13 Interview Questions To Ask Entry-Level Candidates
Revealing questions to help you assess new graduates.
Regardless of a candidate’s experience level, the interview is an important part of the hiring process. But when hiring entry-level candidates with little to no professional experience, the interview becomes a driving factor in determining if a candidate is right for the job, especially if it’s a non-technical position. While many candidates will have internship experience, an academic track record, and extracurricular involvement at their college or university, the lack of full-time experience makes it tricky to use the standard slate of interview questions. Instead of relying on questions that probe a candidate’s work experience to predict how they will perform in a role, the interviewer has to get creative with questions to assess a candidate’s motivations, communication skills, approach to problem-solving, and potential.
So which questions should you ask to determine if a new college graduate will do well at your company? Here are some key prompts to include during your interview process.
Questions to learn about a candidate’s skill set
Can you tell me about your educational background and how it relates to this position?
This question is a great way to get the conversation going and allows you to get an overview of what the candidate learned while earning their degree. As long as the degree directly relates to the role, most top candidates will focus on details that discuss critical understandings associated with the job description.
What class projects or assignments best prepared you for this position?
When you ask a candidate this question, you are presenting them with an opportunity to discuss specific classwork that aligns with the job’s duties. Essentially, you’ll learn how their academic experiences mirror the work they will encounter, giving you more knowledge about their hard skills or technical capabilities in relevant areas.
What previous internships or professional experiences prepared you for this role, and why?
While entry-level candidates typically have limited professional experience, this question can help you understand their experience outside of academics and showcase certain skills or capabilities that can transfer to the specific role.
Throughout your college career, which course did you find to be the most challenging? Which course was the easiest?
By asking these questions, you can learn about any skill-oriented strengths or weakness a candidate has, giving you insights into areas where they may excel or struggle.
Questions to assess how candidates interact with others, deal with conflict, and overcome challenges
How would your peers who have collaborated with you on a project describe your work style?
All college students have had to work in a group project at some point, making this an ideal question to learn more about how they work with others. Do they describe themselves as a great listener? Someone who takes charge to determine next steps? Working on teams is inevitable in the workplace, making this question an important one.
Describe a time when you and a peer experienced conflict in a professional setting. What was the conflict, and how did you overcome it?
Whether the conflict was related to a group project, a disagreement at a club meeting, or even a class discussion, how a candidate describes a conflict and their reaction to it says a lot about how they might respond to similar situations in a workplace.
Can you describe a class where you struggled with the material? What did you do to ensure you would succeed in the course?
This question allows you to assess how a candidate deals with adversity. Since nearly every professional will encounter challenging situations, understanding a candidate’s thought process when they encounter an obstacle as well as how they address the issue can give you insights into how they will act when they are having trouble accomplishing a daunting task while on the job.
Can you describe a time where you had trouble getting motivated to complete an assignment? How did you overcome it?
Entry-level roles come with tasks that aren't always exciting or interesting. And nearly every college student has had classes or projects that didn’t automatically pique their interest. This question allows you to explore how the candidate acts when their motivation is slow, including whether they rise to the challenge or settle for subpar work.
Tell me about a mistake you made in a professional setting. How did you address it? What did you learn from the experience?
All people make mistakes, period. When you ask this question, you are giving the candidate an opportunity to discuss how they act when they make a misstep, gaining insight into their integrity, self-awareness, and problem-solving capabilities.
Can you describe a situation where you felt you received a grade that was lower than you deserved? How did you handle the feedback and address It?
At some point in their academic careers, most students receive at least one grade that they feel is unfairly low. By asking this question, you learn how the candidate responds to negative feedback, something that they will almost certainly face on the job.
Questions to assess a candidate's motivations and goals
What about this job interested you?
While this basic question is great for finding out how much research a candidate did on the position and company, it can also help you discover how a candidate sees the job opportunity fitting into their long-term career plan. Were they interested because of the opportunities for growth and learning? Were they drawn to your company’s mission and values?
The answer here can help you determine the primary motivators of a candidate, and an authentic, well-thought out answer shows they’re in it for more than just a paycheck. Further, if the candidate discusses specific aspects of the job that they find interesting, you gain insights into the kinds of tasks they find engaging. This can be valuable for motivating them in the future or could indicate a candidate isn’t a great fit if the duties they discuss don’t focus on the core responsibilities they will handle on a daily basis.
What do you hope to learn while in this role?
This question serves as a way to learn more about where a candidate may need additional training or support. Based on the candidate’s answer, you can determine whether you are prepared to offer what they may need to thrive in the role over the long-term.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
While this question may be a bit cliché, it can help you determine if the role you’re offering loosely aligns with a candidate’s long-term goals. For example – if you’re offering an entry-level sales role but a candidate’s five year-plan doesn’t include any kind of client-facing role, they might not be the right fit. That said, if your company offers robust career mapping and professional development opportunities, the specifics of their answer may be less important.
An interview can’t tell you everything about an entry-level candidate (that’s what makes reference calls and assessments particularly useful) but it can showcase a lot about a candidate’s communication skills and personality. With any or all of these questions added to your rotation of interview questions alongside industry or company-specific ones, you’ll get a better picture of a candidate’s potential and their fit with your company.