Mastering Successful Graduate Interviews: 10 Tips for Employers

Interviewing a graduate is not the same as interviewing an experienced candidate with years of work behind them. To conduct a successful graduate interview, you need to be assessing more than skills, you are looking for character, soft skills, curiosity and work ethic amongst other things. This blog aims to help employers prepare for graduate interviews by giving you our best tips. 


Tip #1: Have a list of your non-negotiables you want to check in the interview

Write up a list of the top technical, non-negotiable skills that the person needs to have mastered to be considered for the job and the main behavioural competencies and soft skills required. 
Prepare your interview questions beforehand based on these non-negotiables.  Keep in mind that graduate soft skills can be learnt and nurtured within the workplace and should not be a deal breaker. 


Tip #2: Prepare your graduate interview questions in advance

The best way to ensure that you get what you need out of a graduate job interview is to have the questions prepared ahead of time. Being prepared will leave the candidate with an impression of professionalism and respect, which will be good for your company's image. 

Here are ideas for productive interview questions:

  • Asking technical skill-based questions is the easiest part of the interview. You have the graduate's CV and academic transcript from which you can ask questions. These might include: “What were your favourite modules and why?” to understand their interest in a particular area. “I see from your results that X module was not your best; explain why.” Then ask subject matter knowledge questions to ensure that the candidate has the skills you require. These questions will depend on your industry and the skills for which you are hiring. If you are using a graduate expert recruitment company like ours, give the recruiter specific industry or skill questions you want to be asked. This will save you time interviewing candidates who are not a good fit for the job. 
  • Check for interest in the industry by asking what books, podcasts or media they consume. If you are an investment company, do they read any business books, or do their own investing? 
  • Ask questions that reveal how the graduate's self-motivation, outlook on life and mindset will benefit the business and fit the role. Examples include: “Tell me about your top or proudest achievement?”; “What attracted you to apply for this job?" and “How would your peers describe you?” “Tell me about a difficult time in your life and how you dealt with it.” “How do you deal with conflict, give me an example.” 
  • Ask scenario-based questions to reveal a skill or trait you require for the job . Provide the graduate with a challenge or a scenario, and then ask them to solve the problem or explain how they would address the situation based on their previous experience. The point here is that graduates draw on experience and not opinion. The STAR (situation, task, action, result) format will give the person an opportunity to share one of their examples. The candidate presents a situation, then explains the task requirement, what action was taken, and what result was achieved. Watch out for “we” in these answers, as it could indicate the candidate did not achieve these outcomes alone but rather in a team. You are looking for results that they performed on their own.  

An example is:

“Give me an example of where you needed to take leadership in a situation. What was the situation, what was required of you, what did you do, and what was the outcome?”

  • Include opinion-based or point-of-view questions. This will give you a better insight into the right culture fit of a graduate for your company. Ask for their opinion on relevant topics such as “What is your opinion on working overtime” “What is the coolest application you have used in the past month and why?”, “How does the purpose of this organisation align with your own?”; “How do you like to relax?” “Define good customer service.”
  • Steer clear of the "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" line of questioning. These have been overused and can be irrelevant since things change all the time and graduates are still defining their career goals. It would be better to ask, “What would you like to have achieved in 5 years from now, both personally and professionally?” This shows interest, a level of ambition and insight into what is important to the grad. 
  • Ask practical and logistical questions that are necessary for the job. For example do you have your own transport? How far away they will be living if using public transport? Knowledge about their support system at home. Should they work from home, do they have load-shedding backup.  

Read this article for a list of must-ask interview questions for graduates.


Tip #3: Ask each graduate the same line of questions

As far as possible, ensure that your main thread of questioning for all the graduate candidates remains the same. To look at comparative responses, you cannot ask each candidate a different set of interview questions, as you won’t be able to accurately benchmark them against each other. Additional questions do come up from time to time, depending on each individual’s answers and when you may need further clarification on a response. 


Tip #4: Reduce unconscious bias 

Be aware of any unconscious bias in you or the other interviewers. There are different types of biases that can skew your objective judgement, and examples include gender, race, age, personality type, affinity (drawn to people who are like you), and appearance, to name a few. Do some research to find out how you can avoid this kind of bias in how you conduct a successful graduate job interview. 

If you think this might be a problem, ensure you have a panel of diverse interviewers assisting you. 


Tip #5: Read the graduate’s CV before the interview

Make sure that you have a copy of the graduate candidate’s CV with you when conducting a successful interview. Ensure that you’ve gone through the CV beforehand so that you can discuss any concerns or interesting aspects that stand out to you, and give them a chance to elaborate if necessary. 

Understanding the candidate based on their CV details will make the graduate feel more comfortable, indicate that you’ve taken the time to understand them, and give them a fair chance at applying for the job. This preparation will save you time in the interview, allowing you to delve deeper into the graduate and the nuances you seek for the perfect candidate. 


Tip #6: Create a relaxed atmosphere

Whether you are interviewing someone online or in person, do your best as the interviewer to ensure the atmosphere is relaxed. It is intimidating and nerve-wracking for a graduate to put themselves through a job interview. This may be their first interview with a potential employer for some graduates and interns. When the environment is relaxed, they will not focus on their nerves, and you will get to know them better to understand if they are the right fit. 

Don't overwhelm the candidate with a panel interview at the first meeting, if possible. This can be daunting for a graduate, and you won’t get them at their best. Have compassion in an economy where so many graduates seek work. Make them feel at ease. 


Tip #8: Give the graduate a fair chance

Keep in mind that life does happen and not all graduates have access to the same means. If a graduate is late for an interview or not dressed appropriately, take time to find out what the circumstances are. You might be surprised and humbled by their response. You wouldn’t want to overlook a star employee because you didn’t treat them with dignity by hearing them out. 

Some graduates and interns come from dire poverty and have worked exceptionally hard to overcome obstacles to gain their qualifications. Be aware of judging them on their outward appearance as having a job can fix the problem. 


Tip #9: Don’t over-look skills-based or shorter training courses 

Skills-based training, short courses or any smaller achievement that has been achieved indicates that a candidate has a particular skill.
Several excellent skill sets can be learned and proven in a different context than a full college diploma or university degree. Skills-based training in the IT development space is becoming increasingly popular and cost-effective for employers. 


Tip #10: Provide timely feedback 

There are many reasons why employers or interviewers should get back to interviewees. 

One reason is that how you let the candidate down or offer them a position can affect how they view your company. Another reason is that by providing feedback, you allow the graduate to improve and grow so that they get better at interviewing and can land their next job with ease. 

Interviewing graduates for a job is a clever way to market your company and gain insight into the talent of the time. It’s exciting to onboard interns and new graduates, and the process must be a positive one for everyone. 

And a final tip from us is to always process your interviewee's private information in a way that is compliant with POPIA

Read our article on tips on how to attract top graduate talent.

If you need help with the graduate hiring and interview process, take a look at the services we provide at RecruitAGraduate. We are experts in graduate and internship hiring. Contact us for more information or advice, or visit our website to load a job.


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