I just read an article full of advice for new college graduates going into job interviews. It’s on BNET: Fred Ball: Killer Interview Skills for New Grads.

I’d love to know what the Ask The Headhunter audience thinks about Ball’s tips. I’ll add my two bits later.

Are the tips realistic?

Will they help kids get jobs?

Will the employer be impressed?

Best parts, worst parts?


  1. All in all, these are good reminders of how to behave.

  2. The tips are realistic but vague enough that someone could shoot their foot off pretty easily even if they do follow them, IMO.

    They may help some kids avoid a few mistakes and may serendipitously correct some mistakes but I don’t think it is a big help to my mind.

    If they just follow those tips, I doubt it. Different employers will want different things which makes giving a general article a great challenge to my mind.

    The best part is about being careful in that first interview as one has to gauge what is the point of this interview and figure out what are the key questions to convey that you did some research and want this job.

    The worst part was about body language that overlooked a few key points to my mind. Should one mimic the interviewer a great deal? Should there be the false air of professionalism where someone tries to be as professional as they can be even if it feels fake and forced? At the start of the interview, I want to know the structure of the interview and purpose of this gathering. There is a bit of a two-way street there that I think isn’t emphasized adequately.

  3. There are still jobs?

  4. I second at least some of what JB King has there. The process is a two-way street and the speaker doesn’t really allow for that, saying “…This is the interviewer’s interview, not my interview…”. Bull. Whether you’re a newly minted grad or an experienced pro, the interview is a business meeting and it needs to be treated that way.

    IMO, we aren’t teaching people to treat the process as the business discussion or negotiation it is. The speaker’s description of the event seems more like a supplicant begging for alms. There is a good deal of reasonable advice (mind your manners, come prepared with quantitative examples, be specific) that sadly needs to be repeated but these are not “killer interview skills” so much as the basic price of entry to the game. If you don’t know enough to be mindful of the other party you should not be there in the first place.

    The interviewee intimates at a solid concept and drops it midstream. He calls out the fact that initial interviews (particularly for entry level positions) tend to be screening calls instead of real discussions. He then hints at pushing the discussion from a Q&A session to a proper dialogue. That’s nice, but I would like to have seen the focus shift to the latter bit or explain how the entry level candidate should use these awful screening calls for more intelligence gathering to prepare for the real discussion with a hiring manager.

    This wasn’t a terrible article but it left a lot of promise at the door.

  5. I’m kind of assuming whomever reads this blog has many years of experience. I agree that in general the article is vague.

    However, since it was directed to first time job seekers the advice was directed towards telling a new job seeker how to behave. It’s just some general advice for first time job seekers which they wouldn’t necessarily implement without a reminder.

  6. Hmm. I disagree with the advice not to go into “buy mode” during a first interview. Asking intelligent questions about the firm and the position is helpful in preparing for that next interview. It also can help with rapport, which in turn helps the interviewer remember the candidate.

    On the other hand, it’s very, very bad not to be well-informed about the company, at least to the extent that the candidate can learn online. Asking questions that demonstrate ignorance about the firm and the industry could be damaging. I thought that the failure to encourage research was a huge lack in the article. Many entry-level positions aren’t well-defined, so it’s hard for a recent graduate to know what will be expected for the job; but researching the company is critical.

    I was recently approached by a new graduate of my alma mater who wanted to work for the company that laid me off in January 2009. She didn’t seem to realize that the firm has many offices, and that I might not have worked in the office in the same city as our university. She didn’t know I no longer worked there, and she didn’t know enough about the firm to narrow down her goals for me. I could have introduced her to someone in at least eight of the offices! But she didn’t do her research. I gave her two chances and then gave up. If she’d managed to get an interview, but then demonstrated that same lack of understanding of the firm, the interviewer would be quite likely to do the same.

  7. Nick, I do look forward to your Tuesday input invitations! Now to this Tuesday’s question.


    The grad should know before the interview whether the company is likely to be a fit. He/she (he) should have done his homework long before the interview, matched the company to his passions and goals and researched it thoroughly — preferably already have met some of the people.

    These are the days of Me Inc. We are in charge of our own corporations — us. We are the buyers. “Company Man” settled into dictionary archives long ago. We rent our value to a company for a while, until we decide to move on, or the company asks us to move on.

    It is important for him to tell the interviewer why he has picked that particular company — what value he will bring to the table.

    It is important for him to show his personality, albeit, not in an obtrusive way, right from the beginning; if the company is not happy with his personality, he will not be happy with the company.

