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These are the most common questions that college grads ask employers

It’s a job seeker’s market, so employers need to be prepared to think about how to make their companies stand out.

These are the most common questions that college grads ask employers
[Photo: fizkes/iStock]

Every year, I meet with thousands of college students across the country, learning about what they hope to gain from their first job. In previous years, some of the most common questions that they asked in job interviews involved core responsibilities and professional benefits–like the chance to work on a marquee client. Now, however, I find that recent grads are increasingly asking questions centered on what an employer might be able to offer them. Is there mobility? Flexibility? Upskilling opportunities? Professional development?

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The shifting nature of these conversations represents the evolving mind-set of young professionals who are entering a job market tilted in their favor. According to a CareerBuilder survey from earlier this year, the number of companies planning to hire college grads in 2018 was up nearly 80% from 2008. The unemployment rate also remains close to the lowest it has been in a decade. So, for recruiters and hiring managers, this means that they have to work even harder to make their companies attractive to job seekers.

HR professionals are preparing for gen Z’s arrival by learning about the unique abilities and challenges they bring with them to the workforce. As a recruiter or hiring manager, you should continue to use best practices to vet candidates–but you also need to be aware that they are now in a position to turn the tables and ask you–what more can you offer me?

Here are 4 questions that you should be prepared to answer before heading into the room with a recent college grad.

1. Who will I work with, and how will we work together?

Despite the fear that technologies such as AI are taking over jobs, humans are attracted as ever to work with innovative people that challenge and motivate them to do their best work. At EY, a recent survey of our gen Z summer interns found that more than 90% prefer to have a human element to their team.

We also found that gen Z wants to work with people of a similar age, with 77% preferring a millennial manager over a baby boomer or gen X. Of course this doesn’t mean that younger workers aren’t able to thrive under the supervision of baby boomers or gen Xs, but it does put the burden on employers to create a work environment and train their managers to empower their recent college grads to thrive–and provide them with opportunities and support to advance in the organization.

2. What professional development can you offer me outside of the workplace?

Recent job interviews have led us to believe that the newest working generation is gritty, curious, and craving opportunities to venture outside of their comfort zone and learn new skills beyond their day-to-day activities. In fact, our interns cited the potential for professional development opportunities as a top priority when they look for an employer.

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To stay competitive, employers recognize that employees are looking for opportunities to explore various specialties and interests. At the same time, they’re also interested in professional development opportunities and what career tracks they might be able to pursue after gaining some on-the-job exposure. At EY, we recently rolled out EY Badges, a program that allows our more than 260,000 employees to invest in their careers by earning digital “badges” when they learn future-focused skills like data visualization, RPA, and blockchain.

3. How can I give back through my career?

One of the key motivations for younger workers today is to do work that gives them meaning and purpose. Recent college grads are looking for employers who are in tune with this mind-set, and this means being a purpose-led organization that offers opportunities to do meaningful work and give back to larger communities outside of the workplace. At EY, we encourage recently hired college grads to participate in programs like College MAP, where we mentor students in underserved high schools, empowering them to gain access to college, or our Earthwatch Ambassadors program, where young professionals donate time to international, entrepreneurial-based projects.

We know this young generation is looking for places where they can grow not only professionally but also personally. Companies should keep this in mind as they inquire about ways to get involved in philanthropy and corporate responsibility efforts.

4. How will I know if I’m succeeding?

As employers focus on providing all employees with as much opportunity as possible, they are also making a concerted effort to understand and balance the larger, yet changing, needs between multiple generations. We’ve learned that gen Z workers tend to be receptive to receiving feedback on an ongoing basis or after completing a large project or task.

This means that candidates are likely to ask smart questions during the job interview about what an organization is doing to ensure they understand the “why” behind what they are doing, and whether conversations about performance, feedback, and career aspiration happen frequently and collaboratively.

Of course, organizations will continue to face challenges they might not yet know about. To remain attractive to today’s college grads, companies need to see new challenges as opportunities to innovate and evolve their approach to talent attraction and engagement, and communicate that viewpoint to job candidates. Organizations also need to show their continued progress by implementing, supporting, and measuring the success of new initiatives, and report this progress across the organization.

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A company’s success is dependent on its people. For employers to attract the best talent, they need to be aligned with their employee’s current and future needs. For employers who are looking to hire college grads, they can start with thinking about how their workplace can answer these four questions.


Natasha Stough is the Americas Campus Recruiting Leader at EY.

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