BPD Mock Interviews Preparing Students for Future
By Eric Breier
Quynh Pham had already graduated from Cal State San Marcos by the time the Business Professional Development program became a requirement for business administration students.
Though Pham wasn’t able to benefit from the program, she is delighted to be helping other students successfully complete it.
Pham is among the many business professionals who volunteer each year to conduct mock interviews with CSUSM’s BPD students.
“Empowering tomorrow's leaders is something I'm passionate about,” said Pham, a project manager at Leaderology, which provides customized executive coaching and leadership development.
The BPD program is taught by a College of Business Administration Executive in Residence, who provides students a real-world connection on their road from college to career. The course covers numerous topics, including writing résumés and cover letters, networking, social media and personal branding, and, of course, interviewing for a job.
BPD volunteers typically conduct hour-long interviews with eight students. Interviewers are provided a list of common questions as a guide and close the session by offering feedback on ways the student can improve.
“It really helps on networking with other people,” said Ignacio DiazRomero, a third-year student who was paired with Pham for his mock interview. “It helps you lose fear talking to strangers and also opens up doors to create opportunities. It's a great class to take, not only for a grade but for gaining experience and your future.”
Jean Freeman, AVP of Human Resources for LPL Financial, has conducted countless interviews over the years.
“One question I always ask people, and I've been asking this question for 20 years, is, ‘Tell me about a time you made a mistake,’ ” Freeman said. “And the whole point of this question is, I want to know if, one, you can accept accountability and, two, you understand that mistakes happen and it’s OK. But the most important thing is that you learned something from it and that you grew from it.”
It was that type of question that caused Amelia Kennedy to pause when she had her mock interview with Freeman last month. Kennedy, who will graduate in 2022, had just finished telling Freeman about a group presentation that had been a positive experience. Freeman followed up by asking Kennedy to tell her about a bad experience.
“It kind of threw me for a loop for a second,” Kennedy said. “I had to just take a breath and think about it.”
Kennedy ended up telling Freeman about a bad experience from a job she had in high school. Despite the curveball, Kennedy said the experience interviewing with Freeman was invaluable.
“She gave me some really good feedback at the end,” Kennedy said.
David Conner, an associate analyst for LPL Financial, has participated as a mock interviewer for the past three years. Normally, Conner visits campus for a marathon one-day session of eight consecutive interviews. Though he had to conduct this year’s interviews via Zoom because of the pandemic, it also afforded Conner the opportunity to share valuable tips about participating in virtual interviews. While Conner said the students he interviewed all dressed appropriately, he was able to remind them about the importance of being aware of their backgrounds, whether it was turning off a ceiling fan or ensuring that distracting items weren’t visible.
“You have some people that you can tell care a little more and might be a little more on the ball,” Conner said, “but everybody did pretty well.”
One area in which all interviewers seem to agree is that students need to be diligent about following up after an interview.
Freeman had one student who didn’t interview as strongly as others, but he separated himself by sending her a thank you note that highlighted something they had discussed during the interview.
“I remembered him and saw that he was really paying attention,” she said. “I would bring him back for a second interview in a real-world situation.”
For Pham, the mock interview is an important opportunity for students to get a feel for what they’ll face once they begin their job search.
“I tell them all the time, this is the one place where you can mess up and it's not disastrous,” she said. “You can pause and you can restart and we'll go from there. It just takes practice. Interviewing is a skill.”
The Business Professional Development program would not be possible without the financial support of student success from corporate partners LPL Financial, Wells Fargo, DDH Enterprise and Nordson Corporation Foundation.
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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