The College Campus Recruit

INTERVIEWING NEWLY MINTED GRADUATES has its own unique challenges because so little of their experience has any relevance to real life in the business world. That s not to say that these students haven t worked very hard to maintain a solid grade point average or to finance their educations. Nor does it in any way minimize the skills they've developed through team sports, fraternity leadership, or travel abroad. It s just that their university experiences don t easily lend themselves to measurable business criteria, and therein lies your challenge.

That being the case, many interviewers find themselves in the land of hypothetical questions. And hypothetical ''What would you do if . ..'' questioning formats reveal very little insight into how candidates will actually perform on the job. Indeed, if there is one area of interviewing that can be rehearsed and memorized, it s the hypothetical situation. That s because hypothetical questions test the candidates abilities only to theorize about their potential future performance. Also, candidates are given so much freedom to express themselves that their responses are prone to exaggeration.

So, instead of asking candidates to hypothesize about life in the business world, you re better off meeting them at their level and asking behavioral questions regarding their reality: life on campus. For what you need to measure in the new graduate is the same as what you gauge in a timeworn businessperson: the quality of the person s character. After all, any new hire is simply a bet that you make in terms of the individual s potential to give your company a competitive advantage someday. That s why you can justify the fact that you'll most likely take a loss in the new hire's first year while you re putting all that training into the person.

Still, characteristics like common sense, tenacity, reliability, and leadership go a long way in making your company a more successful operation. And everyone s got to start somewhere, so targeting eager and hungry graduates ready to make their mark on the world may make sense for you.

You've just got to be sure of two things: first, that the candidates are somewhat aware of what they want in life (otherwise, your company becomes one of the frogs that need to be kissed before they find their prince); second, that the graduates' strengths can readily be translated from an academic to a business context. Following are some questions that should help make more accurate assessments of recent graduates' abilities to make a solid impact on your company over time.

Why did you choose your [college/major]?

Why Ask This Question?

Let's be practical, because most larger universities probably offer close to one hundred majors from which to choose. The four with the most direct real-life practical application are engineering, pre-med, computer science, and business. Does that mean that those economics, German, anthropology, kinesiology, and geography majors have little to offer? Of course not. As a matter of fact, study after study has been published regarding which students fare better in business: those with liberal arts orientations or those with specialty degrees. Keep in mind, however, that unless you're hiring for one of the Big 4 accounting firms, you'll have about a 95 percent chance of interviewing students with majors that have little relevance to your direct line of business. So, employing this query will allow you to tunnel inside their heads for a moment and gauge what interests them and why.

Analyzing the Response

This is obviously an opening query to get the candidate talking freely. It's no doubt the most often asked question in the on-campus interview, but it serves its purpose because it puts candidates at ease while providing you with a framework from which to judge the rest of their responses. Bear in mind that 80 percent of the hire is determined in the first few minutes of the interview. Candidates with clearly defined responses to such a macro issue will place themselves at the top of the pile right from the get-go. Your goal in evaluating the response will be to look for career managers and career builders in the making.

Good Answers. For example, if someone chooses a university because it has one of the best academic programs in that individual's major field of study, there is a strong chance that the candidate had her eye on that college while still in high school. If so, you might question, What did you have to achieve in high school to make the final cut to get into this university?'' Such long-term insights on the candidate s part reveal a commitment to project completion and a high tolerance for adversity. In short, this person reaches the goals she sets for herself.

Furthermore, if a candidate chooses an economics major because he feels that the lateral thinking skills developed in those studies would prepare him better for studying law, then similarly view that person as a long-term career builder who will most likely finish what he starts. What about the German major who wants a chance to study abroad and understand the psychology of a people by studying their literature and poetry as opposed to their history and politics? Ditto! Does it matter whether the economics major decided against law school or the German major against a career in foreign diplomacy? Of course not. The point is that these students reveal a quality of character difficult to find nowadays: a premeditated devotion and an unceasing follow-up to academic areas that mean a lot to them. Look for these macro visionaries ten years later, and you'll find leaders in all fields of business.

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