The months following graduation can be a bit of a whirlwind for job seekers. All the more so because you’ll be balancing two considerations that don’t always complement each other: your desire to start building a rewarding career that you can be proud of, and the more pressing need to land a job that lets you pay the bills.
You don’t have to go at it alone either, a mentor can help you through the processes, the benefits of mentoring for a graduate can be monumental – they can give you advice on your CV, interviews, or just general knowledge on your chosen industry. An invitation to an assessment day, or better yet a graduate interview, can send job seekers rushing to learn all they can about their prospective employers. As it happens, that’s seldom the wisest course. If an organisation shows interest in your application, they know that you can learn what you need to about its composition, personnel, and history. What they don’t know—and what they’ll likely spend most of the interview learning about—is you.
With that in mind, here are a few dozen questions (well, a few baker’s dozen) that get to the heart of what employers seek to learn during graduate interviews. We’ll start with the most diabolical one of all.
- Tell us a bit about yourself.
Think of this as an opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the interview. You’ll be asked plenty of questions that get to what your prospective employer really needs to know about you, and there’s no reason to anticipate those questions. An inquiry this broad deserves a broad response. It couldn’t hurt to prepare a brief response of 15-20 seconds that highlights your dependability and eagerness to do the kind of work you’re applying for.
- What do you offer our company?
Another broad-based question that’s almost a challenge to keep things concise. Have a response of 5-10 seconds ready, and let your interviewers follow up if they’d like. The rest of the questions on this list are a bit narrower in focus, so we’ll let them stand on their own.
- Describe your work experience and how it prepares you for this job.
- Choose three of your most important skills, and tell us how they make you a good fit for this job.
- How does your non-work experience prepare you for this role?
- What interests you in our industry? Our company? This particular job?
- Tell us something about yourself that isn’t on your CV.
- Why did you choose the A-levels you did?
- Why did you choose your course of study at university?
- What activities do you pursue outside of university?
- Where do you think your career will take you in the next five years?
- What do you think you will do best in this role, straight away?
- What would you like to do best in this role a year from now?
- In what ways do you think you might struggle in this role?
- What did you enjoy most about your previous jobs? What did you enjoy least?
- List your three most prominent strengths on the job. And your three most prominent weaknesses.
- Describe a challenge you faced at a previous job, and how you overcame it.
- Describe a conflict you had with someone at a previous job, and how you managed it.
- What made your worst manager so bad?
- What made your best manager so good?
- If we speak with your last/current manager, what will they have to say about you?
- What’s best about working within a team? What’s worst about it?
- What’s best about working independently? What’s worst about it?
- Describe a time when you worked with both local and external colleagues.
- What special challenges arose? How did you and/or your team overcome them?
- Tell us about a time when you worked with colleagues from outside your team to solve a problem.
- Describe a team project you participated in, and the role you played.
- What do managers and executives owe to their employees?
- What do employees owe to company leaders?
- Would you describe yourself as competitive?
- Tell us about a time you took on responsibilities beyond those listed in your job description.
- When you have a complex workload, how do you organise your work and your time?
- Describe a way that you improved a process or system on the job.
Tell us about a time you helped a customer, client, or vendor address a problem.
- Tell us about the last time you stepped outside your comfort zone.
- How do you handle criticism from your manager? Tell us about a time you followed up on a manager’s criticism.
- How do you manage stress?
- What single thing frustrates you the most on the job? How do you address that frustration?
- In one sentence, why should we hire you?
- Do you have any questions for us?
These are all somewhat universal questions, and of course you’ll be asked about matters specific to the company and the sector in which it operates. But each of these questions bears on any prospective employer’s most important consideration: is this recently graduated person good at having a job? Not everyone is, after all. If you can offer compelling answers to the questions above, you’ll present yourself as a candidate worth investing in, even if your sector-specific knowledge isn’t quite as strong as that of another candidate.
When preparing your responses, try to think of a few different angles for each. Most of your answers can draw on your work experience, your university experience, or your extracurricular experience. Think about how you’d draw on each facet of your background to show employers why you’re such a good candidate.
No one expects you to look back on years of high-level leadership: that’s not the sort of job you’ll be interviewing for. Rather, think of how you built your skill sand knowledge from one experience to the next, even if they weren’t strictly speaking work-related.
Be sure to treat each graduate interview as a learning experience and keep these interview tips to land your graduate job in mind. It’s only honest to acknowledge that you’ll have a lot of competition for each job, and that the odds will be against you (as they’ll be against everyone who applies). Job seekers who use each interview to hone their responses, technique, and presence will eventually break through. Best of luck!