By Kathleen Escarcha
About 90% of students say they have great interview skills. But more than half of employers say students don’t know enough about the companies they apply to, send thank-you notes, or ask good questions, according to a 2017 survey by iCIMS Inc.
We spoke with EAB‘s own team of recruiters and career management experts to understand where recent grads go wrong—and how colleges can get them on the right track. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
How often do you interview recent grads, and which majors do you look for?
We typically interview about 25 recent grads each week for entry-level positions around the firm. We also recruit students directly from campus to bring on new team members after graduation season. For marketing and research positions, we interview grads from a wide variety of disciplines, such as political science, business, or English.
Some believe liberal arts majors don’t have work-ready skills. Do you find that’s true in your interviews?
Not at all. In general, recent grads—regardless of major—are very nervous and less polished in interviews. Many grads are new to the professional world and become more polished as they work.
How can liberal arts students stand out in interviews?
It depends on the role, but we love to see humanities students with technical skills, like SQL or Excel. We also appreciate students with an extracurricular passion or either on-campus or internship experience that demonstrates leadership, dedication, or alignment in some way with a particular position or with our organizational mission. In general, students who learn skills outside of their discipline demonstrate intellectual curiosity.
What’s the most compelling skill you’ve seen in a student’s resume?
Some students may be embarrassed that they worked in food service, but we actually appreciate that experience. Candidates with customer service experience have valuable communication skills. Students don’t need a high-profile internship to cultivate their skills. But they do need to relate their experiences to their overall fit for the job. For example, students who volunteer or lead an on-campus organization likely have presentation and time-management skills.
What are some common interview mistakes students make?
Some students forget to bring a pen, a notebook, or extra copies of their resume. Candidates make silly mistakes over email, like typos or an unprofessional email address. These are little things, but they add up and reflect poorly on the applicant.
How can college career centers better prepare students for the interview process?
Help your students tell a cohesive story on their resume and in person. Online resources on how to write a cover letter or evaluate a job offer are helpful. Even a simple checklist on what students need to prepare before a job interview can help them avoid the little mistakes.
How can colleges and employers work together to prepare students for the job market?
Ask local employers to hold mock interviews or resume review sessions with students. Those are win-win situations—students can practice their interview skills and recruiters can spot high-potential candidates.
I know great questions can make (or break) an applicant’s candidacy. How can colleges help students ask better questions?
Recruiters definitely assess candidates on the quality of their questions. Encourage your students to look beyond the first page of an organization’s website and to steer away from vague questions, like “What’s your company culture like?” And students should tailor questions to their audience. A recruiter won’t necessarily be the right person to ask a granular question about the role’s day-to-day routine. But recruiters can answer questions about what materials students need for the interview or how formally they should dress.
What surprises you about interviewing recent grads?
When students do a phone interview in a loud place. Make sure students know about quiet, private places around campus where they can have an interview, like a reserved room in the career center. We’re also surprised at how often students don’t answer the question we asked. Interviews should be a conversation. We can tell if they’re reading from a script; the answers sound canned.
Any other advice campus leaders should tell their students?
Tell students to be patient. Recent grads may not get the first—or fifth—job they interview for. Interviews are a learning experience and an opportunity to practice their skills. Also, recruiters remember—and track—negative responses, so students should take declines in stride and take care not to burn any bridges.