How does your degree prepare you (a) for a career in [industry] or (b) to excel as a [job title]?

Why Ask This Question?

Moving deductively from the generic to the specific, this query asks candidates to make a causal connection between their academic majors and their targeted first positions out of college. It will not only justify why the candidates have chosen to interview with your firm, but it may also provide insights into graduates inclinations to research a situation before committing to it.

For example, before conducting on-campus interviews, you would typically forward your annual report and public relations materials to the university placement center. Candidates who research your organization in advance and ask questions related to your organization s market niche, short-term challenges, or the outside influences that have a direct impact on your business operations clearly separate themselves from their peers. And since most universities offer Internet services, even if you haven t provided your company s annual report in advance, there s little excuse for a graduating senior—even in the midst of finals—not to have taken ten minutes to visit your company s website or otherwise perform some advanced research on your company.

Analyzing the Response

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. Asking graduates ''How has your degree prepared you for a career in advertising? or ''How has your degree prepared you to excel as a staff accountant at our Big 6 accounting firm?'' should reveal the link in the candidate's career progression from academia to business. Here again, you'll be faced with something of a jump in imagination as candidates relate their theoretical studies to real-life future performance. Your challenge will be in equating excellence in general skill categories with specific functions back at the office.

For example, a graduate who worked as a research assistant is probably inquisitive and resourceful enough to handle a position that requires investigative skills. Similarly, someone who writes for the school paper reveals a creative bent. Editors of that same school paper are probably more inclined to analysis. And student tutors probably have more of a knack for public speaking and customer service. There's no absolute matrix that will clearly place certain college-related activities into a business context, but translating from academia to business isn't a cut-and-dried science. That's why interviews are in essence opinions about an individual's ability to provide you with a profitable return on investment over time. And that's also what makes the evaluation process fun and challenging.

What qualifications do you have beyond academics that qualify you to make a successful transition into business?

Why Ask This Question?

Students with a broad base of extracurricular activities and community involvement show a high capacity for dealing with changing priorities and balancing multiple tasks. That's not to say that students who do little beyond their expected course work can't perform as well in an environment with last-minute changes and competing demands. As a matter of fact, the competition among pre-med students is so intense that one tenth of a point's difference on their grade point average could determine which graduate schools accept or reject them. So if you're hiring doctors, then you'll probably value academic genius above all else.

Still, most businesses require well-rounded individuals with lots to give in terms of networking with other businesspeople, attending industry-related functions, and finding time to make a presence in the community. Therefore, extracurricular activities say a lot about graduates' inclinations to make broad-based contributions to multiple organizations.

Analyzing the Response

Only you can determine how much extracurricular activity is enough as far as your organizational hiring profile is concerned. And only you can discern what grade point average will suffice to predict success in your company. But there obviously has to be a practical trade-off between the number of nonacademic activities and candidates' final grade point averages because they can't be studying when marching around the football field playing the trumpet or working in the neighborhood grocery store thirty hours a week to finance their educations.

Extracurricular qualifications consequently come in two varieties: (1) school-related and community-based activities and (2) working arrangements to finance an education. Both are noble in terms of their broadening the depth of students appreciation and heightening the whole experience of advanced learning. Additionally, some crucial issues may surface that provide clearer insights into the candidate evaluation process.

Those students who participate in the same school-related activities for all four years reveal a level of commitment and discipline that is not easily shaken. The continuity in their actions also shows that they have fairly well come to terms with their strengths and interests and pursue them steadfastly. Others explore multiple activities and disciplines before (if ever) committing to one that can apparently hold their interest. Again, there s nothing wrong with that; not everyone will be a four-year letterman on the football team.

Red Flags

But it is interesting to see how diverse and eclectic those students elective activities turn out. For example, someone who s tried everything from swim team to chess club to sorority membership may appear somewhat flighty and inconsistent. If you notice that each of those memberships lasted no more than a semester, then you might logically reason that the individual has difficulty committing to longer-term organizational relationships. Whether that s enough to ultimately serve as a negative swing factor is up to you. The inconsistency, however, is telling.

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. In comparison, students who work flipping hamburgers, waiting tables, or tutoring other students will most likely appreciate the value of their educations from a dollars-and-cents standpoint. These are the self-made, independent types who typically rely on no one other than themselves for their success or failure. What they lack in terms of enriching extracurricular experiences they make up for in a heightened sense of self-reliance and self-determination. Accordingly, you might question:

''What particular business skills did you develop while working your way through college?''

''How might you have an advantage over a peer who was enjoying fraternity life and other fun activities while you were employed in a less-than-glamorous job?''

''How could the adversity you faced from the pressure of meeting your financial obligations affect your work ethic and approach to business?''

In short, look for the skills, values, and work ethic developed from hard labor. As they say, hard work never killed anybody. Combined with the pressures of meeting demanding academic performance standards, such a rigorous agenda of activities portends a particularly successful transition into business.

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