In politics, major candidates routinely prepare for a big debate by rehearsing with a trusted colleague who plays the role of the opponent.
Cincinnati State Technical and Community College is following suit as part of its process for preparing students for the workforce.
Each semester, Cincinnati State conducts “mock interviews” to help students prepare for the real thing, which can help them secure jobs or co-operative education placements.
“We go out of our way to make this as realistic as possible,” said Kelly Harper, director of Cincinnati State’s extensive co-op program. “They might be called mock interviews, but there’s nothing mocking about the process. We’re dead serious about it.”
Experiential, on-the-job learning has been incorporated into Cincinnati State’s curriculum since the college was founded in 1969. Almost all degree programs require students to complete at least one co-op or, in the case of health care, clinical assignment that is related to their primary course of study. The college’s decentralized co-op system, in which coordinators are assigned to each of the four academic divisions, also forms the core of Cincinnati State’s job placement services for students.
The mock interview program relies heavily on co-op coordinators to serve as interviewers, but also brings in local employers, retirees and Cincinnati State faculty and staff.
The mock interviews are set up in half-hour time slots over two full days each semester for students who pre-register. The interviewer who serves as the employer typically spends about 30 minutes with each student. Fifteen to 20 minutes are spent on the actual interview, and about 10 to 15 minutes are devoted to giving the student feedback. Students are also given an evaluation sheet in which the interviewer assigns ratings on such measures as appearance, body language and how well the student answered questions. Students also have a chance to ask questions.
Prior to the event, organizers send students information on how to prepare for an interview, how to dress and what questions may be asked. This information is also shared with interviewers so they understand how students are being prepared.
“Most students say they’re nervous as they come into the process. Afterward, however, they feel more confident,” Harper said. “We’ve even had several employers tell us that they’d hire particular students upon completion of the mock interview.”
Participation in the mock interview program is controlled by academic division. Each semester, organizers determine which programs are going to participate. Typically, more than 100 students sign up each semester.
Feedback from students has been consistently positive.
“The mock interview was very helpful!” said Tabitha Myrick, who is working toward an Associate of Arts degree at Cincinnati State. “It helped me to get over the fear of interviewing, and the person that interviewed me taught me how to better conduct myself when being interviewed… The mock interview really taught me that I could take the time to actually think about the question being asked and answer it in a timely manner.”
Maria Adams, another student earning an Associate of Arts degree, said her only interview experience prior to her session at Cincinnati State was for a job at a convenience store. That one, she recalled, was done on the spot, lasted about five minutes and took place when she was wearing shorts and a crop top.
“The mock interview was helpful to me – it gave me an idea as to what an actual job interview will be like,” Adams said. “At first I was nervous, but with the friendly environment I was in, I started to relax and feel much more comfortable. The mock interview changed how I will prepare for a real interview, as I will go into it knowing that I am doing my best to answer the questions and feel more confident in myself.’’
Volunteers from the business world said they also find the process satisfying.
Matt Hoeller, marketing & communication leader for Bayer Becker in Cincinnati, said participating in the mock interview process helps him keep abreast of what sort of applicants are looking to enter the workforce, while simultaneously being a great way to help students.
Hoeller helps students realize the importance of first impressions, starting with punctuality, and studies their responses to see if they are comfortable explaining what they have done in past positions. He said the most common mistakes that students make in mock interviews are “checking their phone, not asking questions and failing to understand what the prospective company does.”
William W. Luggen, a General Electric retiree who volunteers as an interviewer, said he looks for the little things during the initial encounter – such as eye contact, firmness of handshake, a smile and saying “nice to meet you.” He also notices the more esoteric elements that will emerge during the conversation, such as “preparation, poise, good verbal and non-verbal communication, strength of resolve, commitment to their chosen field of endeavor, self-confidence and self-awareness.”
“I must say that I have been very impressed with the Cincinnati State students I have interviewed,” Luggen said. “Most come well-dressed and well-prepared to the interviews, which I attribute to the class or classes they take in job preparation skills.”