During a graduate job interview, the interviewer is trying to find out whether or not your skills, experience, and attitude match the job requirements. Also, they try to assess if you would be a good fit for the organization and company culture.
There are a couple of types of interview questions that you can expect when you’re a (recent) graduate. Of course, you can expect common interview questions about your personality and character, such as ‘tell me about yourself,’ ‘what motivates you?’, and what your strengths and weaknesses are.
It is also likely that you will get asked behavioral job interview questions to assess specific required skills and competencies for the job. These questions require you to answer with an example situation that you experienced in the past during your work. An example of such a question ‘tell me about a challenging work situation and how you handled it.’ The answer you give should demonstrate your suitability and highlight your competencies, skills, and abilities that are also required for the job you’re applying for.
Graduate interviewers are usually structured in nature, which means that the interviews are conducted with a list of set questions that every candidate gets asked. Your answers will be compared against pre-determined criteria to see how well you fit the position and company.
The interviewers know, of course, that as a graduate, you do not have years of work experience yet. However, any work experience that you do have that is related to the required competencies, for instance, trough internships, volunteering experience, or side jobs can help substantiate your answers. The answers you give to the interview questions should convince the interviewer that you’re the right candidate for the job.
In this article, we give you a graduate’s guide to job interviews. Also, we discuss job interview questions that you can expect and how you should answer them. Furthermore, read more about frequently asked job interview questions here and check our job interview preparation checklist.
Types of graduate job interviews
As described in the introduction, there are several interview questions that you can expect. These are common interview questions that are asked in almost any interview, but also more specific behavioral interview questions to uncover your skills and abilities.
Common interview questions are general questions that can be asked during any job interview and include questions about your work history and your skill sets.
Examples of common job interview questions are:
- Walk me through your resume
- Tell me about yourself
- How would you describe yourself?
- Why do you want to work here?
- What motivates you?
It’s likely that the interviewer will ask you a couple of behavioral interview questions, as well. These questions will regard how you have handled specific work situations or school situations in the past. These questions usually start with:
- Give me an example of (..)
- Tell me about a time when (..)
- Describe how you have handled (..)
- Walk me through (..)
- Have you ever experienced (..)
- Describe a situation where (..)
Examples of behavioral questions are:
- Tell me about a time you resolved a conflict in a team project
- Describe a situation where you adjusted to changing situations that you had no control over?
- Tell me about a time you demonstrated leadership skills
- Describe a time where you had to mediate a conflict
The ratio behind behavioral interview questions is that the way that you have behaved in the past is the best indicator of your possible behavior in the future.
The easiest and most effective way of answering behavioral interview questions is giving the interviewer an answer in the form of a logically structured ‘story.’ Use the STAR interview technique to do this.
STAR is an acronym that stands for a situation (S), your task (T) in that situation, the actions (A) you took, and what results (R) you got based on your actions. These are the basic steps you take in walking the interviewer through a situation that you want to describe.
STAR Interview Technique
When interviewers ask you behavioral interview questions, they expect you to provide an example situation to go with your answer. For you, this is a great moment to demonstrate your suitability for the job. However, it does take some preparation to make sure that you have multiple example scenarios ready that you can use during your job interview.
Before we discuss some example answers, we break the STAR method down below into each step, so you understand what information to include. If you structure your answers the right way, you get concise and to-the-point answers that directly answer the question of the interview. This is, of course, the right way to impress an interviewer during a graduate job interview because it gives them what they are looking for.
Situation – What exact situation were you in?
Start your answer by setting the scene. Include context around the particular situation you were in or the challenge that you were facing. Do not forget to include relevant details.
Task – What was your task in the earlier described situation?
Next, talk about your specific tasks in the earlier described situation. Include your responsibilities and what your role was.
Action – What actions did you take to address the challenges?
Tell the interviewer about the actions you took to resolve the situation or particular challenge that you were facing. Give the interviewer a step by step description of the actions that you took. This is the most important part of the STAR technique because it shows how you approach and handle certain situations.
Result – What was the outcome of your actions? What did you learn?
Finish your story by telling what the results of your actions were. Take credit for your behavior that led to the result. This part should answer questions as ‘what happened?‘ and ‘what did you accomplish?’. Furthermore, tell the interviewer what you learned from the situation.
Example of a STAR structured answer
So, what does a STAR structured answer look like? Below we provide a step-by-step answer to the following interview question:
‘Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team, and you took the lead.’
