My Favourite Interview Question For New Grads

November 26, 2013

Career, Leadership

women in meeting listening

Image courtesy of Ambro 

While it is important to test new graduates on their knowledge of the fundamentals skills needed for the job, it is even more important to see how they think on their feet. The reality is that they will have to tackle the unknown at work on a daily basis. Unfortunately, not all academic programs do a great job of preparing students for that, so you will need to know how they respond when they are in that situation.  Here is how I approach that in an interview.

I start with asking the new graduate to tell me about a major project they completed in their final year of school. This is a question any reasonably competent new grad should be able to answer confidently. If they really understood the entire project, not just their part of it (for a group project), they should be able to explain the entire design, implementation and discuss what worked/didn’t work. Then I get to ask my favourite question: “What if I changed the design to…” and I change one of the parameters, outcomes or materials they could use. 

Most of the time, the new grad first resembles a deer in headlights. That’s perfectly normal. They are being asked to think on the spot. At this point, I assure them that I am not as interested in the answer as I am in how they think through the problem. They should think out loud and ask whatever questions they have as they come up with a solution. If they remain a deer in headlights, you know they will need a lot of mentoring and support in their first few months. If they come up with a well thought out solution, then they have the skills to solve whatever problems are thrown at them. Whether or not they engage me in the process gives me insight into their personal style, either by thinking through it on their own or through discussion with others.

There really is no right or wrong answer to this question, but it does give a lot of insight into the candidate and how they could fit in the team.

What are some of your favourite interview questions for new grads? New grads – what were some of the best interview questions you were asked?

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About Liza Wood

After a dozen years leading video game development projects in a variety of roles, I decided to pursue a Master of Data Science at the University of British Columbia. Studying data science doesn’t mean I’m moving away from leading people. Growing data science teams need collaborative, pragmatic, Agile leadership to connect data to all areas of the business. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog.

View all posts by Liza Wood

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3 Comments on “My Favourite Interview Question For New Grads”

  1. lafbok Says:

    Nice, I haven’t heard that one before.


  2. Says:

    I also like to ask a little provokative question, to test how the candidate reacts to critique. For example: “This part (whatever it is) here looks somehow odd to me. Why did you chose that approach?”

    There are mostly three kind of answers: 1) “I don’t know, can you explain why you think it’s wrong?” 2) “Well, bla bla bla bla….” and 3) “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? QUESTIONING MY WORK? DO IT YOURSELF IF YOU CAN DO IT BETTER!!!”. Needles to say, 1) and 2) are ok to work with. And I enjoy rejecting category 3) candidates.


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