish when given more coaching by co-workers and management.
What motivates you to give your best?
Again, this question should help you determine what environment the candidate is likely to thrive in and whether they are suited to the role. For example, they might answer that they are motivated by opportunities to progress, by working to deadlines, by working with others towards a common goal, or by being recognised for good work. In addition to informing your initial hiring decision, this can also help you plan how to manage them if you do bring them on board.
What are your hobbies?
A classic ice-breaker question, this can tell you more about the candidate than you might think. First and foremost, it’s a way of testing whether you can build a rapport with the candidate and if you’d be happy to have them on the team. It’s also a chance to spot any workaholics; people who have no interests outside of work are more likely to burn out.
A candidate’s hobbies may also demonstrate skills relevant to the position. This is particularly important when interviewing graduates because of their limited work history. If they haven’t had experience of working in a team in a professional environment, then telling you about their participation in a sports team is a chance to prove that they have that skill.
And graduates facing a first job interview will be understandably nervous, so asking a more relaxed question that allows them to talk about something they’re passionate about will benefit you by putting them at ease.
Tell me about a banana
Asking this famously bizarre Oxbridge interview question might not appeal, but asking one unusual question is a way to establish how well the candidate thinks on their feet.
Graduates are getting better at preparing for interviews, and there’s a risk that their answers will sound over-rehearsed and give you little indication of their actual personality. A question like this won’t decide for you once and for all whether they’re a good hire, but it will add a dimension to your overall evaluation of them.