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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Five Things I Would Say to a Newly Graduated College Student


This month, millions of students will become graduates. They will embark on a job hunt, many for the first time, and they’re experiencing mixed emotions—excitement and terror. The majority of them…will move back home with parents.

In today’s blog, I want to share a conversation I had with a newly graduated 23-year old young adult at Starbucks. I felt it might make for an interactive blog discussion.

Here is what I said as the topic of job interviews came up.

1. Arrive ten minutes early and leave your phone in the car.

More and more employers are telling me that job candidates are performing poorly, even in a bizarre fashion in the interview. Less than half of the HR departments say staff exhibit professionalism during their first year on the job. Human Resource pro’s report candidates are texting or taking phone calls during the interview. Uh…no. Don’t do that. Remove the temptation by leaving your smart phone in your car. I realize life has gotten casual, but a job interview is a sales event.

2. Identify your primary strengths and weaknesses before the interview.

I’m always impressed when I speak to a job candidate who knows their strengths and weaknesses and can talk candidly about them. When a potential staff person knows the value they bring to the table, yet at the same time can talk transparently about their weaknesses as well—I know I have a mature, secure candidate. What’s more, when they can tell me a story of how they used their “gift”… I know its not theory. Share how you’ve used your talent and the outcomes that came from it. This is huge.

3. Follow the “warm but formal” approach at first.

Far too often, interviewers moan about the oddball behavior of young job seekers, saying they try to gain rapport by joking about inappropriate topics or bringing up subjects that only close friends would be comfortable talking about. Off-the-cuff remarks about farting, sexual preferences, or belching just don’t set well. Imagine that. This prompts recruiters to reject otherwise qualified candidates. It’s far better to allow the interviewer to set the standard for informalities, and follow it.

4. Do your homework and ask questions that reveal you’ve done so.

Spend plenty of time on the organization’s website and learn all you can. Find out who the key leaders are, and greet them by name when you see them. In the job interview, answer questions clearly and candidly, but when you do, inquire if it is OK to ask the interviewer a few questions, as well. This usually is impressive. Pose questions that show you’ve gotten acquainted with their mission. Ask about the future. Embody the values of the organization, if possible, demonstrating you fit right in.

5. In the end, ask for the keys.

I recognize this sounds forward, but after a quality interview, tell the supervisor that if you’re hired, you’re wondering when they might feel comfortable giving you keys to the building because you plan on arriving early and perhaps staying late. Smile as you say it, so they don’t see  you as a threat, but as a committed team member who plans on adding value to their mission right away. Display tangible humility, (that you see the big picture) but be forthright too. Communicate that you want the job, and will work to confirm they made the right choice if they hire you.

Question. What would you add to this list?



  1. Paul Jolicoeur on May 13, 2013 at 6:17 am

    Great list! I would add, to clean up and look the part. Today the dress code and “look” for an office change and vary by the work environment. Make sure you look like you fit in. If where you are interviewing is casual, I would still dress a notch or 2 higher for the interview.

    • Tim Elmore on May 13, 2013 at 8:25 am

      Excellent addition, Paul. Thanks for contributing!

  2. Jen T on May 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Love your blogs, but I have to say I am really surprised that things are so far off track that this list you submitted isn’t just common sense to all but the most clueless members of our society ! I am so glad I was raised to know proprer behavior and etiquette in any given circumstance, and I hope my own children are learning the same! Wow!

    • Tim Elmore on May 13, 2013 at 3:18 pm

      Like you, Jen, I had parents that raised me to know this list as common sense. I’m glad your kids are learning from you. It sounds like you’re doing a great job! Thanks for comment.

  3. Brian Musser on May 13, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    I try to get students/young adult to see interviewing as a learning process. Of course they want the jobs they interview for but even if the interview does not result in employment the interview process can be a valuable learning for how to interview better. Working at Drexel we do three co-op/internship experiences before graduation. During a students’ first internship process we strongly encourage them to apply for 10 – 20 different internships and go on as many interviews as possible. With the hope that they will do at least 5 in person interviews. Interviewing is the best way to get better at interviewing.

    • Tim Elmore on May 13, 2013 at 3:17 pm

      I agree, Brian. I think learning interview skills is key to their career! Thanks for the post.

  4. Roger on May 13, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Awesome. Love it how you started with the practical which would lead to them being confident to ask for the keys in the end.

    It’s interesting how lots of this “was” common sense years ago and now a forgotten art. Just spent some time with the Skipper last night on the phone and wisdom just flows from him. You have one of the greatest men that I know as a father.

    Just signed up for the National Leadership Forum and the One Day in Atlanta. Looking forward to gleaning from the greats.

    • Tim Elmore on May 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      I’m so glad to hear we will see you at NLF and Habitudes One Day in Atlanta this year.

      Glad to hear you got to connect with my Dad! I learn from his wisdom, too. Thanks for reaching out, Roger!

  5. Jill Fleming on May 13, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Personal grooming for both genders is a necessary topic of discussion. The term “appropriate attire” must be thoroughly outlined. Even the 2 women in the picture introducing this article have several what I consider “Glamor Don’ts”.

    • Tim Elmore on May 13, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      Great addition! Thanks for sharing, Jill.

  6. JHT on May 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    You aren’t entitled to anything. So many young people think they get the right to just slide right in and run the show, talk to higher ups like buds and get handed everything. There are no trophies for fifth place in the working world.
    And losing the misplaced apostrophe on PR pros.

    • Tim Elmore on May 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      It’s true! Thanks for the post, JHT.

  7. C David Buchanan on May 13, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    All very good advice; however #5 needs some editing.
    In today’s security sensitive environment, as presented this will earn you an
    escort out the door and no call back! The intended sentiment is appreciated, but
    the notion that it is your goal to be alone in the office is not endearing,
    cute, or humorous.

  8. Pichaske on May 14, 2013 at 11:26 am

    I’d simply add, “Be prepared to answer questions about any apparent “mistakes” or “red flags” on their record.” I see lots of graduates who seem surprised when an interviewer asks them about a bad grade or a short stint with a previous employer. Many times, there are good explanations for these situations, but the interviewee should have a better answer than, “Well, it was a tough semester” or “I didn’t get along with my boss.”

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Five Things I Would Say to a Newly Graduated College Student