Getting Interview Skills Up to Speed

May 18, 2012 | Borough of Manhattan Community College

Job interviews can happen when you least expect them. Chance meetings with potential employers occur in lobbies of office buildings, and on line at Starbucks.

Hence the phenomenon, “speed interviewing,” which in the words of BMCC President Antonio Pérez, “is another learning experience for our students. It’s important for them to know how to convey who they are, in a short period of time. Sometimes in life we don’t always have the luxury of an interview.”

Sponsored by the Center for Career Development, BMCC’s first Speed Interviewing Fair was held in Richard Harris Terrace, where blue tables lined the perimeter of the room. At front and center, a dais featured a huge digital clock on loan from the Athletic department, set to countdown in five-minute intervals.

Rotate to the right
Employers stayed put at their stations, and students rotated to the right. Using a grid provided by the Center for Career Development, the employers focused their feedback on student’s body language, their responses and resume. They also offered informal advice, and encouragement.

“Every career activity we do, we look at learning outcomes,” said Melba Olmeda, Director of the Center for Career Development.

“We want students to get a job, but we also want them to get feedback so they can sharpen their interview skills, as part of their job search. Hopefully, students will notice their scores have improved, by the end of the event.”

What’s in it for employers
While she’s new to speed interviewing, Sharon Rumley, Executive Director of the Queens Comprehensive Perinatal Council, Inc., has a long history hiring BMCC students through the school’s popular career fairs.

“Today, I’m looking for Human Services graduates to fill a case management vacancy,” she said, and explained why she has high expectations of finding one.

“I had one BMCC student who was an intern with us, and when she got her associate degree, we hired her,” said Rumley, adding that the student went on to earn a master’s in social work degree, “and we’ve stayed in touch.”

Other employers included the September 11th Families’ Association, Brooklyn Workforce Innovations, the Workforce 1 Career Center, and the Law Offices of Deborah Chang.
Good answer!
Also sitting at the employer tables were BMCC career counselors, including Driada Rivas, role playing as employers.

“The students I interviewed were on target in their responses, and were enthusiastic and eager to learn how they can improve their interviewing skills,” she said.

Here’s what the room sounded like.

Employer: If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Student: I would learn from my past mistakes.

Employer: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Student: I’m a multi-media graphic designer, and I’m on the Dean’s List.

Clock is ticking. Two-minute warning!

Employer: If you were to create an advertisement for yourself, what would it look like?
Student: It would show me as hard-working. I always find something to do. Even in junior high, I was involved in after-school activities, like chess.

Clock is ticking. One-minute warning!

Employer: What are your short-term goals?
Student: First, I want to finish college, then find a job and eventually work in real estate.

Speed interviewing builds soft skills
Adjunct instructor Doug Machovic, who works as Director of Training & Development at Western Union Corporation, explained that in today’s job market, “employers are not willing to spend so much time developing a new employee. They expect you to have hard skills, but also soft skills—like being able to communicate clearly, and work with others. Events like this, help develop the soft skills.”

Professor Lee Ritchey, who teaches in the Speech, Communications and Theatre Arts department, offered his students extra credit if they attended the speed interviewing event.

“We’ve been doing the ‘elevator speech’ in my class, which is about 30 seconds long,” he said. “The ‘pitch speech’ is longer, usually over two minutes.”

Team building
After their interviews, students regrouped for team building activities, and compared notes on the event.

“It’s good to hear feedback,” said Multimedia Programming major, John Nunez. “One thing I learned from the employers was to improve my body language; one of them told me I should give him more of a firm handshake.”

Michelle Bravo, a Liberal Arts major, learned that her profile needed to contain “more action words,” she said, “and to be more about what I can do for the company, rather than just describing myself with adjectives.”

BMCC career counselor Kimberly Chu facilitated a team building, group activity in which students built a tower out of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti.

“In order to build your structure, you have to agree on the plan to make the pieces connect a certain way,” said Chu. “I try to help the students be more aware of dynamics that impact the quality of their communication—and extend to the workplace.”

For example, she says, “two talkative people might have a hard time staying on task and completing the structure, while someone who is extremely quiet, might not take enough initiative and could benefit from guidance on how to get started.”

Cuing up for success
Malkam Dior, a college assistant in the Center for Career Development, manned the clock and gave the two- and one-minute-to-go announcements.

“Each time the students rotate to the next table, they take something new with them,” he said.

“It’s like for radio,” said Dior, who hosts the Internet radio show, RealTalkDior. “You cue up the next song, while the current one is playing—and when you’re speed interviewing, you cue up for the next table, while you’re getting feedback at the current one.”

Another benefit of the event was that students who prepared by joining the Center for Career Development’s “Boot Camp”—two intensive sessions where they created a resume, developed their interviewing skills, and focused on choosing a major—received co-curricular credit.