Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Mock Interviews

What sort of jobs have I interviewed for? Here's a partial list:

U.S. National Security Agency country/regional analyst
People Airlines (now defunct) flight attendant
retail store assistant manager

Those are jobs that I applied for, got interviewed for, and was not hired for. (Thank god!) During my university studies, I never even heard of a course such as the one I now teach, a communication skills course in which a segment is dedicated to assisting/familiarizing students with resume and application letter writing, and then with preparing for and performing at a job interview. If I'd had such a course in college, who knows where I would be today....

Where was I during the last couple tutorials two week ago? In class facilitating mock interviews. In each tutorial group there were four teams. Each team of three or four students read and evaluated the application materials that another team's individual members had prepared, peer reviewed and revised in advance. The evaluating team, much like a hiring committee or HR group, first read the materials then would rank those individuals from the other team based on the quality of the materials in relation to a specific job, internship or graduate program application. After that, they began the interview process.

The interview process entailed setting up the classroom (and an adjacent room, and even some common space outside the class) in office-like quadrants, with one team per designated area behind a table. In their respective stations, each team created their first set of interview questions, set for the peer they'd ranked #1. During a point in the question preparation process, each team then lost one of its members, that being the person who was ranked as having the best set of materials. She or he, along with the top ranked person from each of the other teams, was directed into the corridor, there to wait until being called upon by the peer team for an interview of approximately 15-20 minutes.

Back in the classroom, each team crafted its questions, and each individual adopted a particular stance, whether as a friendly and smiling HR person, impatient and brusque interrogator or something in between.  No matter what the demeanor of each interviewer was set to be, all sessions had a principle interviewer and a note-taker, the person whose main task was to reflect on the verbal and nonverbal behavior of the applicant. When the first round of interviews finished, the process was repeated in a second round, then in a third, and then in a fourth. In this way, every student had an opportunity to be an interviewer multiple times, and to be interviewed once.

After all the rounds were completed, a debriefing session was held where students were encouraged to share something about their experience.

This is another opportunity for such a debriefing. How do students view the process and these interviews?

That's exactly what this blog post is all about.

Students, please add your thoughts. Innocent bystanders, please see the commentary below.


aquabbit said...

In my opinion, this series of mock interviews conducted in class is particularly useful in mentally preparing and emboldening ourselves for the possible conditions or scenarios encountered in an actual job interview.

For my interview, I was applying for a tour consultant position in Chan Brothers Pte Ltd even though my major is Civil Engineering. I expected myself to be asked certain questions such as why I am applying for a job that is different from what I study, as well what are the qualities I possess that make me a suitable candidate for the post.

What I did not expect is that my panel of interviewers actually asked me to do an impromptu dance (since I indicated that dancing is my passion)!

Even though my interview took place in the common area outside the seminar rooms at Town Plaza, and there were many unknown faces staring at us, I still proceeded to do a short dance. It entertained and cracked up my fellow classmates so much that the tense atmosphere gave way to a light-hearted one. That had also helped to calm my nerves and make me feel more assured and confident in expressing myself for the rest of the interview.

I guess sometimes, we just have to expect the unexpected, don't you agree?

Dhanya said...

I absolutely enjoyed taking part in the mock interviews. It was a right mixture of content(Resume) and presence(interview) being tested. It needed a lot of focus from the interviewee to take the set-up seriously and make use of the avenue in front of them to judge their own performance!

In both of the 'real' interviews I have been in so far, it turned out the interviewers were perfectly nice and to the point. Either that or luck made sure the interviews went successfully.

My mock interview was the first time I stuttered for an answer. Initially, they asked me a couple of questions and all was well.

And then, 'All the qualities you mentioned are okay. I just think you are not good enough to be at our company anyway. You don't understand what our company is like. Do you have anything to say to that?'

I looked at my interviewer and a million thoughts ran in my head along with the string of sentences I was to shoot out, before he judged me incapable. I recapped my abilities and skills again while one part of my mind was still thinking of a way to fight back into the race.

In the end I resort to, 'I have all the experience and skills a fresh graduate would be expected to possess for this position. As for the company culture and standard, I can only say that I am willing to learn and ready to work hard. I would love to be a part of this company and learn as it goes.'

I still am not happy with that answer. I thought a lot about it after my interview, I wonder what I should say to that.

As for being the interviewer, I had an absolutely great time! I put on the role of being the strict teacher for the most. I hope the interviewees of our team were able to think about their performance and understand what they should do better!

Thanks for facilitating, Brad! This was one of my favourite exercises :)

Gwen said...

I thought it was a very useful exercise! The very next day I had an actual interview for an part-time internship position, so it was very timely too.

Practicing mock interviews allowed me to become more accustomed to the interviewing environment, which helps in reducing anxiety over the entire process. Most of the time, we have our answers in our heads but zone out because of stressful condition of a job interview.