‘During my education, I worked on and completed several important projects. However, one project that stands out was one in my marketing class. Together with five other students, we had to create a plan to rebrand an established brand with the intention of developing a new and differentiated identity.’
‘As a team, we had to use a set of research methods to gather and analyze information. Based on our research, we had to write a report and present our findings rebranding strategy to an expert panel of marketers.’
‘I took on the role of the project coordinator to continuously make sure everybody was on the same page and monitor deadlines. I was also responsible for conducting an online brand perception survey and analyzing the results to create a basis for our rebranding strategy.
At the start of the project, I initiated and facilitated brainstorm meetings to discuss a plan of action that we all agreed on. We discussed and set several deadlines that would become milestones in the timeline of the project.
Furthermore, I proposed to have weekly meetings to track progress and analyze if we were running into any delays. This way, we avoided running behind and could immediately help team members that ran into challenges. These meetings helped us identify the strengths of each team member, which helped us plan out our presentation.
‘We finished our report on time and had a week left to finalize and optimize our presentation, which we eventually won a prize for. The expert panel commended us for presenting a coherent and professional rebranding plan that could be of real benefit to the company.
The main thing I learned from this project is that regular meetings allow you to utilize each other’s strengths to full potential. Furthermore, these meetings made sure that all communication was clear while still being able to accommodate different styles of working.’
What interviewers look for in a graduate job interview
Just like in any job interview, interviewers are trying to figure out if you can do the job and if you will fit into the company. It is up to you to demonstrate your suitability.
The interviewers know that you are probably a novice candidate and that you’re applying for your first job. To make things easier for them and you, seasoned interviewers will give you a clear direction during the interview. They will ask you specific interview questions and expect you to provide answers about your experiences so far and your approach to challenging situations.
The interviewer wants to get the following questions answered during the interview:
- Are you easy to get along with?
- Can you communicate effectively with different personalities?
- Are you able to adequately respond to situations that occur during your work?
- Do you possess essential organization and time management skills?
- What motivates you, and are you motivated to perform the job?
- Are you flexible in your approaches to situations at work?
Based on the answers you give the interviewer, they will ask you follow-up questions. This can be to give you a second chance because your first answer did not directly answer the question or can be to get you to clarify your answer. For instance, expect follow-up questions such as ‘Okay.. now tell me a bit more about what you exactly did in that situation and what the outcome was. What happened during that project that led to that result?’
The interviewers will also dig deeper into your organization and time management skills. Both of those skills are important to successfully complete projects. Think about it; if you have the knowledge to do something but you don’t have the skills to organize and manage your time and activities, you might not be the right person for the job. Therefore, make sure that you have several example scenarios ready that you can use in your answers that demonstrate that you possess organization and time management skills.
Organization and time management
To assess your organization and time management skills, the interviewers will ask you general questions to get an understanding of how organized you are and how you prioritize your daily tasks. An example question is, for instance, ‘Walk me through your daily routine, from when you get up till you go to bed. How do you organize a regular day in your life?’
Another basic skill that the interviewer wants to assess is your problem-solving skills. They do this by asking you specific problem-solving skills to see if you can adapt to situations. Even if you do not yet have relevant work experience, you can use your volunteering or internship experience. You can also use the experience that you gained during academic projects. An example question that you, for instance, can expect is, ‘Have you ever faced a situation where you had to adapt and act fast to solve a problem that occurred unexpectedly? What was your task in that situation, and which decisions did you make? What were the results of your actions?’
Excellent communication skills are essential in any position. This is also the reason why interviewers are interested in how you communicate not only in regular situations but also when you’re under pressure.
The interviewer will look for specific details in your answers, and if you’re able to respond to questions without taking too much time to think of an answer, which is also a basic communication skill. Of course, you can take a deep breath if you need a second, but make sure that you don’t let an awkward silence come between the question and your answer.
The same goes for your non-verbal communication. Non-verbal behavior includes your facial expressions, eye contact, pitch, and tone of your voice, and gestures that you make through your body language such as hand, arm, and leg posture.
For employers, it’s important to select the candidates that are motivated by the right things and are motivated to perform well on the job. You can imagine that a worker is not of much use to an employer if he or she is not motivated to work for that company.
There are several ways how interviewers assess your motivation. The answers that you give should give the interviewer insights into your values, qualities, and how you can contribute to the team and company. Basic questions you can expect are ‘what motivates you?‘ or ‘what motivates you to achieve your career goals?’
