10 Most Common Interview Questions for College Graduates
Categories: Blog, For Students, For College Students, For High School Students
If you’re nearing the end of your college education, you may feel ready to start getting some real-world experience on your resume. You might also consider applying for an internship or searching for your first entry-level position.
You’ll eventually land the interview after perfecting your resume, cover letter, and job application. But before you celebrate, you’ll still need to nail the job interview. The best way to do that is to prepare beforehand by understanding some common questions you’re likely to encounter during your interview.
Going into your first professional interview can be intimidating, but don’t worry – we’re here to help. Here is what Ascent found to be the 10 most common interview questions for new graduates you’ll want to answer.
1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Most interviews start with the same question: “Can you tell me a little about yourself?”. It should be easy, right? According to The Muse career coach Theresa Merrill, this common question often stains candidates.
It tends to be tricky because it is so open.
What should I talk about? My favorite music? Movies? Recently binged Netflix shows?
The Muse shared a way to help you answer this question without hesitation: using the present, past, and future formula.
Your present section might tackle:
- Roles that you are currently seeking post-graduation.
- How the opportunity will relate to what you studied in school.
If you are a recent college graduate, then your past section should include:
- Why did you choose your major and school?
- A brief overview of the organizations you are/were involved in.
Your future section should cover:
- Short- and long-term career goals.
2. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
You’ll likely be asked to describe your greatest strengths and weaknesses in most interviews. You should prepare at least three items for each question – you never know; they may ask for multiple examples!
If you need help identifying your greatest strengths, ask someone who knows you well to name the top three characteristics to describe you. You can ask your parents, grandparents, friends, or a mentor.
Don’t answer the question by stating, “My biggest strength is leadership.” Your interviewer wants to hear about examples of your strength. To illustrate leadership as a strength, you might mention the group projects you led in class or served as an executive board member. Try and think of an example that shows how your leadership led to the group’s success.
The same rules apply to your weaknesses. If you need help identifying your greatest weaknesses, it might help to ask someone who knows you well to give you a list of what they consider to be your top areas for improvement.
Pro Tip: When sharing your main weaknesses with the interviewer, never say, “My weaknesses are….” Instead, rephrase your response to describe what you believe to be your main opportunities for improvement. For example, lead with, “A few areas I am currently working on are….”
Answering the question in this format demonstrates that you are already aware of your weaknesses and are taking affirmative steps to improve them. For example, if your weakness is time management, you might mention how you use Google Calendar or another free calendar tool to manage your time better. Ultimately, whether your perceived weakness is time management or something else, you want to show that you have what it takes to identify and work constructively to improve upon your weaknesses. (And remember, no one is perfect!)
3. What are your short- and long-term goals?
As a student, you’re probably just at the beginning stages of outlining your future career goals, so it’s okay not to have this 100% figured out by the time you start interviewing for a full-time position. Below are some ideas for answering this common student interview question with precision and ease.
Your short-term goals might include:
- Actively participating in other clubs, fraternities, or student-led organizations.
- To secure an internship related to your major.
Your long-term goals might include:
- Graduate college with an overall GPA of 3.5.
- After graduation, find a full-time position related to your major and area of study.
Your short- and long-term goals may become more defined as you navigate your college career – especially after taking more classes, accepting internships or other related positions, and networking in college.
If you’re interviewing for a full-time position, illustrate how your broader goals relate to the company and the job you are applying for. They don’t want to hire someone that only wants to stay with the company for six months. You don’t have to say you plan to stay with the company for the rest of your life but be realistic and, if possible, demonstrate how you plan to bring longer-term value to the company.
4. Where do you want to be in five years?
Unlike the previous question about your short- and long-term goals, this interview question for new graduates is essentially an exercise in visualization and planning.
Hiring managers who consider what questions to ask college graduates is another one they tend to ask. These same managers also respect that not everyone can predict their career paths, but they ask this to get a sense of your aspirations and projects.
The key to answering this question requires a little bit of thought before your interview. Although it’s not mandatory to have a detailed, laid-out plan, writing one out can help you visualize your dreams better. You should consider one or several of the following concepts when thinking about your answer:
- What kind of training would you like?
- What type of future positions interest you most?
- Are you interested in leadership roles, or do you prefer tactical, execution-based work?
- What kind of companies or industries/verticals interest you?
5. Describe a time you disagreed with a teammate or boss. How did you handle the situation?
One of the most common student interview questions is about behavioral situations, and the question usually starts with, “Tell me about a time…”. Indeed shares how you can use one of the most well-known interview techniques, The STAR Method, to help answer this question:
- S – Situation
- T – Task
- A – Action
- R – Result
Preparing your answers around this technique will ensure you effectively describe your skills during the interview. In this case:
- Share a situation when you disagreed with a peer in class, at work, or in an on-campus organization.
- What was your particular task and responsibility in this situation? What did you believe was the correct choice?
- What action did you take to solve the disagreement? Did you decide to meet in the middle and compromise? Was a decision made to go one way versus another?
- Based on your actions, highlight how they yielded a positive result. Did it lead to better communication skills? Teamwork skills? Did it help strengthen the relationship or better understand one another?
6. Tell me about a time you encountered a difficult problem. How did you solve or handle this situation?
Like the previous question, when asked situational or behavioral questions starting with “Tell me about a time…” always refer to The STAR Method. For this common interview question for college graduates, try to identify several challenging situations or problems you could resolve or had a positive outcome based on your actions.
In this particular case:
- Share a situation when you encountered a difficult problem during a class project, your personal life with family or friends, or your first internship.
