by Eric McCray
Recently, our office traveled to Decatur Central to conduct mock interviews with students affiliated with their Jobs for America’s Graduates program (JAG). While the JAG program is a new concept to me, I think this program is very beneficial and provides students with the assistance needed to become better prepared for the workforce and college. This being my first experience interviewing on a panel, I came very excited to see how I would be addressed. I was enjoying the process until, we, on the panel, were hit with a brick – almost literally. This brick was highly unexpected and left each interviewer on our panel speechless. This brick had a note attached to it that said, “Expect the unexpected,” and “KEEP YOUR COOL!”
That’s a pretty good suggestion, given the circumstances. One of the students shared a response to a question that left us in awe. We could tell something was going on as soon as the student entered the interviewing room, but we would proceed with the interview knowing that time was limited. The question was, “Share a challenge that you have faced, how you handled the challenge, and the outcome of the situation.” The student’s response demanded silence from us on the panel for minutes after he left the interviewing room. His challenge was much more than a challenge in my eyes and was more dramatic than any other response. This experience definitely taught me to expect the unexpected when interviewing. The adversity that was occurring in that student’s life was enough to teach me how important it is to keep your cool when interviewing, no matter how badly you want to offer support and words of comfort.
Other than the brick, the interviews were great! I was enjoying the experience and I immediately developed greater enjoyment for interviewing. For me, I feel like it’s an opportunity to have a conversation with someone, rather than a series of questions to determine what kind of person one is with regards to employment. I continually kept telling myself that these kids are only a few years younger than me and I was trying to relate to each student as often as I could. I asked, “Share with us a time when you were working on a team or working in a group setting and someone wasn’t pulling their weight. How did you handle the situation and what was the outcome.” We received several very practical responses and I think each student offered an example of a group project in school or a team setting like working in a restaurant.
If given the opportunity again, I would ask for a chance to share feedback with each student. It was obvious that several of the students were prepared, but it was also clear that certain students were just happy that it was the last day of school, which provided another learning experience for me – locking in. I would share with the students that regardless of what is going on in their lives, I think it is important to set that aside for a brief interview. Lock in, and give the recruiter or interviewer 100% attention; the interviewer will be able to tell if the interviewee has something else on their mind.
Nonetheless, I think all the students performed well. I found minimal errors and mannerisms of each interview, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a little experience or guidance. I am very grateful for the experience that I had with Decatur Central’s JAG program and I encourage others to accept opportunities to conduct interviews for the benefit of students – this experience benefitted me!