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Interviewing graduates

How to successfully interview recent graduates

It goes without saying that the interview is the most important step of the whole recruitment process. Having narrowed down your pool of graduate talent to the handful who, on paper, appear to be the perfect fit for your role - it’s now time to get to know the people behind the CV and determine which candidate would best fit your company’s culture - who can you see thriving most in the position and who would you like to work with the most? A good candidate will put a great deal of time and effort into preparing for their interview; a good employer must do the same!

For our advice on how to efficiently schedule your interview invitations, have a read of our article on managing candidate applications.

  • Prepare thoroughly.
  • Keep the interview conversational.
  • Make notes during and after.
  • Dismiss warning signals.
  • Pitch the role to be something it isn't.
  • Forget to follow up with all candidates.

Pre-interview preparation

If you want to find a top-class employee to join your team, you have to impress them as much as they need to impress you. Remember that they are likely to be interviewing at a number of companies at the same time. Before you meet your candidates face-to-face, make sure you have:

  • Studied your applicants' CVs and cover letters carefully and printed them off for reference during the interview.
  • Printed a list of the job requirements and relating questions to test the candidate possesses these and is up to the role. When drafting questions, think about what you really want to find out from this interview to help you determine which candidate you will hire.
  • A clear idea of the structure and format the interview will take - will there be multiple colleagues interviewing the same candidate on the day? Have you worked out who will focus on what? Will you be giving them a test to carry out during the interview?

A pre-interview assessment is a good way of sifting out the poor candidates, but remember that just because somebody passes the test it doesn’t mean that they’ll definitely be good at the job! Keep an open mind with all candidates.

The interview itself

First impressions & warning signals

They say it takes seven seconds for you to make a first impression - whilst you should not give up on your interviewee completely based on this short amount of time, it’s equally important not to dismiss any warning signals. These could include lateness, scruffy interview dress or rude/ negative attitude. Remember, this is a candidate who is meant to be trying to make the best possible first impression - if they’re like this at interview, the warning signals will only be amplified when they start working for you as an employee.

Recent graduates will not have had much practice with interviews and are likely to be nervous - help them relax by offering them a glass of water and ask them about their journey.

Whilst nerves can also be a worry-indicator, don’t let this completely shape your view of the candidate - give them a chance to relax first. In fact, the whole interview should aim to maintain a relaxed air to encourage a conversational flow and to find out the true potential of the candidate.

How to begin

It’s a good idea to begin with a brief minute long introduction of yourself, your position and any other colleagues present - remember that for the rest of the interview though, the candidate is the main focus. Don’t waste any time talking about the company or role description - a diligent candidate will have done their research correctly and already know this information.

Do they possess the right skills?

When you’re interviewing recent graduates they might not have a lot of work experience in business, but they will be able to demonstrate their skills which are relevant to the role through other experiences, such as volunteering, being part of a student society or club, or work during the holidays.

The most effective way to test these skills is by simulating a real work task in - this doesn’t necessarily have to be related to your industry or sector, but should require the skills needed to fulfill your role requirements.

Graduate roles tend not to have many requirements so the more important things to look out for are enthusiasm and potential to learn and develop in the role. Particularly in a smaller company, it is essential that your new hire is proactive and doesn’t sit around waiting for instructions.

Is this the right position for them?

To test whether they would really thrive in this position - mention some of the less appealing aspects of the job to see if they would be ok with doing this. The way they answer this will tell you a lot about their enthusiasm and commitment. You need to be absolutely clear on what the role involves as you don’t want to hire a person who is expecting to be doing something else and will then be disappointed and not work hard.

For more detailed information on how to recruit for your particular role, check out our sector specific how to hire pages.

Post-interview follow-up

Be sure to make detailed notes on what came out during the interview to help you make your decision later on. You may have already made brief notes during the interview which will be helpful. If several colleagues were interviewing the same time - start a shared sheet where you can put your thoughts and views done. It’s important that everyone is happy with the final decision - don’t settle on a candidate that isn’t quite right, there’s no harm - and it will be worth it in the long-term - in re-starting your recruitment drive. Once you have found the right candidate though, here's how you aboutmaking an offer.

Finally, remember to also follow up with the candidates you’re not offering the job to - ideally with a phone call - the sooner the better as they may be waiting for your decision in order to progress another application. Don’t feel bad about providing negative feedback, this will only be useful to them for their future interviews. Frame this feedback in a positive light with helpful suggestions on what to do for next time.

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