As the end of term is upon us, the market place becomes flooded with school, college and university leavers who are looking for work. But, interviewing people who have little work experience, and little experience of being interviewed, is actually quite hard. Candidates tend to say very little either because they have no examples to give you, or because they don’t understand how to approach the question.

If you are interviewing for someone to help you out over the summer, there are three things you can do to make the process more fruitful for both you and the candidate.

1. Ask strength-based questions

This approach is all about understanding what a candidate has a natural aptitude for, as opposed to what they “have done”. Obviously very useful if someone has little previous work experience. You are trying to find out when they enjoy doing something to the extent that it leads to a state of consciousness recognised as “flow”. In this state, people lose a sense of time as they become thoroughly engrossed and engaged in what they are doing, and in turn, perform to a higher standard.

Start by asking questions like:

  • When you get home from a really successful day, what have you been doing that day?
  • When would your family and friends say that you are at your happiest?
  • When have you become engrossed in something such that you lost track of time?

You may need to ask a couple of follow on questions to get a bit more detail, such as “How did that happen”, “What makes you say that”. You need to listen for things that the candidate clearly finds easy because it is a strength for them, and match these to what you know you need of someone in the role.

For example, if you are looking for someone to serve at tables in a cafe, you will want to hear them talking about enjoying being really busy, loving being involved in an intense period of activity, or trying to do their best for other people.

 2. Look for transferable skills

If you need someone who has an aptitude to learn specific skills but has not done the job before, you need to look for when they have done something similar and are likely to be able to learn the skills you need. For example:

  • If you are looking for someone to work a till, you need to find out if they have transferable skills handling money or using common sense with numbers
  • Try questions like: Tell me about when you have handled money before. Or, tell me about how you manage your own money at home
    If you are looking for someone in a retail environment, you need to find out if they have transferable skills helping someone voluntarily, or greeting people and making them feel welcome
  • Try questions like: Tell me about a recent occasion you met someone new for the first time. Or, when was the last time you voluntarily helped someone out (home, school or just day to day).

If they struggle to think of examples, then you can still rely on evidence that you see in front of you when you meet them. For example in relation to the scenario above:

Ask them some quick fire sums (“If I buy something worth £2.50 and £4.99 how much will it cost. And how much change will I get from £10?”)
Notice how much they engage you in eye contact and smile at you when you greet them

3. Help them to prepare

When you confirm the interview details, provide a couple of sentences to help the candidate prepare. For example:

We confirm your interview on xxxx at xxxx. To help prepare for the interview we encourage you to think about examples from your life (home/school/with friends) when you have handled money / greeted other people / helped other people.

Finally, whatever the outcome of the interview, try to give the person some feedback about how they can improve their interview technique. As more experienced workers or managers, having the opportunity to “pass down the ladder” to help those with less experience, is one of the more worthwhile aspects of life.

If you would like more information or help in establishing an graduate recruitment process, please get in touch with us. Either call 01768 753001 or email us at