Practice Makes Perfect: Students Hone Job E-Interview Skills
by Jennifer Spencer
For the bright, articulate students of Fordham University, one might assume the job interview process is a piece of cake. But Bernard Stratford and the Fordham Career Services team challenge students to reframe their thinking about the interview process—and better position themselves to excel at it.
Stratford, director of experiential education, said that while we commonly think of the interview system as a “selection process,” it functions more as an elimination process, particularly when companies are filtering through hundreds of applicants for entry-level jobs.
“Think about how they ask the question, ‘Tell me a little about your strengths and weaknesses.’ Why do you need to know my weaknesses if you want to hire me? You only need to know that if you need to eliminate me,” Stratford said.
“We teach students that it does not matter what questions they ask you in an interview,” he said. “It would be nice if the question they asked you matched what you came to present, but it’s your responsibility as a candidate to make a presentation.”
Stratford and the team at the career services office work with students to help them think critically about the skills and competencies they want to communicate in an interview and how best to speak about them.
“Employers are looking for systems thinkers and creative thinkers, and what better way to describe that in an interview than to talk about your skills. We are used to telling people what we did, rather than how we do it,” Stratford said.
“The goal for students is to turn any ‘why’ question around and answer by giving examples of ‘what, how, with whom, and when.’ There’s no place to practice this kind of presentation in day-to-day conversation, so that’s where our office comes in. We walk students through the process of describing the skill, telling us how you use the skill, and then giving examples,” he said. “That’s the difference between good interview answers and great interview answers.”
This approach helped Yiming Huang, a junior in the Gabelli School of Business, consider interview topics she might otherwise have missed. She worked with the Career Services team to prepare her resume for a job as a trading floor analyst in the financial services industry.
Because the role and her field are quite quantitative, she said she was focusing her interview preparation from that perspective. But as she worked through the job description in a mock interview with career counselor Laura Greenbaum, her eyes were opened to other vital skills she needs to communicate to prospective employers.
"One of the details in the job description is that they want someone who sets a goal and excels at that. I never focused on that, as usually people focus on quantitative skills or decision-making skills. That question was actually really difficult when I was asked it in the mock interview, and it got me thinking,” Huang said.
Alumnus Paul Bailo, GSS ’94, helps people prepare for an interview style that didn't even exist when students' parents landed their first job—the virtual interview via Skype or similar technology.
His book, The Essential Digital Interview Handbook, gives advice for making the right kind of impression in this unique format. He cautions college students against thinking that because they are fluent with video chat technology they automatically know how to do a virtual interview.
"Students need to realize that it’s not just the interview, but in a virtual interview they need to be a Hollywood star, the director, the equipment person, the lighting person, the sound person, the stagehand all wrapped up into one,” Bailo said.
Bailo said even basic communication skills require a bit of adaptation for the virtual space.
“A digital handshake is a slight nod of the head, with your eyes looking at the camera. Not a wave; simply look and nod. Based on my research, this is the way you say hello in the digital world,” Bailo said.
Whatever the venue, Stratford says students must break out of the routine of simply answering questions, and begin proactively preparing to deliver a presentation that best highlights their skills. "We have students who are humble and become general about describing their experience. We need them to become bold and specific,” Stratford said.
Though that might seem uncomfortable at first, as Huang is discovering, practice makes perfect.
"The mock interview definitely helps you to establish confidence,” she said. “Confidence only comes after practice. The more mock interviews you attend, the more confident you will be in an interview.”