Four Ways to Spot a Diamond in the Rough


Whether you’re hiring someone for a senior, strategic position or for the lowest level position in your company, there is always an element of uncertainty when you make that final decision about who gets the job. You make that decision based on their past experiences, the quality of information exchanged, any formal presentation your final candidates may have given, the references provided and, quite frankly, your gut.

But what do you do when your candidate has no past relevant experience to discuss? What do you do when someone does not have documentable on-the-job success, or references from a former manager? How do you accurately assess the new grad who is interviewing for their first full-time career job?

That uncertainty in your gut can be removed by asking a few key questions in your interview. Here are the four factors I weigh when interviewing a recent grad.


I try to stop myself from being too impressed or too dismissive of where a candidate went to school. I fell into that trap early on, but here’s what I discovered (the hard way!). Why a person chooses a school is more important than the school itself. Although you can argue that bright kids go to top colleges, I have interviewed talented candidates (with bright futures) who have attended state universities or lower tier colleges. Conversely, I have interviewed some pretty unmotivated candidates who have gone to first tier and Ivy League schools. Get their reasons for choosing their alma mater. It’s good insight into their decision-making process.

When asked why they chose the school, a candidate’s response can reveal much about their character. I’ve gotten responses like, “Because that was the only school I got accepted into,” or, “I was offered a four-year scholarship.” One energetic young guy from South Boston told me the reason he went to Pepperdine University in California was because, “My dad went to BC. All of my uncles went to BC and most of my cousins did, too. I wanted to do my own thing.” That was an important insight into this fellow. He’s not a follower. He’s a leader and not afraid to “break out.” These are great attributes when you’re looking for someone to start a remote office.

So, don’t be easily put off by a college that’s not top-shelf, or so easily impressed by the Ivy grad. Keep an open mind and continue getting information on their performance while in school. (Sidebar: With the exception of schools that offer deep technical expertise, such as MIT, Stanford, Caltech, or any school that offers a very specialized technical degree, for most companies, where their employees attended school is a non-factor.)


If it’s not on the resume, ask about their GPA. Good candidates will be very forthcoming about that number. And, they will have it right on the tip of their tongues. Be wary of the candidate who can’t remember his GPA or those who have a mediocre GPA. I had a candidate once boast to me about his 2.8 GPA. While there can sometimes be extenuating circumstances, I would say that anything below a 3.0 is clearly unacceptable. I look for candidates with a 3.5 and above.


I’m always impressed when I see any honor societies listed on the resume, such as Golden Key Society or Phi Beta Kappa. Good candidates are proud of their accomplishments (as well they should be). They tend to be hard workers and very goal-oriented.


I look very strongly on what the student did over and above their studies. This category is where you will garner valuable information about your new grad, including:

  • An idea of their values – There is nothing as revealing about a person than how they choose to spend their “leisure” time. Was your recent grad’s time spent in community service such as working with the elderly, volunteering in a hospital or tutoring grade-school children? It is a good indicator if it was.
  • Good time management skills – These activities take real time. If you have a 3.8 GPA candidate with a heavy volunteer schedule or extracurricular activities, you have a candidate with solid time management skills. Ask what the time commitment was for each activity. Their juggling skills will soon become very clear.
  • Practical applications for your job – We hired a new grad for a client who had an inside sales position. She had worked during her four years of college doing fundraising for her school on the phone. She was so good they promoted her to manager and she hired, trained and managed fellow students. She’s doing great in her new job. Surprised?
  • Their level of competitiveness – If you have a candidate who has competed athletically throughout his college career and you have a work environment where healthy competition is a key ingredient to your success, this is a no-brainer. I’ve found that students who have some sports involvement fit very nicely into most sales environments. They understand they must be mentally and physically sharp, so usually they are very disciplined; these are factors in sales success.

So, if you have a position in your organization that truly does not require an employee with deep industry knowledge or experience, but does require lots of energy, enthusiasm, creativity and intelligence, use these tips and hire yourself a top-notch “freshly minted grad.” You’ll be glad you did!

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