Jacob Kaplan-Moss


Adapting Interview Questions for Junior Candidates

Sébastien writes:

Would you say that your questions are equally applicable to junior and senior positions? I struggle a bit with junior candidates on questions like “weakness” and “tell me about a disagreement”. The examples chosen by the candidates never really represent the reality of a work environment in my opinion (just because they never really experienced such an environment).

Good question! Yes, both of those questions aren’t going to work as well with someone without a little work experience. So using them for entry-level roles probably won’t be as effective.

Most of the questions I’ve published are designed for mid-career or higher-level positions. Interviewing for very junior roles, entry-level positions, or internships can be different. You’re dealing with candidates with not much work experience, so behavioral interviews don’t work as well — the candidate just doesn’t have very many experiences to tell you about (yet).

For truly entry-level candidates, I’d usually ask something like “tell me about a time you needed to learn a new skill”, rather than the weakness question: this gets at some of the same behaviors but can let them talk about school, or side projects, or whatever. And I might skip asking about disagreements for junior roles since I’d be OK with them needing help here (that’s what being junior means!)

Now, if you’re frequently seeing poor answers from people who do have at last a couple of years of work history, you may want to check that you’re guiding the candidates enough. Sometimes with these kinds of questions, someone will misunderstand slightly and start giving you a story that doesn’t fit what you’re looking for. It’s OK to interrupt at that point and say “oh sorry that wasn’t what I was looking for, how about …” and help guide them in a different direction. It’s a good idea to develop this skill of nudging candidates towards talking about situations that suit your questions better.

Have a question for me? I’m happy to answer concise questions via email about topics I know about – jacob@<this domain>.

More info here.