Recruiting the Gems: 5 Best Questions to Ask Students in Interviews

By Julia Dunn on October 24, 2017

It’s no secret that today’s generation of college students is dynamic, talented, energized, and hardworking — and of course, recruiters want the best student employees possible for their positions.

Most jobs nowadays require folks whose skills can be classified as interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary: in essence, people who are able to adapt to changing environments and changing sets of demands. So how do you find gems in the student population when so many qualified students come through your door?

To make sure your student employees are the best-suited for your open position, ask these questions in interviews.

1. Do you have any student leadership experience or history of co-curricular involvement?

Finding out the extent to which a student has engaged in leadership development is extremely useful to you as a recruiter. Students who have undertaken positions in co-curricular engagement and student organizations bring with them a wide array of marketable skills. These skills include communication and organizational skills, graphic design (often times, not always), conflict management, professionalism, and many more.

2. Which online skills do you have?

This question helps you determine the programs and multimedia resources with which the candidate is familiar. These online skills can include proficiency with Facebook/Instagram, WordPress, design programs in packages like Adobe Creative Suites (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator) and web design.

Students are especially savvy with social media, making them great at marketing and community engagement in the online sphere. They know what’s happening in the world and can make sense of it quickly, which can be a huge asset for your company.

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This question is helpful when you’re split between several candidates for a certain role, as you may be able to use technical skills as a “tiebreaker.”

Then again, students are fast and eager learners when confronted with a new challenge so most students can pick up online skills relatively quickly depending on their complexity.

3. Describe your experiences working as part of a team

This answer says a lot about a prospective student candidate. It’s rare to have a job that involves zero collaboration, even for remote positions (Google Hangouts calls make this even more possible).

Ask students about their past collaborative experiences: did they enjoy teamwork? Do they go out of their way to work with others when given the option? How do they communicate as a group member, and do they take the lead?

This question will help you to envision what work would be like if you hired a certain student versus another. Of course, you can only speculate so far (you’re not going to get a full picture of who they are from a single interview, usually). Nonetheless, this question is one of the most important when interviewing students; it predicts the way their work ethic will combine with those of your coworkers.

4. How do you handle failure?

Failure is inevitable and often unpredictable. The results can be inconvenient and often disastrous, but what matters most is how someone responds to failure. Asking students to talk about moments of failure (a project gone awry, a misstep or misunderstanding, etc) can grant you insight into their personal strategies that may be useful on the job.

You don’t necessarily want to hire someone who will entirely crumble under pressure or someone who will instantly give up upon encountering failure. Pay close attention to how interviewees respond to this question; it could make a huge difference when things go south at work. Look for students who are energized and motivated even more by failure — not for those who tend to wallow in discouragement.

5. What are your strengths and how have you used them in past projects, employment, and other contexts?

Students want to show you what they’ve done, what they’re proud of, and what goals they’ve achieved in their communities; allow them to do so! Ask them to tell their success stories and how their strengths can benefit your company or organization. This is a great opening question or prompt to an interview, aside from “tell me about yourself” and “why are you perfect for the job?”

The question also helps students gather confidence right off the bat, which will set them up to feel comfortable and capable when answering later interview questions. There’s no reason to scare students (anyone, really) in an interview, so prompt your candidates to start off strong.

When in doubt, ask students to describe their past experiences in detail. Find out how they co-managed the planning of a large conference. Ask them to expand upon the challenges of working with difficult customers, co-workers, and collaborators. Find out how they reconcile their weaknesses and amplify their strengths.

Recruiters should be able to bring out the best in a student during an interview. Only then can you obtain an accurate image of who they are, and only then can you make an informed, fair hiring decision.

By Julia Dunn

Uloop Writer
UC Santa Cruz
A writer, editor and educator based in Northern California.

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