    Conventional résumés are filled with cookie-cutter accomplishments — all tweaked and stretched to impress a potential employer — whitewashed into oblivion by the thousands of bogus claims.

    Asking a candidate about past accomplishments is dicey territory — with the danger of revealing nothing concrete at all. Unfortunately, many companies do a very good job of stifling real accomplishments, so they cannot be properly measured without the culture and success of those companies balancing the equation. This would be particularly relevant in the case of interns. Balancing the equation could so easily deteriorate into criticism of past employers – not recommended in job interviews.

    Accomplishments are better discussed in the context of how they will be great for the new company; not what they accomplished for past employers.

  8. @Vivian: You point out a profound problem. A new grad (this one was smart to approach you) asks for introductions, but reveals no motivation to do the homework and preparation. You might have mentored her a bit – these kids are taught precious little about how to approach an employer. On the other hand, referring someone who is clueless winds up making you look bad.

  9. I found two types of tips in Ball’s article: How to look and act (basic stuff), and the importance of using subtle cues from the interviewer to guide your meeting.

    What’s missing is simple: Show the employer how you’re going to do the job profitably.

    Why is this lost on so many people?

  10. @Nick, Because no one shows a new grad how. I read this blog pretty faithfully. However, if I were a new grad, and in my school’s career office looking at a set of interviews, would I know to ask the career counselor how to do the research? How to sell the job?

    You advocate that we do this, but it is sometimes difficult for a person with a lot of experience to actually execute this plan. WE don’t get many people to SHOW us how to do it.

    Now imagine coming from college and not really having had a full time professional position before.

    So if I were a newly minted grad and read this article, I might find it a useful reminder on how to behave. It won’t let me rocket past the competition but it will remind me to be polite. So I totally get it from that point of view.

    Rather than fault this article, how do we go about mentoring each other in this method of yours, of looking for a job? Then, how do we reach out to the inexperienced and mentor them?

  11. @Nick, you may want to take a look at http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_meyer_math_curriculum_makeover.html ,Dan Meyer: Math Class Needs a Makeover, just to see how bad some of this stuff is that is being taught in schools. I found it rather shocking to consider how poorly patient problem solving is structured at times.

    The flip side is that your approach is looking at something from the other side that isn’t always a natural thing for most people. How many students understand or appreciate the dilemmas teachers face on a regular basis?

    While I am all for the get up and go camp of finding the jobs we want, do we have the step by step guide tailored for us? I’m thinking not really but who in the world would write that book? It just wouldn’t sell that many copies and would take eons to write for someone I fear.

  12. Lots of good points, but what stands out as people noted, it’s good, but general advise, offering little differentiation. In fact it can be applied to about anyone interviewing.
    With grads one finds a lot of unease, and we’d try to put them at ease best we could. What the grads didn’t understand, is that nervousness, poor body language, etc is not unique to them. Nothing much you can do about that for grads except provide interviewing experience.
    What always stood out to me, was (using computer sciences grads as my point of reference) with some exceptions, researching the company or not, the most honest answer to what they’d like to do and can bring to the table is, is “I don’t know”. The universities did not, and I think still do not, teach students how companies actually work, organize and most important utilize people with their backgrounds/degrees. Computer Sciences grads were taught as if they were all going to be engineers/programmers and if they wanted their degree they followed the regimen. But there are scores of other vocational directions of which they didn’t have a clue. As a manager of one of those other directions (QA), I fleshed out their education in the interview, so they could make an informed decision and I could better assess their true interest in what my teams did for a living. You would then find those “programmers” who could do it, but didn’t relish the idea of sitting at a computer all day programming. When they learned there’s other ways to make a living with that degree that hit much closer to their true interests and passions, they’d open up and tell you why they believe they’d add value. That’s the real value of interning, if you pay attention and do feet on the ground research, how companies function, how the system works. (however good intern programs that give you real work insight are rare. Mostly ill prepared managers use interns for go-fers with a paycheck)
    The article wasn’t of much value. Their mom or dad, could have applied common sense and told them as much. A grad will do very well if they ask what the hiring manager’s role is, why they like it, and how they fit in to the system, and what they are trying to accomplish. And if they hit common ground with that hiring manager’s role and the grads real interests, they will then have a very good working discussion.

  13. @Lucille: I don’t have any problem with the basic advice in the article. I agree that new grads need to be taught the most basic things about interviews and business meetings of any kind. That’s what puts them on competitive ground. Schools need to be teaching these basics and drilling them home.

    My point is that it’s not enough.

  14. @Nick,
    I agree with your point. You are right, that article isn’t enough.