After receiving the feedback, I developed a stronger sense of self confidence as I knew what went wrong and what went right. With that knowledge I was able to correct my weak spots and further enhance my strengths, therefore elevating my performance during the actual interview. There is always room for improvement!

Not only did it benefit me as an interviewee, but I learnt a lot from interviewing others too. I have never actually interviewed someone in a setting like this so it was enlightening to hear other people's responses to common questions, especially on the foreign student's responses on how they adapted to the local culture here etc.

All in all, it was an effective exercise I'm sure many students will be thankful for. Thanks Brad!

Brad Blackstone said...

Thanks, Ray, Dhanya and Gwen, for your feedback on the mock interviews. I really appreciate your effort. :)

Serene Chua said...

Frankly speaking, I have not gone through any formal interviews. My experience of interviews have been quite pleasant so far.

This is the reason why I enjoyed the mock interviews. It was a wonderful learning experience, having the opportunity to take on the role of both the interviewer and the interviewee.

As the interviewee, this was the first time I had come across a panel of interviewers who plainly "did not care" (I am sure they did. They were probably just testing the reaction of the interviewee). How did I come to that conclusion? It was based on their body language and their tone of voice. Having understood their verbal and non-verbal cues, I was able to calm myself and work my way through their questions.

As the interviewer, I had the opportunity to evaluate the performance of my fellow classmates. From these observations, I was able to work out some of the common mistakes that one might make during the process of an interview.

Great lesson!

Teresa Widodo said...

I have done several interviews (although they are not really formal job interviews), but the mock interview session was totally different. I once had an internship interview where I had to do some weird tasks (e.g. taking pictures with quirky-looking strangers, looking for blue plastic bags, etc.) in short time (that is, I was half-running) but, still, the mock interview was even more unforgettable.

During the mock interview, the interviewers were way too friendly and too positive. Imagine sitting on a 'hot seat' while trying to recall the points you are going to deliver and the first thing that the interviewers say is... a compliment (which is unrelated to your CV whatsoever).
"What are your strengths and weaknesses?" the interviewers ask,"Well, I believe you don't have any weaknesses. It's okay."
The rest of questions were filled with sweet, informal tone.

Main take-away point: quoting Ray, "we just have to expect the unexpected". :)

Nirav Gandhi said...

Let me say this upfront before I dive in to explain my experience during the mock interview week. It is as important for the company to be a good fit for you, as it is for you to be a good fit for the company. This is probably one of the biggest and most important things I learned through my observations during the mock interview week.

It felt great to be in the place of the interviewer because I found that I could readily critique myself even before I was interviewed by my peers. So, next time if I am wondering what the interviewer might ask me, I know what I'd do. I would put my feet in the shoes of the employer, and look at this from his perspective. Instead of framing questions for myself, I would frame them from the employer's perspective. What is that I am looking for in this candidate? What quality in him will make me want him for my company? How can he be a true asset for my working force? It would require some good research to make an educated guess about what exactly is the employer looking for in me, but it would definitely be worth a shot.

Being interviewed by my peers was another experience that taught me a whole lot about what I could improvise on. Their honest feedback on everything from my handshake and gestures to my technical knowledge and ability to answer questions will prove to be very helpful for my real interviews in the near future.

He@therNguyeN said...

The mock interview was one of my favorite hands-on experience in this course. It was extremely useful because it shed light on the blind spots that despite well-prepared, I was unable to be aware of them. As an interviewee, I was also surprised to see how serious and professional my classmates were as the interviewers . They were definitely into the job, very demanding and had keen eyes on my shortcomings. Their questioning skills were good too. For example, question like “this position required 2 year experiences, do you think that you are under qualified for it ?” took me a long while to manage to convince them. Such unexpected scenario pushed me to think and persuade people on my feet , which was both intriguing and pragmatic.

Being an interviewer also gave me the opportunity to put myself in the shoes of a HR personnel and to understand better certain perspectives of a potential employer, their rationale and expectations towards the future employees. I saw myself in many minor mistakes that my classmates made such as unprofessional body languages , anxiety, low control of volume and tone or diverting from the main questions.

Thank you Brad for this memorable experience which I will bring with me during my job search in the future.

Renick Lee said...

Firstly I learned much about presenting yourself to the relevant parties through the CV exercise. It isn't about how good a story you can cook up about yourself and your knowledge of them but really convincing them how you are suited.

At the interview, I obviously made the mistake of insisting on shaking everyone's hands. Wasn't prepared for questions regarding grades as I always thought interviews were for talking about anything but grades. You would think your grades were sufficient but it may just not be good enough for some.

A very trying experience to sit there with a smile on your face while having all sorts of things you want to scream at your interviewer like "enough already!" running through your head.

As an interviewer it was also a learning and discovering process to strategize how you are going to get information you can use in your hiring decision from an introvert. Helping them to reveal things you need is a skill too. Sometimes the interview leads to a fact that you would not have otherwise thought to ask about.

Asking the right questions is so important, you may never know what your company is missing by dismissing too quickly.