Innovative Way to Help Our Next Leaders Get a Leg Up

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DSC_0207 (2)Nowadays, the competition for a career is fierce—especially for our young adults graduating from high school and college. In order to standout, these graduates pile things onto their résumés—hoping to impress the employer with some unique skill or prestigious award. The problem is, they are placing so much emphasis on paper that they forget to address the other crucial part of the hiring process: the interview.

With interview skills slowly disappearing, it only makes sense for us as a community to help these motivated young adults get a jump on the competition by starting early. So, a few years ago, I started a mock interview program with Poolesville High School (PHS), which fit in nicely with our firm’s Make it Count program as a way to give back. The impetus behind this concept was to tackle some concerns I have for students who are entering the workforce for the first time; helping them practice these skills now will prime them for the real thing.

A lost art

Having conducted interviews for our firm for many years, I saw an increasing trend of young applicants who were very bright, but lacked some basic, essential interviewing skills—including:

  • Eye contact
  • Handshake
  • Attire
  • Punctuality

This group of skills is beginning to feel like a lost art. As far as eye contact is concerned, I don’t know if I can blame cell phones entirely for setting the "lack of direct eye contact" trend, but I do think they're a contributing factor...and boy does it drive me crazy! I first started noticing this with my two sons, so my husband and I constantly coached them as they were growing up. We sounded like broken records— ‘look up, look me in the eye!” (but I'm happy to report that our nagging paid off!) Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe that eye contact is an indication of engagement. Similarly, a firm handshake is reflective of confidence levels. But regardless of my belief, these two skills still prove critical once you step inside the interview room.

Wearing the right attire is yet another skill that I've noticed falling to the wayside. Being able to dress neatly and appropriately (not necessarily expensively) suggests that the applicant understands the commitment to the process and is taking a serious approach. To this day, I will not recommend any applicant who arrives for an interview looking like they slept in their clothes. If they don’t take pride in their appearance, what is the likelihood they’ll have pride in their work?

And finally...punctuality—a skill that is hardly taken as seriously as it should be. Nowadays, many young adults don’t recognize the criticality of arriving on time, or the repercussions it can have on their reputations. For instance, during one of my interview days with the high school, I was scheduled to meet with a student, but he did not show up on time. After a few minutes of waiting, I went looking for him. While I was trying to figure out where he might be, some of his friends mentioned to me that he was late for everything. Then, when I finally did meet with him, I shared those comments and asked him if that was the reputation he really wanted following him as he headed toward his professional career. This statement did seem to resonate with him, but I know that he will have to be motivated to make that change for himself.

How does it work?

As part of the program, PHS juniors, under the supervision of their teachers, compose résumés, cover letters and research in preparation for a required summer internship. Each student is then assigned to a business professional from the Poolesville community to participate in a 20-minute interview in a real office setting. Afterwards, the interviewers provide immediate feedback to students, coaching them on all aspects of interview etiquette and offering detailed feedback on their résumés.

In order for all of this to come together, there is a small amount of administration time on the front end. But from my experience, I can assure you that the rewards of this program far outweigh any work to get it rolling. With that said, the typical prep work includes:

  • Creating all the necessary handouts for the interviewers
  • Soliciting volunteers from the community
  • Identifying dates, times and locations for the interviews
  • Collecting résumés and cover letters from the students via email
  • Setting the schedule
  • Providing volunteers with all the necessary forms and instructions

If you’re interested in running your own program, feel free to check out our handouts, or contact me. I’m always looking for professionals to help with this initiative! So if you’d like to give it a test run through our program first, I can definitely put your talents to good use!

One size does fit all

The amount of positive feedback that I’ve received is overwhelming, both from the students and the community professionals. It is so interesting to listen to the personal stories of these students and their future goals and dreams. What really impressed me was the specificity of their goals. One student explained to me that he was working on bone regeneration and, one day, hoped to work in the lab and use 3-D technology to replicate it for human bone regeneration. How cool is that?

In addition to our own local program, I also participate in a similar program that takes place at various high schools throughout Montgomery County. It is clear that the mock interview program is designed for all students, not just those headed off to college. Some students I’ve interviewed plan to go straight into the workforce, while others want to firm up their future plans with a stop at the community college. These interviewing skills can apply to everyone.

And who knows—down the road, one of these students may come knocking at your door for a job…wouldn’t it be nice to know that you played some part in their success?