Posted August 08, 2013 by

3 Interview Questions New College Grads MUST ASK

Gail Palubiak

Gail Palubiak, Managing Partner of Lehman Gates Executive Search

As a recruiter, I have skin in the game since my reputation is on the line when my candidates go on interviews. If they shine then I shine, they get hired and I get paid. If they suck then I suck, they don’t get hired and I don’t get paid. See the parallel? It was imperative for the success of my candidates, as well as for my own success, that I become a voracious student of what it takes to land a job.

I realized that most people do a lot of homework learning how to answer interview questions (i.e. What’s your greatest weakness? How do you handle conflict? Where do you see yourself in 3 years? Oh, and of course…Tell me about yourself). By now your college counselor has grilled you about the importance of a well delivered elevator pitch, right? There are other valuable resources on your career placement intranet and on the internet to help you prepare answers for interview questions. That’s not exactly the problem (don’t get me wrong, it can be a problem but I’ll save that for a later post). But one of the most prevalent problems is how few people come to an interview equipped with their own “knock-‘em-off-their-feet” questions. I’m not talking about questions that every other candidate is asking; What keeps you up at night? What’s your company’s greatest competitive advantage/weakness? Granted, these are helpful but you need to come to the table with questions that will elevate you in the minds of the hiring managers.

Here are three of my go-to questions:

“If you could think of the people you’ve known in your career who’ve had a similar position to this job in the past. <pause…wait for them to think of actual images of people they’ve known in their career> Surely two or three of them perform head and shoulders above the others, what traits do/did they have that contributed to their success?”

Consider this; everyone on a team will generally have the same qualifications, background and skill sets, right? So those aren’t the components that really make a winner in the mind of the hiring manager. When you ask this question exactly this way, they will immediately come up with an image of a specific person they’ve worked with, worked for or worked against and hold in high esteem. You’ll see it in their eyes when they have an image. On some level, they want to clone this person. There’s nothing you can do about your qualifications so asking what traits will help you draw your own parallels to this super star. Traits will also overcome a weakness or gap in qualifications because you can’t train a trait, you can train a skill.

“Let’s say you and I are walking into this conference room a year from now for my annual review. As we’re walking in you give me a strong high 5. What have I done to deserve such an enthusiastic greeting?”

Again, this question is far more personalized. I’ve found that the more you personalize the questions the more likely you are to get to the heart of what’s truly important to them and gain a deeper understanding of what they looking for.

“Why is the position available?” Followed by “How so, tell me more.”

I’m surprised by how many new grads are afraid to ask this question. Some feel as though they’re prying into some “sensitive information” and others tell me they already know why it’s open so they’re afraid of looking uninformed. Either way it’s still a must-ask question because there’s more to the answer than simply knowing it’s open because they’re expanding or someone got promoted.

As you see, it’s a two part question. First, the reason the position is open will clue you in on their deeper issues. Did one of their top people quit so now they’re losing market share? Now you know rebuilding market share is a top priority. Or did they have to let someone go so now they need someone who can jump in with both feet without much training? This lets you know that being a resourceful, quick learner may be a more critical need than the overall function of the job. And on and on.

Most people leave the second part of the question out. But they’re the same people who fumble the ball in the interview because they’re trying to sell themselves too hard and too early. By probing deeper into why the position is available you will come across as a polished individual who really listens.

If interviewing is about selling yourself then it’s absolutely mandatory to know what your customer (the hiring manager) needs. These three questions have led to the success of countless candidates who couldn’t seem to move the dial before because they’ve been strategically designed to get to the heart of the firm’s needs, goals and priorities so you can get the best competitive advantage.

Try them out and let me know your results. Also, if you have other successful, go-for-the-jugular questions then I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.


Since 1995, Gail Palubiak has been Managing Partner of Lehman Gates Executive Search, a highly successful boutique executive search firm working closely with the leadership at 34 of the top investment firms in the US. She recently followed her passion as Founder of Interview Academy, a job search consulting firm designed to help people identify more job opportunities and land higher paying offers.

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