A reader asks:
While I've had plenty of practice interviewing experienced hires, I'm feeling stumped preparing to interview college students. We are coming up on campus recruiting season for interns and new hires, and I'm having trouble formulating my general interview script. Most of my go-to questions focus on past projects and experiences in different work environments. How do I translate this to students, especially the internship candidates who may not have any prior industry experience? What do I look for? GPA? Class projects? Leadership activities?
Yeah, it's tricky because most college students don't have much track record.
Look for three main things: smarts, drive, and some sort of track record of achievement. That last one is the most important. You're looking for evidence that they've been able to get things done -- build something, run something, grow something, improve something, or otherwise achieve something.
(That said, if you find someone who has smarts and drive and a great attitude but hasn't really achieved anything yet, it's not crazy to take a chance on them; it's more reasonable that they can't point to much they've done yet, at this age, than it will be down the road.)
Other things to pay attention to: Did they prepare for the interview? Did they research your company? Have they put some effort into the overall presentation of themselves and their materials? Do they seem to be taking the process seriously? How's their writing? How are their communication skills generally? Are they thoughtful? Curious? Passionate about anything? Excited by the prospect of working for you (without deluding themselves about what it might be like)?
As for what to ask, probe into whatever they have done. Ask about classwork, leadership roles, campus activities, any interesting hobbies, the last paper they wrote, whatever's on their resume. If you can get your candidates talking about something they can speak knowledgeably about, it'll give you a look at how their brain works -- how they think and operate, how they synthesize information, how they communicate, what they think is important.
It's also reasonable to ask students more "soft" questions than you would with a candidate who had more experience to probe into. Ask what interests them about the work they're applying for; what fields they've considered and rejected and why; why they picked their major; what they liked most about their finance classes -- all the soft questions that would make for a really weak interview if that's all you asked, but which are more appropriate when you're interviewing candidates without much professional background.
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