5 Interview Questions You Need to Ask Recent College Grads Before Extending a Job Offer


As a business owner, recruiter, or hiring manager, you’ve probably encountered a dilemma regarding whether or not to interview and/or hire recent college graduates. They’re an anomaly. While they’re typically cheaper than other options, that discounted price tag comes with one major downside: a lack of workplace experience.

Pros and Cons of Hiring Recent Grads

Interviewing Recent Graduates

You need to start by weighing the potential pros and cons. Here are a few of the benefits to hiring recent grads:

  • Cheaper. Let’s start with the most obvious benefit: recent grads are cheaper. They don’t have any career experience, and thereby don’t command a premium salary. For a business on a tight budget, this could result in tens of thousands of dollars in savings over the course of a single fiscal year. In fact, wages for recent college grads are down across the board. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s annual report, wages are 2.5 percent lower than they were 15 years ago (just $37,000 annually).
  • Tech-savvy. Millennials – as a whole – are more tech savvy than older workers. If your business is full of baby boomers and middle-aged employees, an infusion of young talent may be just what you need to create a spark.
  • Impressionable. Finally, recent college grads are quite impressionable. They don’t yet have preconceived notions of what the workplace is like and their first job will be a formative one. This gives you the chance to align their vision with that of your business.

But for every pro, there’s also a con. Keep the following in mind:

  • Inexperienced. As mentioned, recent college grads are inexperienced. They may have a couple of internships or summer jobs under their belt, but they’ve never worked 40-hour weeks for an extended period of time.
  • Unproven. Because they lack on-the-job experience, recent college grads are unproven. Their academic record may be stellar, but will that translate into productivity? It’s impossible to know until you see them perform.
  • Burnout prone. The transition from college to the workplace isn’t easy on everyone. You have to remember that they’re used to attending classes that only last for an hour or two at a time. Going from that to an 8 or 10-hour workday is a change that exhausts many recent grads.

Ultimately, it comes down to how you think they individual will perform. If their performance could potentially harm the quality of your products and services, no cost-savings will be high enough. If you think they can perform a job that’s equal-to or better-than their more experienced peers, then by all means, hire away.

5 Targeted Questions You Must Ask

Good Interview Questions

Aside from speaking with references and reviewing academic resumes, your best chance of tapping into the heart and mind of a recent college grad comes during the face-to-face interview process. However, you shouldn’t take a cookie-cutter approach. It’s pertinent that you develop interview questions that specifically target the individual. Here are a handful of questions to get you started:

  1. During your time in college, you likely had to work in groups for various class projects. What would your former group members say about you, and what you would describe as your strengths?

This is an interesting question because it gives you a handful of individual, yet related insights. First off, the candidate will tip their hat in regards to whether or not group projects were common in their coursework. You should naturally be wary if the candidate says they’ve never had to work in a group setting. On the other hand, your ears should perk up if they allude the fact that they commonly participated in groups.

Secondly, you put the candidate in an interesting position where they have to put themselves in their peers’ shoes. How do other people see them and is it similar or different to how they see themselves? You’ll find this out by listening to the last part of the response.

  1. Can you tell me three specific time management techniques you implemented and honed during your time in college?

Again, you’re listening for two different things. First, you want to evaluate their listening skills. Do they give you three specific techniques, or do they mention one, two, four, or even five? Second, you want to carefully consider each technique and whether those skills are transferrable to the workplace.

Time management is one of the biggest issues for recent grads in hectic workplace environments. You can’t afford to risk your time and efforts on a candidate that’s not a self-starter and efficient time manager.

  1. Can you tell me about your least favorite class you’ve ever taken?

Some candidates will squirm at this question, others will try to convince you that they’ve loved every minute of every class, and a very select group will shoot you straight. You’re looking for people who fall into that latter category.

The answer to this question will reveal something about the candidate’s overall level of honesty. Are they trying to tell you what you want to hear, or do they have a living, breathing personality that isn’t afraid to make a statement and stand behind it?

  1. If we hired you and you were thrown into [insert relevant example] on the first day, how would you handle it?

It’s always good to throw out a situational question. In this instance, go ahead and ask a tricky question – one they might not understand. Lace it with industry terminology. According to Jennifer Loftus, the founding partner of a national HR consulting firm, how candidates respond to unfamiliar terminology is very telling. If they stay silent, it shows a lack of interest. If they try to pretend like they understand the question when they really don’t, they may be dishonest. However, if they ask questions, they show their interested and willing to learn.

  1. If we were considering two people for this job and one happened to be a 20-year career professional and the other was you, how would you try to convince us that you’re the better hire?

If you haven’t noticed yet, the majority of these questions put the interviewee in an awkward position. This isn’t because you need to be mean spirited or cruel, but it shows you what the candidate is made of. Are they going to shy away and back down, or are they going to embrace the challenge and make the most of the interview?

This question, aside from making the candidate think, may give you some practical knowledge. Do they have an answer? Does the answer align with your company’s mission? This is a good question to close with, as it gives you something to think about.

Don’t Discount Recent College Grads

Should you hire a recent college graduate? There’s no cookie-cutter answer. It obviously comes down to the individual needs and limitations of your company. Whatever you do, though, don’t make it 100 percent about cost. Weigh the other intangibles and then make your decision.

“Bottom line, I am more focused on delivering real value to our clients than I am on worrying about overhead,” says business owner Allen Woodward. “We can bill more per project because clients are willing to pay for the greater value received.”

You can’t put a price tag on quality, whether that means hiring an experienced professional or a recent college graduate.

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