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Six Essential Questions for Job Interviews with Recent College Graduates

Posted by Aaron Green April 19, 2010 09:00 AM

With the economy improving and a new crop of college graduates getting set to enter the workforce, hiring managers have a busy season ahead. Interviewing recent college graduates (RCGs) is slightly different from interviewing other job candidates in that most don't have deep employment experience and many lack polished interviewing skills. However, by incorporating these six essential questions into your interview process, you'll be more likely to uncover top talent in this candidate pool:

1. What are the candidate's qualifications?

You will review the candidate's work experience, including internships, but it's also important to consider non-work or non-paid experience that qualifies them for the job. Did they work on a relevant school project? Were they involved in extra-curricular groups? If so, what was their role? Look at these experiences, as well as internship experience, in a non-linear way to see if the candidate has developed skills or gained experience that make them well-qualified for the job. For instance, someone who assisted in alumni fundraising telethons might be suited for a sales career.

2. How have they demonstrated motivation?

Invariably you will ask the candidate how they heard about the job opportunity. If they were recommended by someone it might show they have networking skills. Ask questions that help you get a sense of the candidate's work ethic and gain more perspective about their record. Perhaps their grades were lower because they had to work to support themselves through school or because they juggled a terrific non-paid internship with a paid job on campus. Not all internships are created equal; some are required for class credit while others are undertaken through the student's own initiative. Also, gauge the quality of the internship experience by asking questions about the work performed in the internship, including specific projects.

3. What would you find if you Googled the candidate?

Many prospective employers perform online searches as part of the hiring process. In general I suggest employers be appropriately forgiving in this regard. If you see a major red flag, fine; but keep in mind that most employers want employees with normal social lives and that college students are used to living online. That said, online searches can help you better understand how applicants spend time online for professional purposes and how they would fit into your corporate culture. Is their college research or thesis searchable online? Have they posted to any relevant blogs? Do they participate in any chats? Do they visit or have membership in an online professional community? Who are they connected to on LinkedIn?

4. Does this job fit their career objectives?

Screening for career fit is important. Given the weakness in the job market, the class of 2010 will be more open to positions that veer off of their intended career path. If you're not trying to fill an immediate need and are hiring for longevity, the last thing you want is to hire someone who is not interested in your company or the industry long-term, and who has a good chance of switching fields when the employment market improves. Another opportunity to screen for career fit is when you are asking about their internship experiences - try to determine why the candidate chose a particular internship opportunity over another.

5. Where do mom and dad live?

At first glance I acknowledge this seems like a strange question. However I was intrigued with a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and wanted to share the information. The survey found that a job's proximity to their parents' home is a top consideration for new graduates. Many graduates leave college with sky-high debt from student loans and find it difficult to afford rent on their own in a city like Boston. In addition I have plenty of first-hand experience experiences hiring people with no roots in the Boston area who left to go back "home." In other cases, a candidate moves to Boston to be with a boyfriend or girlfriend; if that relationship does not last there is a pretty good chance your employee will move somewhere else. Be cautious with candidates who don't have roots in the area and ask questions to get an understanding of the candidate's motivating factors.

6. What are their salary/compensation requirements?

Asking about salary requirements is an expected question in the interview process. If you're spending time trying to hire the right person, you won't want to waste time with an offer they're not going to accept. Find out this number before you make the offer.

I hope these six questions make your next interview with a recent college graduate more productive and I'd like to hear what questions you find most useful with this candidate pool. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Identity Crisis: Defining Your Employer Brand to Regain Success

Posted by Elaine Varelas April 1, 2010 07:00 AM

by Elaine Varelas,

Employer brands are powerful tools for organizations looking to set themselves apart from the competition. Many companies have based their recruitment, retention, and marketing initiatives on their brand.  A clear employer brand helps to give a company it's personality, and gives employees and company leaders the vocabulary to describe who they are and what they do.

Yet the economic woes of the past few years have caused many organizations to experience full-fledged identity crises. Just like a traumatic personal experience, such as a divorce, job loss, or illness can make people lose sight of or question who they are in this world, the economy has led many companies to a similar fate.

Cutbacks, lay-offs, and mergers made it virtually impossible for many companies to do business as they once did. Organizations built themselves (and their reputations) on a certain set of tenets and qualitiestheir employer brand. Their brand was how employers defined who they werefor themselves, clients, employees, customers, and recruits. Many organizations have found themselves no longer able to hold onto their brand under the added stress of the global financial meltdown. Not only did their businesses suffer as the economy took a nosedive, but their identities did as well.

The economic downturn affected companies—aand their employer brandsacross every region and industry. The financial services company with the most aggressive recruitment effort had a hiring freeze. The local hospital that offered the most comprehensive benefits package dropped some well-loved perks and asked employees to kick in for health insurance. The global organization that touted itself as the fasted growing tech company started hemorrhaging money.

As the very foundation of how companies operated began to slip away, many organizations kicked into survival mode. Company leadership was less concerned with employer brand than making sure their employees (and they) kept their jobs.

Now that we are starting to see an end to the economic fallout, how can HR managers recapture a brand that was lost? If the employer brand is how organizations define themselves and show their face to the world, what happens when that face now has running mascara, smeared lipstick, or a 5 o'clock shadow?

Having a well-defined employer brand can help a company keep a clear focus when developing recruitment and retention strategies, tweaking a mission statement, starting new culture initiatives, and creating overall business goals. Of course, once an identity crisis hits, it isn't just a matter of HR managers picking up where they left off. The employer brand may be vastly different from what it once was. Will your organization be reinforcing an obsolete brand, maintaining a current brand, or creating a new one?

HR managers should consult with company leaders to find the answers to these vital questions:
-How do we want to be known?

-How are we known currently (and how were we known pre-downturn)?

To find out how you are known now, do some research. Start with an employee survey, as current employees are a wealth of information. Also talk to recruiters, look at employee exit interviews, research the webcheck out blogs and the competition's sites, and speak with prospective employees (especially those who went elsewhere).

If the employer brand is the same as it was before, how will you maintain it? It is important to realize that the strategies and tactics that got you there in the past might not keep you there. You must also understand that your brand may evolveby choice or by circumstance. Your organization may not be able to be where it once was. It is acceptable to change your brand, but you need to be who you say you are. There must be consistency and authenticity between how the brand is defined and how it is played out within the organization.

For example, a law firm that touts a family-friendly culture, must live up to its promise. The organization should provide good benefits and flex-time, and host family-friendly events such as picnics and community service days. Conversely, attorneys shouldn't have to work around the clock (even if they are on the partner track) and the firm can't only offer unpaid maternity leave. Of course, if the brand is different because of the economy or if the firm just can't compete, it is okay to change as long as those changes are communicated. It is more important to be the organization you claim to be; you can't afford to be disingenuous in how you present your organization to the world.

If your organization's brand is changing, the new brand should support the goals of the company. It should also give the organization an edge to set it apart from the competition and move the business forward. It is counterproductive to reinforce an employer brand that is holding the company back from future growth.

An employer brand is a helpful tool in developing hiring, recruitment, retention, and growth initiatives. This is a great time to examine your organization's brand. After a tumultuous few years, there are bound to be changes to your brand definition or strategies. By focusing and redefining the organization's identity, HR managers can help reinvigorate the organization after a stagnant time and prepare it for focused growth.

Elaine Varelas is a Managing Partner for Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career management company.

About HR Columns

Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.