- What was your particular task and responsibility in this situation? What were you in charge of completing?
- What action did you take to overcome the problem?
- Based on the actions that you took, how did they impact the results? What did you learn after? After all the problems we overcome, there are always great learning opportunities.
7. What attracted you to this position and our company/organization?
The best candidates for any role, regardless of where they are in their career, perform their due diligence in understanding the organizations for whom they are interviewing. Interviewers want to know that you have a genuine interest in the position and the company. Performing extensive research will help you develop a strong answer to this question.
Among some of the most important things to know about the company and the role include:
- A good overview of their company/organization and what they do
- Competitors or similar organizations in their industry
- What their culture is like (Pro tip: Check out their LinkedIn!)
- Specific aspects of the job description that interest you most
8. Why would you be a great fit for this role?
It’s important to ask yourself why you want the position in the first place. Applying for many positions is often a reliable way to ultimately secure a job, but you should focus on the opportunity that interests you the most. Your interviewer will likely want to know what drove you to apply for the position as opposed to others. In other words, why do you want to be a part of their team?
According to Business News Daily, there are four reasons to pursue your passions in a job:
- You’ll feel more fulfilled
- You’ll be more productive
- You’ll inspire others
- You’ll succeed
If your interviewer feels you don’t want the job, they won’t give it to you. Be genuine and always apply for the jobs that spark your interest.
Aside from the individual growth, what can you bring to the table that makes you a unique candidate? Other people may have similar education, background, work experience, or leadership skills, so how will you stand out from the rest?
We all have something that makes us unique. Highlight your relevant strengths throughout your interview to illustrate how you would go above and beyond your job duties to be an excellent team member.
9. Do you have prior work experience, and how has it prepared you for a career?
A candidate’s background and work experiences are reliable information that hiring managers use to assess a person’s fit for a role. But among the interview questions for new graduates, this can be difficult to answer when you don’t have a ton of experience.
The easiest place to begin answering this question is if you have some part-time or full-time work experience. Even if the job has nothing to do with what you study or the role you’re applying for, there are still tidbits from these experiences that highlight some of your best attributes and work style.
For example, you’re applying for a sales and client-facing role, but the only job you’ve had was working part-time at a grocery store. While this certainly wasn’t a sales job, you probably picked up or strengthened some soft skills like customer service and conflict resolution during your time there.
But then you might be wondering how you can answer this question if you’ve never had a job? This can be a challenge, but there may still be something in your background that you can reference, such as extracurriculars, sports teams, or volunteer work. The idea here is to think critically about your past and demonstrate how your experiences thus far have prepared you for this role.
10. Do you have any questions for me?
According to Indeed, it’s important to prepare at least five questions beforehand. The chances are that your interviewer will cover the answers to some of your questions at the beginning of the interview when they give you a general overview of the company and the open position. You can never be over-prepared, though, so coming up with at least five questions is great.
Preparing questions to ask your interviewer is imperative, but it is even more important to ask the right questions. Don’t ask questions you could have easily gotten from the company website – that might show that you didn’t do your research. Ask thoughtful and insightful questions that demonstrate you genuinely want to learn more about the company.
Here are some examples of thoughtful questions to ask your interviewer:
- Is there room for individual growth within the company? How have you grown since you’ve been with the company?
- What metrics do managers use to evaluate employees?
- How would you measure a successful employee in this position?
- What are three adjectives you would use to describe best a person who would be successful in this position/company?
- Why did you decide to work for this company? Or, what is your favorite thing about working for this company?
- What is your biggest business challenge, and how can I help most in this position?
- Tip: If time permits, asking questions outside of work can help you stand out amongst other interviewees. This shows you are engaged with your interviewer, but you also have a work-life balance.0
- What do you enjoy doing with your free time?
- What is your favorite book, and why?
Interview tips for college grads
Whether you’re just starting your career or 20 years in, mastering the job interview is a skill. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your skills, problem-solving abilities, thought process, and whether you might be a good cultural fit for your workplace.
You may think that all it takes to ace an interview is confidence and a solid understanding of yourself, but preparing will set you up for success. First, let’s cover some basic tips that will help you construct some concrete answers for your interview. What’s even better is that these should also apply throughout your career!
1. Doing your research on the company or role
This may seem relatively straightforward, but it’s immensely important to do this research upfront. Your interviewer may ask you specific questions about the company or the role, and gaining as much information as possible will help you formulate stronger answers.
2. Try to share specific examples of experience
Interviewers are trying to assess your past behaviors and thought patterns to understand how you fit into the organization. In terms of common interview questions for new graduates, these can be tough to answer if you don’t have many previous experiences related to the job or internship for which you’re applying.
Recruiters and hiring managers know that you have little to no relevant work experience and want to see if you can draw on other experiences to demonstrate how you think and adapt to certain situations. Whether you’ve had a part-time job, are heavily involved in extracurriculars, or have an internship, think about how these experiences can help answer several of the questions we mention later.
3. Understand where you want to go
Some of the questions you’ll encounter during your interview will draw on your past, aspirations, and motivations. Like the previous tip about using specific examples from your background, you want to comfortably recall your experiences by highlighting some of your biggest accomplishments and challenging situations you’ve navigated.
At the same time, interviewers also want to know where you want to go. This is important because it’ll help tell the story of why you’re a good fit for a role, especially if interviewers think the position can help you in your journey to get where you want.
At the interview stage, you’re well on your way to finally getting your foot in the door at the company of your dreams. Hopefully, these common student interview questions will help you feel even more confident and prepared before your BIG interview day.
For more tips on preparing for phone or video interviews, please visit our blog.