Whether for an internship, job, or other opportunity, your child’s first interview is a big step toward a bright and successful future. But, as important as a first interview is, how can you be sure your child is well-prepared?
Easy: with help from Baltimore County Public Schools and its annual mock interviews!
This year, 22 BCPS high schools are hosting mock interviews. Held during the school day, the mock interviews allow students to engage with local professionals, sharpen their communication skills, and learn tips for the future.
“This experience becomes the perfect teachable moment,” says Alicia Fales, supervisor of the BCPS Office of Career and Technology Education (CTE), about the mock interviews. “Students have a real-world experience of being interviewed by someone who has experience interviewing people, and then they receive feedback on their performance.”
According to Fales, whose office oversees the School-to-Career Transition (STCT) programs responsible for coordinating the mock interviews, students in either Grade 11 or 12 participate in the simulation activity. Schools determine whether they will host the mock interviews in the fall for Grade 12 students or in the spring for Grade 11 students.
“For seniors, fall is important because it allows them to gain interview experience before they go on college and job interviews,” says Fales. “For juniors, spring is best to allow them more time to include résumé-building activities in their high school careers. Also, many will interview for their first summer jobs in the spring of their junior year. These mock interviews are good preparation [for that].”
Regardless of when schools hold their mock interviews, though, Fales emphasizes one key point.
“The most important thing,” she says, “is that every student has the experience before graduation.”
Helping to fulfill that goal is a generous group of alumni, business partners, college and military contacts, local business owners and government officials, and of course, members of Team BCPS. This year, Sharon Ochs, coordinator of the BCPS Office of Pupil Personnel Services, was part of that group, bringing her professional experience and interviewing expertise to students at Chesapeake and Kenwood high schools.
On how she became involved in the mock interviews, Ochs says: “I actually sit on a committee with the Chamber of Commerce, and the CTE teachers for Chesapeake High School and Kenwood High School are also on that committee… [T]hat committee is full of local businesspeople, so when they do their mock interviews every year, they recruit from the people on that committee to help.”
Joined by approximately 30 other professionals, Ochs says she interviewed about 15 students between the two high schools. Meeting with them in the schools’ libraries for around 10 minutes each, Ochs explains that the mock interviews followed a standardized format.
“The school provides you with a list of sample questions that you can use or not use – [it’s] up to you,” she says. “The students come, they present you with a résumé that they’ve worked on in their English classes, and then you conduct a normal interview.”
Like other interviews, the mock interviews include questions about the students’ strengths and weaknesses, their plans for the future, and more. However, while the mock and other interviews relate in terms of their questions, they also differ in a few important ways.
“You’re giving them feedback throughout the interview and then at the end, and that’s the biggest difference,” says Ochs about the mock interviews. “And you don’t pull as much on prior experience or the expectations of a particular job. You can’t gear your questions toward the job because [the mock interview isn’t] for a specific job.”
Yet, despite their differences from other interviews, mock interviews still provide students with valuable insights to carry with them into the future.
“Of course, it’s a little more staged, and the goal is for us to also help [the students] through the interview,” says Ochs. “A few times, I would stop and say, ‘You know, that was a really good answer to that question, but if you got that question in an interview, you might want to think about this.’ So it’s much more of a learning experience to help them prepare for an eventual interview.”
As much as the mock interviews were a “learning experience” for the students, though, Ochs says they also were one for her, too.
“It really was, for me, a coaching and learning experience with the students,” she says. “First, I learned that we have some amazing kids in our school system. They just came impeccably dressed and really well-prepared for their interviews. Some of them had really well-put together résumés and were very articulate.”
While Ochs conducted her last mock interview in November, she shares a few tips for parents to help their children prepare for mock and other interviews in the future.
“I would role-play,” she says. “Start asking them questions and do sort of the same thing that we did. Critique it as you go along. Let them know, ‘OK, that was a good answer, but it would have been better if you had added this.’”
For students, Ochs offers more advice.
“Do your homework, be really well-prepared for the interview, [and] dress up,” she says. “I also talked to [the students] about the importance of having a sort of prepared closing because, in most interviews, the last thing they ask you is if there’s anything else you want to tell us about yourself. And you don’t want to say, ‘No, I think it’s all covered’; you want to be able to go back and summarize all of your good qualities and why you’re the best candidate for the job.”
Building on Ochs’ suggestions, Fales adds her own recommendations for students.
“Be sure your résumé is perfect!” she says, stressing that résumés should include students’ abilities, interests, and skills. “Always have a question to ask an interviewer at the end of an interview… [and] always follow an interview with a thank you letter, card, or email within 24 hours.”
For parents, Fales gives other guidance, such as “Work with your student to ensure that interview dress is conservative and professional” and “Talk with students about behaviors and choices that can limit their career field options in the future.”
Most importantly, however, Fales and Ochs agree that parents can help their children most by following one tip.
“Be supportive and encouraging, and allow your student to practice talking about him or herself,” says Fales. Adds Ochs: “Just try to build their confidence.”
In addition to coordinating mock interviews, BCPS School-to-Career Transition programs prepare students to be college- and career-ready through apprenticeships, internships, job shadowing opportunities, and more. For more information, including how you can help with mock interviews and support career development in BCPS, visit the STCT and CTE Web pages at http://www.bcps.org/offices/cte/sct/ and http://www.bcps.org/offices/cte/, respectively.
Story by Blake Lubinski, Department of Communications and Community Outreach.