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Six Essential Questions for Job Interviews with Recent College Graduates

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

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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.

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About HR Columns

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