Interviewing Students? Here’s How To Get Past Their “Perfect” Answers

In an ideal world, the hiring process would be viewed as a meeting between two professionals who are looking to create a partnership.

It would be an engagement where both individuals viewed each other as an equal. It would be a chance to assess each other to see if this long-term agreement would be beneficial for both parties.

However, to a student or grad looking to start gaining experience in their field, the playing field is anything but level. An over-saturated job market combined with a lack of experience can shift an aspiring professional’s view to survival mode… a desire to increase their chances by whatever means possible.

At first, this may seem like a plus for the recruiter. After all, you have the upper hand – there are tons of qualified students and grads vying for your attention and eager to please. However, all this can backfire when you realize that you’ve hired the wrong person.

The problem: Inauthentic engagements

Many students and grads are under the impression that they have to fit into a specific mould when presenting themselves to an employer. Why? Because everyone has told them to.

When’s the last time you wrote a job posting that asked for introverted qualities versus extroverted? And every employer seems to be asking for the same thing: top communication skills, assertiveness, and fast-paced people who thrive under pressure.

It makes sense that students feel that they need to fulfill these requirements, even if it’s not who they are. They need a foot-in-the-door, and they believe the best way to do that is to tell an employer they can ride a horse, and then learn how to do it later.

What does this mean for recruiters? It means they will be going through applications that are not a reflection of who the candidate is, but rather, what they think the employer wants them to be. It means spending many hours meeting people who play up qualities that they think you want. And in the end, you end up hiring an individual who is nothing like the person you met during the interview. And a mismatched hire is a waste of time for everyone.

The solution: Refocus your approach

More specifically, show candidates that you want to hire them – not an adjusted version of them. Focus your interactions on getting to know them, without making them feel like there is a cookie-cutter persona you are looking for that they have to fill. Of course, you may have a general idea of what you want your hire to look like, and that’s okay. But you may find that the best individual for the role does not 100% fit what you initially expected.

Job postings

Job postings set the tone for a job-seeker. It conveys the expectations and requirements of the role, and dictates the form the successful candidate must take in order to have a chance to prove themselves in the face-to-face interview. A good job posting also reflects the company culture through the copy and layout.

Be careful not to specify what you require of the candidates outside of the technical skills you need. For example, you can tell them you’re looking for individuals who will thrive in a fast-paced environment. But refrain from telling them that you require people who are outgoing and assertive. This will encourage applicants to assess themselves before applying.

Interviews

Interviews are an employer’s opportunity to meet face-to-face with candidates and see if the personality matches the application. Like the job posting, it’s important to focus on the technical skills rather than the personality traits you want the candidate to have. But you can take your assessment a step further by asking the right questions.

Turn the questions around on a candidate by asking them what they are looking for. For example, instead of asking “What can you do for our company to deliver results?” consider reframing your question to “If you could create any work environment, and control all the elements involved, what scenario would get the best results out of you?” Asking the second question will force your candidate to assess themselves once again, and they are less likely to come up with answers they think you’re looking for.

The benefits

Students will feel valued.

During a long job hunt, many students may start to get discouraged: constantly trying to sell themselves, only to fall short of their ultimate goal. Employers have the opportunity to inject a fresh and engaging element to the hiring process by focusing on the individual candidate on a different level. Asking students and grads who they are and what their interests are will really make a difference, and help you stand out among other organizations.

You will get more honest answers.

This process really helps build rapport with students. The more they feel valued, the more willing they will be to open up. Putting a spin on questions in order to highlight their preferences will often encourage them to share more (as most people love talking about themselves). However, you’ll find that their answers will be much more revealing, so you can determine whether or not they’d be the right fit.

You may find a new persona that fits the role.

Almost every campus recruiter is guilty of going into an event or an interview with a specific persona in mind. It can be easy to sit down in an interview and immediately dismiss the person in front of you because they don’t fit your expectations. By keeping your options open, and encouraging students to show you why their qualities and skills make them a great fit, you may find someone who you never expected to fill the position.

Discussion: As a recruiter, how do you reposition classic interview questions to gain new information about students and grads?

1 Comment

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