How to Evaluate Candidates With Little to No Work Experience  

How to Evaluate Candidates With Little to No Work Experience  

by Jeanne Knutzen | July 19, 2018

0 Hiring Strategies and Tactics get connected


Last week, I blogged on the reasons why employers should consider a recent college grad for certain jobs where the employee’s soft skills (i.e. talent) are just as important to on the job performance as previous work experience.  My point was that too many times employers make the mistake of overlooking employees who have much to offer but don’t quite meet the “years of experience” screening criteria.  That said, you should not short cut the screening that needs to be done to assess a candidate’s talents and personal qualities important to job success.  Even the brightest new college grade will not perform well, if placed in a job that doesn’t fit their talents or personal profile.

While behavioral interviews are typically used to assess the relevance of previous work experience they can also be used to for candidates with only minimal levels of work experience.  Instead of asking questions about how the employee performed in previous jobs  you ask questions about how they performed in performed in environments similar to a work setting – i.e. their experiences at school, volunteer work, group activities or in any part-time jobs they might have held while getting ready to enter the job market.

The specific questions you will want to ask will depend on the skills, talents or competencies essential to the job you are trying to fill.    While technical competencies can always be evaluated outside the interview setting, the interview is where the candidate’s real talents need to be uncovered.  If the job requires someone who knows how to solve problems, interact with customers, or set priorities, during the interview is where you find out how they’ve approached those kinds of activities in other areas of their life.

To identify the qualities most important to job success ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What personal qualities have helped other employees be successful in the same role?
  2. What traits should I steer clear of because they were issues with previous employees?
  3. What kind of customers will they be working with?
  4. Will they need to be patient or quick on their feet?
  5. How will they learn their job?
  6. How willing do they need to be to make mistakes?
  7. What kind of interactions will they have with others?
  8. When and how will they manage conflicting priorities?
  9. What challenges will they face?
  10. How resilient do they need to be


Once you know the key qualities important to success, you can craft behavioral questions that will tap into how the candidate has used those talents in other areas.

Specifically for candidates who are new to the market after being a student, your questions can dig into the candidate’s motivational profile…

  • Why did you decide to go to college?
  • What was your major?
  • What would your favorite teacher tell me about you?
  • Why was that particular teacher your favorite?
  • What teacher challenged you the most and in what way?
  • Did you ever have an issue with one of your teachers? If so, how did you address it?
  • What do you consider the most important achievement you have had so far in your life?
  • Did you find time to do any volunteer work while you were a student?
  • Did you ever get discouraged while you were going to school? Maybe second guessing your decision to go to school?
  • If you had chosen not to go to school, what else would you have done?
  • What kind of school projects did you work on with others?
  • While working in group or team, what did you like or dislike?
  • What kind of outside activities – a part time job or a hobby – kept you busy when you weren’t in school?
  • How did you organize your time to deal with everything you were doing?
  • How did you keep track of what needed to be done by when?
  • How did you deal with conflicting priorities?

For candidates who haven’t had a college experience, you can ask questions about their work history…

  • What was your very first job?
  • How old were you?
  • Why were you looking for a job at that time?
  • What did you do to get the job?
  • Why did you leave the job?
  • What was the most important thing you learned from this first job?

As always, it is a good idea to end your behavioral interview by asking:

  • Why do you think this job is a good “fit” for you?
  • What research have you done on our company to prepare for this interview?
  • What more would you like to hear about this job or our company?

Listen carefully to the candidate’s responses to each question.  Ask the same questions of every “non-experienced” candidate so you have a quick and easy way to compare one candidate to another.

Consider having your best candidates come in to meet with your team for a day and experience a “day in the life”.  You’ll be able to tell which candidates are up for the job – really.


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