Interviewing graduates – everything you need to know

Interviewing graduates is no easy feat. These bright-eyed candidates might have all the potential in the world, but when you’re interviewing graduates how can you pick out the real gems amongst a sea of candidates who have very little work evidence?  There is little to no prior professional experience to judge candidates on, let alone much life experience to boot.

But one of the best things about hiring people fresh out of higher education is their innovative ideas and un-tampered minds. Graduates are keen to learn and are undoubtedly more enthusiastic than any other hire. They’re willing to get their hands dirty and pitch in to become valued team members. Search Party’s global sales performance manager, Aaron Evans, was in the hot seat this week giving us the low-down when hiring graduates. We learnt about the best tips when interviewing graduates, and how to spot a grad that will be an asset to your team.

Set the tone

When you’re interviewing graduates it is almost certain they will be nervous. Fresh out of higher education, they probably won’t be used to such a professional atmosphere as a job interview, so in order to gain their trust and really strip away the self imposed ‘strict business’ mode they will be in, set the tone.

Let your candidate know that you are looking for excellence, but be relatable. After all, you were in their shoes at one point. As soon as they begin to relax, they’ll begin to shine. Quite surprisingly in this current climate, some businesses don’t feel that hiring graduates is of any use to their companies and is a thing of the past. For new graduates, this can make first interviews a high stress, competitive environment for candidates. If your graduate interviewee is appearing to be a big bag of nerves, here are a few ways to break the ice.

Begin the interview by asking them what kinds of things they like and what they do in their spare time. Question them on an achievement they are most proud of outside the workplace. Finding common ground will not only keep things easy and free flowing, but you’ll also discover where their skills and competencies lie, regardless of it being part of the advertised role. This is the perfect way to gain insight into their personality and character traits.

Keep your wording simple and straight to the point, be human!

Your candidate may not be 100% confident using industry jargon just yet, and could misinterpret either what’s expected of them in the position or completely misunderstand your line of questioning. The more comfortable the interviewee, the more honest answers you’ll get, making this whole process easier for the both of you.

interviewing graduates

Pick their brains

In order to strip the pretence and stop a graduate from giving rehearsed answers they’ve found on Google (which most likely will also stretch the truth in terms of their professional abilities), ask unexpected questions. Throwing curveballs will keep your interviewee engaged. Although they may feel under pressure, it is important for you to be able to see how they can cope with being asked questions that aren’t necessarily about the role offered. Ask your candidate things such as, “If I were to give you a 10,000 piece jigsaw, how best would you assemble it?” In doing so you are learning about how their brain best tackles challenges, how analytical they are, and if they have logistic abilities.

Asking graduates something vague and philosophical such as “What is the meaning of life?” can give you a peek into what their morals and values are, and how they see their work ethic. There isn’t much point in asking any questions about their past employers, but see how long they were in there past positions, even at a sandwich shop. This will help you to see if they were consistent and reliable as an employee.

Hiring a graduate means finding people who prove to be willing to get stuck in and work hard.

This is vital as hiring new young staff can often require a fair amount of resources and training. Simply asking them if they are good at sales is a pointless exercise. Remember, these are people you want to mould so stripping back all the wishy-washy answers and finding out who they really are as a person is the first step in a successful hire.

The final question

One of the most telling questions you can ask when interviewing graduates is how they think the interview has gone. Followed by if they were to redo the interview once more, how would they conduct themselves and would they change their answers? This is a great prompt for you to see how critical they are, and if they are willing to learn from their mistakes.

“Do you have any questions for me?” is a telling question to ask at the end of the interview.

Average candidates will opt for the same set of questions. Great candidates will ask questions that reveal a lot about their ability to have a short and long-term impact. Their questions will help them understand how they can use their role to help the company, what the role’s challenges are, and what sort of opportunities exist in the long run. Their questions will immediately filter out the stars from the passive or disinterested candidates. And most importantly, have fun when you’re interviewing graduates! These enthusiastic folk can bring vitality and a new perspective on processes and strategies, so try and bring out their personality and what makes them tick in the interview.  

Looking for fresh new graduates to join your team? Try Search Party to help you hire the right type of graduates for your company.

Emma Hart

Emma coordinates and creates content for Search Party and JobAdvisor's marketing activities. Originally from the UK, Emma studied Marketing Management in Newcastle and has a real passion for researching new trends and discovering exciting developments to share with the world. She is now an adopted Aussie, working in Search Party's Sydney office.

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