It’s fairly common now to see high school students with a job. Retail, food, maintenance — whatever that first job was, you probably had to interview for it. In my case, it was working for a local dollar store. I figured that would be simple enough and that I wouldn’t need to treat the interview as anything more than signing my work papers. But when asked questions like why I wanted to work there and what skills I brought to the table, I was completely caught off-guard. In fact, I responded, “Just to have some money for gas, and I’m good at math … so, being a cashier should be easy.”
I know I butchered that interview and that that probably wasn’t what they were looking for, but I still got hired anyway. In a job like that all I really needed to do was be available. Since that day three years ago, I’ve been hired in two other jobs. In both, I applied for the job over email and was offered the job the same way so I haven't actually had another job interview since.
As a sophomore now, I’m exploring finding an internship over next summer that’s a little closer to what I want to do with my major than working customer service in retail. UMass does a great job of preparing you to go out into the real world with all sorts of events that make finding that first job out of college easy for you. In my major alone (communication) the department has organized many “professional development” events, which are available to any major.
By attending résumé reviews, LinkedIn workshops, career fairs, networking nights, and alumni panels, I feel like I’ve learned a lot. But in every one of these events there’s been a common trend. Everyone I've talked to has stressed the importance of nailing your interview. Now that these jobs are more selective than as a cashier at a dollar store, you have to stand out, leave a lasting impression, and outperform everyone else applying for the job.
Knowing that in my one and only experience being interviewed for a job, my performance would get me hired almost nowhere else, I know I need to improve for when the time comes where I'm sitting in front of someone in a hiring position again. I remembered last year that I had some friends talking about how the career centers in their majors hosted “mock interviews,” and said that they learned a lot from it. I searched upcoming events at UMass and saw that the communication department was hosting mock interviews open to all next week, and I signed up for the time that fit best around my schedule.
The event was well-organized. UMass alumni who now work in hiring positions met with us in an open space and conducted an interview tailored to us. Whether you were a freshman just wondering how the process works, or a senior with an interview for a specific position set up next week, you were allowed to modify the session to what best-suited you.
In my session we spent the first 15 minutes or so talking about some of the basics of what happens during an interview, and what he as an interviewer is usually looking to see. We addressed some of the things that usually hurt or help interviewees, and talked about how to approach tough questions you know are coming like, “What are your weaknesses?” and, “How have you typically settled conflict with a superior in your past experiences?” that can be awkward to answer.
The best advice he gave me was to approach the interview as a conversation, not as a test. After establishing some of the basics we got right into the interview. Since I didn’t have a specific job lined up that I want to interview for, he asked me some of the most basic questions that come up in any job interview. Most of which were about myself, and how I would fit in a variety of work cultures.
We concluded with him giving me feedback about how I answered some things well and how it’s clear I wasn’t prepared for others. He talked about his experience being interviewed as well as interviewing, and some of the tricks he’s always tried to use, like how to better prepare for questions you know are coming, and how to avoid showing if you’re completely unprepared for others. I still wouldn’t say I’m definitely ready to crush my next one yet, but attending the mock interview definitely helped. I understand the process better, I know some of the things I need to work on, and I’ll come more prepared the next time.
I'm looking forward to the next time one of these mock interviews comes around because I’ll be able to do less learning about the format of the interview, and instead get more practice answering questions. The more of these I can do, the more it’ll feel natural when the actual moment comes.