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What Recruiters Really Want to Know From the Top 5 most Common Graduate Interview Questions

Attending multiple graduate interviews is a fact of life for many of us. After a while, the questions, pace and pattern of the grad interview start to become surprisingly familiar.

Every company has its own priorities, and every grad role or program will take a slightly different approach to screening and selecting. But ultimately grad recruiters are looking for a fairly well established set of markers to show a new recruit might have the potential they need to lead the business in the future.

At this stage, interviewers are seeking raw talent to shape and develop, rather than a fixed set of one-size-fits experience, and different interview questions are aimed to tease out this latent potential.

We pick some of the most common generalist questions asked of graduate job applicants, to give you an insight into what recruiters really want to know.


#1 - Tell us a bit about you...

This harmless comment might not even feel like a question, but don't be fooled! Whether it's a casual aside in the lift on the way to the interview venue, or an opening question as you sit with your CV in hand, the interviewer is paying close attention.

What you choose to reveal says a lot about your thought process, your level of natural openness and your ability to build rapport and comfortably communicate with new people. Have an authentic answer thought through, but don't be tempted to practice so much it becomes robotic.

The question lends itself to sharing a bit about your background, personal interests and hobbies that might not be highlighted in your CV. Think about the nuggets that will intrigue an interviewer, at the same time as positioning you for the role in hand.

If the role requires high levels of social interaction, creativity or analytical skills, then try to naturally show these elements of your personality. But choose wisely - if you want to discuss your personal interests, for example, choose those that show you pursuing a personal challenge or passion, rather than your love of 'socialising', and if you feel like expanding on your uni experience, maybe talk through your rationale for picking your subject, over your ability to attend lectures on only minimal sleep.


#2 -Why do you want this job?

This - or its close cousin 'what interests you in this business - is often the opening gambit of a grad interview. Although you may be tempted to take a liberal approach to applying for roles, hitting 'send' before you think too much about the specifics, by the time you're at interview you need a confident narrative about what has drawn you to the position.

Interviewers are realistic about grad recruitment. They know that multiple applications are the norm, but this makes it all the more important for them to suss out how interested you really are in their position in particular. If you can't convince them, then no matter how strong your skills, you will be ruled out. The investment made in grads is simply too high to take on people who might leave after only a short tenure.

Do your research about the business. Check out their website, the social media feeds of the key players, and any recent press coverage. Get a sense for the core values and mission of the company, and demonstrate how this aligns with your sense of purpose. This will reassure a recruiter that you're in it for the longer term.


#3 - Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

If the honest answer is 'I have no idea', you're not alone. Needless to say, this is not what an interviewer wants to hear.

The good news is, that nobody will hold you to an answer made at this stage. The recruiting manager wants to see your thought process, rather than a plan set in stone. With most grad schemes as a starting point, within five years you could expect to have amassed enough experience and credibility to be in a role which would usually demand 8-10 years experience. Saying you want to be the CEO won't wash, but you do need to demonstrate your desire to push yourself through the accelerated development on offer.

Thinking in broad terms might help you craft the perfect answer for your circumstances. Do you hope to be leading a team? What will the scope and size of your role be? Are there further qualifications or industry recognition you would love to achieve? What about travel, personal development opportunities or different skill sets you might like to explore?

If your honest answer is that you'd like to see yourself in a better paid position, think about your phrasing. This isn't a 'bad' answer, but is more compelling if you can frame it in terms of seeking security, comfort and a solid financial future for yourself, rather than a bigger salary to fuel your addiction to designer handbags.


#4 - What's your proudest moment/greatest achievement?

What you choose, and indeed what you leave out, tells a story. Think about how you wish to present yourself. For positions in which your academics are critical, or if you have genuinely exceeded in your degree qualifications so far, then saying your degree is your greatest achievement is absolutely fine.

If you want to relate your experience back to a work environment, perhaps choose an example such as finding innovative and proactive ways to fund your uni, to take a gap year, or to sort out an internship. Describing a big achievement from your internship ticks several important boxes for the recruiter and can be a neat way of leading the conversation towards your relevant transferable skills.

Your proudest moment doesn't have to be anything super human. A genuine answer is worth a lot more than spin here, as interviewers will see through any polish. If your proudest moment was recently completing a 5k run when you never thought you could, say so. Overcoming personal challenges of any size show your determination and focus - qualities which are good markers of potential.


#5 - What are your weaknesses?

The question we all dread. You've talked a bit about your strengths and how you have pursued your personal development, and now the stage is set. What are your weaknesses?

Resist the urge to 'humble brag'. Most candidates give an answer in which they attempt to twist a weakness into a strength. If your planned response is, "my main weakness is that I get so focused on my work I forget to, you know, go home or eat, until I have absolutely delivered above and beyond the demands placed on me,", then you should reconsider. These sort of carefully positioned answers drive interviewers wild.

You're far better to pick out a genuine weakness you have identified and improved, and are still consciously working on. Explain the issue, the impact, and how you became aware of it, but also show what you have done to address it. This will be a hit because it shows self awareness and a willingness to take onboard feedback, learn and develop personally.


And a bonus, #6 - Do you have any questions?

This barely even sounds like a real question, but it is. Graduate interviewers expect candidates to have questions. If you have done your research on the business, you probably have some. They might be about the business' plans for the future, about the corporate culture, or about typical grad career paths. If you can't find anything topical, then ask about the interviewers' own experience and opinion of the company - "why would you recommend joining this business as a new graduate" is a nice way of getting some insight and showing you're interested in their opinion.

At worst, if you clam up and really can't think of anything, then explain that your current questions have already been answered during the interview, but that you will drop your contact a quick note if anything else comes to mind.

The common theme that recruiters are looking for in all of these questions is authenticity and personality. Current wisdom holds that recruiters should look for behavioural and culture fit first, as specific skills can be taught later. This means they're looking for different ways that they can see your personal strengths and preferences matching up with the business' needs, and makes it essential to be yourself at interview.

The right business will see what the real you can bring to the party. And an original, after all, is worth more than a copy.

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