How to interview apprentices, trainees and graduates » SMEInsider

How to interview apprentices, trainees and graduates

Hiring the right people can make or break a small company, but in a small team, a person’s attitude, approach and natural strengths can be as, if not more, important than the content of their CV. Nowhere is this more apparent than when interviewing applicants who are just entering the job market.

To get the most out of interviewees, more and more employers are using a strength-based approach in their recruitment process. This allows them to get a rounded view of that person’s skills and inclinations, rather than focussing purely on demonstrable professional experience – which, of course, graduates, trainees and apprentices generally lack.

Strength-based interviews focus on the core things that a candidate is good at in order to work out what kind of role would be best for them. The aim is to increase productivity by matching new recruits to activities they really enjoy doing. When people play to their strengths, goes the theory, they start to “flow,” showing real energy and engagement, learning rapidly and often losing track of time because they are so engrossed in their work – the polar opposite of a demotivated, clock-watching workforce that can drag down productivity and lead to high levels of staff turnover.

So what kind of questions should you ask in a strength-based interview? Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • What are you good at?
  • What comes naturally to you?
  • What do you learn quickly?
  • What subjects did you find easiest at school and why?
  • What subjects did you enjoy the most?
  • When did you achieve something you were really proud of?
  • Do you find you have enough hours in the day to complete all the things you want to do?
  • What is always left at the bottom of your to-do list?
  • What do you enjoy doing the least?

Don’t forget that in a small company, you and your team will be working with this person day in, day out, so it’s important to find someone who is a good fit, will co-operate well with their colleagues and will keep driving the energy up rather than bringing it down. Whilst you will of course need to support them as much as possible – especially if they are apprentices or trainees – you may well lack the resources to spend much of your day guiding them through their work, keeping them motivated and on track.

Someone who finds the work intrinsically rewarding is far more likely to throw themselves into it without you standing on their shoulder. They may even love it enough to improve the way you do things and make suggestions for other parts of the business. This is infinitely more valuable than finding someone who has similar work before, but, because they are ill-suited to either the work or the team, will complain constantly and is never willing to go the extra mile.