6 Must-Ask Interview Questions for New Grads & Interns This April

As graduation nears, and freshly-minted college degrees are readying new candidates for the market, employers and recruiters assess how they can best leverage this new talent.

Asking the right interview questions is integral in the process of unearthing suitable talent for specific roles and companies, and to ensure culture fit. I asked two experts for their opinions, one a senior-level leader with more than 25 years’ experience in the corporate, public and start-up world, and the other, a millennial leader who has paved a formidable career path over the past eight years.

Their responses to the question, “What are your must-ask interview questions for new grads and interns?” were multifaceted. In nearly every question, they strove for multiple takeaways as well as incited the candidate to reflect, perhaps more deeply than they ever have, on past initiatives and current goals.

Here’s what they said.

1. “Describe how you navigated uncertainty in a project that you played a key role in.”

Jon Mertz, startup executive and founder, Thin Difference, knows the value of storytelling beyond traditional usage, understanding its value in business and personal marketing. He proposes a question that tests a candidate’s storytelling while also getting to the heart of critical thinking.

Why It Works: “In this request, two elements arise,” explains Mertz. “The first is storytelling and how the interviewee can describe a situation in a succinct, meaningful way. The second element gains some insight into the interviewee’s critical thinking. Understanding how they evaluated the uncertainty and developed actions to move forward are essential to a team and organization.”

[Related: 4 Questions to Ask Applicants to Assess Their Empathy]

2. “How would people you work with describe your attitude and mindset?”

We all know that one employee’s attitude can have the power to elevate or deflate the workplace climate around them. As such, Mertz continues with a question that strives to illuminate a candidate’s frame of mind.
Why It Works: “Asking an interviewee how others view them usually delivers a more honest answer,” says Mertz. “More than this, understanding attitude and mindset are keys to ensuring a good mix with other team members and finding individuals with a positive outlook and a growth mindset.”

3. “Highlight a situation in which you put others or the goal above your own interests.”

Working together collaboratively and putting collective organizational goals over individual ambitions is imperative in today’s workplace. And while the words sound good, putting them into action is another story. Mertz developed an interview question that presses candidates to prove they have done just that.
Why It Works: “Ethics plays a key role in leadership,” asserts Mertz. “With this request, an interviewee can demonstrate their values while highlighting how they focus on purpose and mission above their self-interests.”

4. “Tell me about one of the most successful group projects that you did in school. What role did you play? Did you learn anything from the experience?”

Erica Johansen, a customer experience and technology consultant, also values proof of a candidate’s ability to work collaboratively in a group in this three-pronged question.

Why it Works: “First of all,” explains Johansen, “I want to see how they reflected on their work in a group since virtually all corporate work is a team effort. I also want to hear them tell the story about the role they played in the group and how they spoke of other team members. Lastly, I’m looking to see if they maintained a growth mindset, regardless of the success of the project.”

5. “Tell me about a project in school that was one that you were particularly proud of. What made you proud of that work?”

Understanding what motivates an employee can be useful in many ways, including determining if the role for which you are interviewing will satisfy the candidate’s motivations. Johansen serves up this two-part question that helps to get at the root of motivation and growth mindset.

Why it Works: “This question helps me understand what intrinsically motivates the candidate and what energizes them. Reframing ‘what made you proud’ also requires them to reflect on their own experience, again, emphasizing those growth mindset characteristics,” says Johansen.

[Related: Recruiting Spring Grads: What They Want]

6. “If you had no restrictions or constraints (specifically no time or money constraints), how would you spend your time?”

Johansen concludes with a real zinger, probing from a unique angle around “long-term aspirations” and how that does, or does not, fit with the company.
Why it Works: “Gauging true motivation is tricky in the interview setting, so I have found it helpful to have candidates describe something they are passionate about and motivated to do on their own,” Johansen reasons.“ This also helps to color long-term aspirations and help see how their skills and passion could fit as a long-term talent with the organization. For example, if their response is, ‘I want to travel the world,’ and I have an opportunity that requires a demanding travel schedule, it could be worthwhile to see if there is an opportunity to leverage their strengths in a role that aligns with their personal aspirations.”

Learn More & Download:

Candidate Screening Checklist