Competencies that graduate employers look for
Depending on the position that you’re applying for and the culture within a company, the competencies that the interviewer is looking for may vary. However, there are common competencies that interviewers look for in general in a graduate job interview. Think for instance of:
- Communication skills
- Commercial awareness
- Conflict resolution skills
- Creative thinking skills
- Customer service skills
- Leadership potential
- Problem-solving skills
The best way to demonstrate your competencies during a graduate job interview is by providing answers that include examples of how you demonstrated these competencies in work situations in the past. This is the most effective way of convincing the interviewers that you have the qualities that they are looking for.
Therefore, make sure that you analyze the job description thoroughly because usually, they include the key skills that are required to perform the job successfully. Based on your research, you can figure out which competencies you should highlight in your answers.
How to prepare for a graduate job interview
Even if you do not have years of work experience yet and you are fresh out of university, you cannot go into an interview and blow them away with just your personality. If you prepare the right way, you come across more confident and provide more substantiated and thorough answers to common interview questions. Furthermore, you will be able to give the answers that interviewers look for.
If you know how to answer certain graduate job interview questions and you have answer scenarios ready, you will worry less during the interview. This will also help you demonstrate your confidence in that you’re the right person for the job. Below we give you some tips to prepare for a graduate job interview.
Research the job and company
Start by analyzing the job description and researching the company. Analyzing the job description will help you identify the required competencies for the job and the needed skills and abilities. The research you do on the company should help you get more information about their mission, activities, products, services, the market in general, and competition.
Prepare answers to questions you’re expecting
Based on your research on the job requirements and company, you can make an educated guess about interview questions that you can expect. Also, check our list of frequently asked interview questions and common interview questions that are asked in almost any interview. Furthermore, check our interview preparation checklist to make sure you come as well-prepared as possible.
The easiest and most effective way to do this is to create a list of past experiences that relate to the required competencies, skills, and abilities for the job. Think of experiences you had during internships, academic projects, or side jobs that can demonstrate situations where you applied the required skills and abilities for the job. Use the STAR interview technique to structure your answers.
Practice these answers enough to ensure that you can provide concise and to-the-point answers during the actual interview.
Prepare questions to ask the interviewer
To make a great impression during a graduate job interview, it’s important to ask smart questions back. What you should realize before you go to your job interview is that it’s supposed to be a two-way street. The questions you ask the interviewer in a job interview are one of the most overlooked keys to success.
Know your resume inside out
Go through your resume until you’re ready to walk the interviewer through it fluently. When the interviewer asks you to walk him or her through your resume, you should be able to tell it in the form of a story. Your answer should highlight important parts of your resume and the story, in general, should be chronological and consistent. A resume walkthrough is a common practice during a job interview, so make sure that you’re prepared to immediately do this if the interviewer asks you to.
Graduate job interview scoring indicators
As discussed earlier in this article, the interviewers know that you don’t have a ton of experience yet. However, they are looking for you to say the right things to demonstrate your suitability. Below we discuss the positive indicators that interviewers look for during a graduate job interview and negative scoring indicators that interviewers consider red flags.
Positive scoring indicators
Interviewers are looking for the following positive scoring indicators in your answers:
- If you’re motivated for the job and can answer why you’re excited about the opportunity.
- Demonstrating a willingness to learn and develop yourself.
- If you possess organization and time management skills.
- If you have learned from experiences in the past and how you apply this now.
- You’re able to compromise in situations.
- If you possess the required communication skills.
- If you’re able to approach and deal with challenges in a positive way.
- You can perform your job when you’re under pressure.
- If you’re aware of your development points and limitations.
- Showing genuine interest and asking questions back.
Negative scoring indicators
Make sure to avoid the negative scoring indicators during your graduate job interview and focus on the positive indicators. Examples of negative scoring indicators are:
- Not being able to explain why you’re excited about the opportunity.
- If you see challenges or obstacles as problems.
- Not being able to perform under pressure.
- Being negative about team members or co-workers in previous situations that you have encountered.
- Not being able to demonstrate communication and problem-solving skills.
- Trying to solve challenges or obstacles alone and failing.
- Not taking responsibility for your actions.
- If you fail to respond effectively to follow-up questions.
- Not asking the interviewer questions back.
