The One Interview Question to Ask New Graduates

March 13, 2015 at 7:00 AM Kyle Paice

college-grad_blog.jpgThere’s one question I ask when interviewing a candidate who's very early on in their career.

“Explain to me, in as much detail as possible, everything you’ve done to prepare for our conversation today.”

If the response to this question is weak, then I suggest you save everyone time and cut the interview short.

When it comes to assessing a candidate that’s just starting their career, you don’t have much of a professional track record to go off of. The above question will help you gauge a few important things.

  • How seriously they take their reputation. Is it understood that the quality of this conversation is a reflection of their own professionalism? Preparation shows consideration and an interest in building rapport. What I listen for is a candidate who has done more than the cursory scan of our company’s website and other social profiles. Anyone can do that. A thorough answer indicates a well-prepared candidate who is taking this opportunity – and their career – seriously.

  • If they’re excited about your company. While your candidate is most likely in the middle of interviewing for other positions, they should still be able to convince you why your company is the right fit for their current ambitions. Candidates with lousy answers tend to be looking for whatever job that is willing to give them a paycheck.

  • How well they take the initiative. This question prompts interviewees to take control of the conversation and show off a bit. Since it’s open-ended, it gives the person a blank check to showcase their work ethic, thoughtfulness, and smarts.

  • If they’re naturally curious. The one trait shared by the smartest, hardest-working people I know is they’re all endlessly curious. A candidate’s reply should take you through not only the steps of their preparation, but also the questions that they led to. If this is the case, don’t make them wait until the end of the interview to answer their questions. Chances are you’ve got an engaged, hard-working candidate on your hands.

A bad answer usually sounds like the following:

“Well, I looked at your website...and…[sound of mouse clicking]...checked out the CrunchBase profile, and looked at your LinkedIn profile.”

A great answer to the question came from one of our most recent sales development hires:

“I started off by researching you and your background, so that I could find a way to build rapport at the beginning of our call. I figured that was a key skill that a Sales Development Rep needs, so why not show it off? Then, I dug into your customers page. I’m wondering, is there a particular vertical that you’ve been targeting over the past year? I see that you’ve got [customer x] and [customer y], and those seem like great fits…”

In just 20 seconds he showcased his understanding of one of the job’s requirements, proved he’d done more than just cursory research, and asked a question that led us off on a discussion of how he’d approach different prospective customers for our business based on their vertical. Not bad for a 22-year-old kid with no “real world” experience. Unsurprisingly, he got the job.

What are your best qualifying questions? Share with me in the comments.

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