Summer job interviewing tip: concentrate on fit as well as skill

Posted by on May 6, 2010 in Jobs

We have considered hiring a summer student to help in some general office work; as anyone who runs a business knows, half of it is really keeping up with the paperwork and filing it so you can find it later on.  I worked a number of different summer jobs but this is the first time I am considering hiring a summer job. It is a strange process in that expectations are quite modest and, frankly, you are not hiring a polished candidate by any means of the imagination.

I told my friend that we may be hiring a summer student and their reaction was “what if they are spoiled and basically useless?” (Generation Y- please hire a public relations firm. Your rep is terrible in the work place). The answer to that question may contain one of the keys to obtaining a summer job.

Most students working at McJobs- low paying, command and control jobs requiring minimal thinking. Yet, many upper mobile students aspire to gain some experience where they can use their mind and pursue their passion. The gap between experience and desired position can be puzzling to some employers (this one in particular). Realistically, students do not have a wealth of experience to fall back on and only the most unrealistic of employers would expect a student, even one in university, to have a industry ready skill set.

In some senses, the saying “hire for skill, fire for fit” does not work in the context of hiring a summer student. Instead, what I am finding anyways, is “hire for fit and teachability” may be more adapt. In the first interview I conducted, I had to stop myself asking the typical “tell me what you liked and disliked about your prior position?” question since: (a) the experience of all candidates will be shallow; and (b) realistically, other than the co-workers, many McJobs have numerous things to dislike.

I ended up focusing more on having conversations about what they did outside of school, who they were, what their interests were etc. The candidate’s answers tend to tell the employer about their personality, their ability to interact with others and adaptability (Did they participate in group activities? Did they stay with something for a long time? Did they work their way up their interest level? Did they live anyway from home for long periods of time?).

For job seekers in their early 20′s, this says almost as much as any experience they may have. Employees don’t enter the work force, summer job or full-time position, not only with a set of skills but with a set of experiences that can help or hinder their performance.  When there is less skill to rely on, life-experience may end up being the differentiation.

It has often been a pet theory of mine that volunteering, playing sports (especially team sports) and pursing passions will give to someone certain intangibles that strictly obtaining an advanced degree alone, with no other interests, will not. I am not sure if there are any parents helping their children to find summer jobs but I hope the above is some food for thought.

1 Comment on Summer job interviewing tip: concentrate on fit as well as skill

By BK on May 6, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Great advise! Agree Gen Y is a bit strongly stereo typed but unfortunately everywhere we turn the stereo type is being displayed to us.

Interestingly I have had a bit of a similar but different situation with interviews of individuals in their late 50′s subsidizing their retirement income or out right coming out of retirement. Feels odd interviewing someone 15 to 20 years my senior and with a level of experience that rivals my own. But agree the traditional questions just don’t fit someone that has a 5 to 10 year work time line with no interest of moving up the ladder. Asking were do you see this position fitting within your career is comical and clearly not appropriate.

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