Frequently asked graduate job interview questions
Below you can find examples of commonly asked graduate job interview questions:
- Why do you believe that you’re qualified for this position?
- What are you looking for in a job?
- Why do you have an interest in this profession?
- Tell me about a time you demonstrated leadership qualities at university.
- What are your strengths? How will they help you in this new position?
- Where do you want to be in five years?
- What do you think will be a challenge for you in this job?
- What are your weaknesses or points of development?
- How does this position fit into your career goals?
- What is your greatest achievement?
- Why should we hire you?
- Do you have any questions for us?
Sample answers to graduate job interview questions
Below a couple of examples of answers to graduate job interview questions are written out. However, don’t forget that these are general examples. Therefore, when you’re writing out your own answers, always focus on your situation as a graduate and the requirements for the job that you’re applying for.
Also, structure your answers with enough detail to convince the interviewer that you’re the right person for the position.
Graduate interview question and answer – Example 1:
‘What interests you about this position?’
‘During my years in university, I worked as a customer service representative. What I enjoyed about the job was the interaction with the customers and helping them answer their questions and solving their problems.
What I took from that experience is that I’m good at communicating with customers, whether on the phone or in real-life, and I enjoy building relationships. Once I graduated I started to research careers in which I could utilize these skills which led me to the field of human resources and more specifically recruitment.
This trainee position within your agency excites me because it’s an opportunity for me to apply and further develop the skills I gained during my previous work experience.’
Why this is a strong answer
- The provided example is related and relevant to the position that you’re applying for.
- The answer shares how you developed the necessary skills to clearly communicate and interact. These are the same skills needed for the job that you’re applying for.
- This answer shows that you know what you want based on earlier experience. This gives more weight to your decision to apply for this job.
Graduate interview question and answer – Example 2:
‘Why do you want to work here?’
‘For me, the reputation of company ABC is definitely a factor and one of the reasons why I chose to apply for this job. I would be proud to start my career at an organization that has such a long history of leadership in the industry. This would be a great opportunity to begin my career and develop myself in the field of corporate finance.
Furthermore, last summer I attended your summer internship which helped me make my decision. The company culture of continuously striving for the best results and the opportunities to learn and develop myself as a professional is unmatched in the industry.’
Why this is a strong answer
- Even though this answer is aimed toward an application at a well-know organization it clearly explains what the reasons were for applying for the position.
- The answer directly answers the question of the interviewer. It answers the ‘why’ you applied for the job.
- Mentioning that you, for instance, are familiar with their summer internship and that you have knowledge of what is required and what the company culture is like is definitely a plus. If you did not intern at the company you can for instance mention that you know somebody that works or worked at the company that informed you about the company culture, the requirements, and opportunities. You could mention that this triggered you into applying for the job because they match what you’re looking for.
Graduate interview question and answer – Example 3:
‘Why did you choose to attend University ‘ABC’?
‘The reason for me to apply to University ABC was because of its unmatched reputation for its law faculty. I was very proud when I got accepted into their law program. Right then and there I knew that getting an education at such a highly regarded institute would be a great way to start my career in law.’
Why this is a strong answer
- This question is commonly asked to see how self-aware you are. In other words, why did you apply to that school and what made you make that decision? The answer answers just that.
- The answer is concise and to-the-point.
Graduate interview question and answer – Example 4:
‘Do you have any questions for us?’
‘Thanks for asking and yes I do! Is there anything that I can clarify for you in regard to my qualities and suitability for the job? Other than that, I’m very excited about this opportunity and was wondering when you’re expecting to make your decision?’
Why this is a strong answer
- Always, and we mean always, ask the interviewers questions back. This shows that you did your homework and that you’re genuinely interested.
- The answer is a general example of what you could ask the interviewer. Based on your research and active listening during the interview, it’s possible that you come up with great questions yourself. For instance, about the responsibilities of the job or expectations they have from you. Just make sure that you take advantage of the opportunity and ask smart questions that you may have.
- Other examples of general questions that you can ask the interviewers are:
- When would you like to have this position filled?
- Is this a new role in the company or a replacement search?
- What do you see as the most challenging part of this position?
- With whom will I be working most closely in this position?
- What is your favorite part about working for this company?
- Is there anything on my resume that I can clarify further for you?
- Do you have any doubts about hiring me that I can address?
- What can you tell about the position that is not described in the job description?
- How many people work in this office (or department)?
- Read more about smart interview questions to ask the interviewer.