Hiring and Interviewing: Why you should always ask about High School

By Adam Robinson,
September 12, 2012

Remember your high school days? I know, cue the groans, but bear with me here and
think about the kind of person you were and the kind of things you participated in. Maybe you were a varsity athlete, prom queen, or class clown? Whatever you were like in high school, we bet it defines how you behave and act today!Surprise: asking a candidate about high school during a job interview is one of the best ways to get the candidate to open up and reveal defining characteristics of their personality.

Now we have critics of this technique, it happens all the time, new Hireology users will call us up and say, “why the heck should we ask about high school in an interview?” The answer is always the same, here’s 3 reasons why you should be asking your candidates about high school during job interviews.

It Reveals Career Interests

Even though many hiring managers are pessimistic about high school interview questions, Product Development Director, Margot Baill, states that, “some of the most valuable information can be gained during this portion of the interview – even if your candidate is late in their career.” Not only does it get the candidate in a “storytelling” mindset, but it also allows the candidate to talk about early experiences that may have shaped their career interests.

Trends are Developed

Since a candidate’s past behavior predicts their future behavior, (see Behavioral Interviewing) asking a candidate about their high school experience will show important reoccuring trends. Trends can be obvious, like a candidate who talks about being the captain of their swim team in high school and then a team leader at their last position. Or more subtle like a candidate complaining about a teacher in high school and then complaining about a boss at their last company. Either way, trends can tell you a lot about the candidate and their future behavior so be sure to note any positive or negative reoccurring themes.

It Gets Them Talking

When you have a very nervous candidate in your interview, asking about high school can be a relief because they don’t need to think much about their answers. It’s a great way to get the candidate talking and to open up about their past behaviors. You, as the interviewer, are able to get a good representation about the candidate’s attitutude as well. Are they talking positively about high school or negatively? Do they blame others for the awful time they had or do they credit themselves with getting straight A’s? As a bonus, while the candidate is talking, you can judge their oral skills, confidence levels, and overall demeanor as well. 

So how do you do it?

While interviewing, ask the candidates about their best and worst moments during high school, as well as what they would have done differently if they could go back. You should focus on whether candidates thought of the experience as a positive one, took ownership of their performance during this time, and were involved in extracurricular and outside work during the summer.You can learn a lot from a candidate’s high school experience and diving deep into their teenage years just might lead you to the best salesperson your company has ever had. 

Do your high school years influence your work ethic and career interests today? Tell us your opinion in the comments below!


Next time you’re interviewing candidates, make sure they encompass these four elements of success. 


About the Author

Adam co-founded Hireology with the mission to help growing companies make better hiring decisions through data and better technology. Adam is passionate about entrepreneurship, donating time to a number of organizations that support the entrepreneurial cause. Adam completed his undergraduate study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and received his MBA from DePaul University in Chicago, IL.

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