How to Prepare High School Students for Their First Job
The focus on offering rigorous courses in high school makes it difficult for teachers to find the time to teach “real world” skills to their students.
Sometimes these non-academic skills leave the most lasting impressions. Teaching high school students interviewing skills is meaningful and useful. Here are some tips, tricks, and ideas for implementing an effective mock interview project in your classroom.
Preparing for the Mock Interview:
By taking part in the mock interview process, students will learn that an interview needs preparation ahead of time. Providing sample questions, asking the student to research the company they are interviewing for, and having students draw a picture of how they should dress, are all activities they can complete ahead of time. I usually pair the mock interview project with writing an entry-level resume, creating a cover letter, and filling out a fake job application. Students bring these documents with them to the actual mock interview, just as they would for a real interview. For this project, I give the students two choices for a possible job – one at a fast-food restaurant (such as McDonald’s) and one at a retail store (such as Target). Having the student apply for a specific job makes it easier for them to research the company ahead of time. If you can, provide websites for the students to use and explicitly point out that researching the company is part of their assignment. It’s a skill that many interviewees neglect to do, so teaching students this step will help set them apart in a real interview situation.
The Mock Interview
The culminating activity in an interview project should be a mock interview. This interview is designed to replicate an actual interview situation. You, or whoever you have chosen to be the interviewer, will dress the part and expect students to do the same. Begin the interview by getting into the role of an interviewer. Shake hands and introduce yourself to your student, even though you have already met. This usually invokes a little bit of nervousness in the student – that’s okay. A real interview is nerve-wracking, and you want your student to experience what it feels like to be put on the spot. Invite the student to sit down. I recommend beginning by telling the student that, “Today I’m going to ask you some questions to get to know you and why you are interested in this job. At the end there will be an opportunity for you to ask me questions.” This is a good introduction that can lead into your questions. Be sure to ask general questions (“tell me about yourself”), background questions (“tell me about a time when you…”), and situational questions (“what would you do if…”). At the end of the interview, ask your students if they have any questions about the job or the company, and then quickly make up an answer that sounds legit. Stay in character through the final handshake.
It is absolutely essential to give your student immediate feedback. (You should also transfer your notes onto a rubric or scoring sheet of some kind so that your students can see your feedback in written form.) After the final handshake, I get back into my normal role and tell the student that we are going to debrief the interview. I ask the student how they think the interview went and if they were nervous. Then I point out general observations, such as the student’s dress, handshake, eye contact, voice control, and poise. We then discuss each question and I give very specific feedback about how the student answered and any ideas for strengthening their answers in the future. If the student did not have a final question prepared for the “interviewer,” we talk about possible options for this in the future.
If you have had your students complete a resume, cover letter, or job application, go over these with the student as well. This is a great chance to point out key mistakes that students make, such as filling out an application in pencil, or not including their signature on their cover letter. Since you know the student, point out things that they should try to discuss during the interview or have on their resumes that they may have neglected to include, such as speaking a second language or community service they have completed.
After I have given the student verbal and written feedback, I have the student write a short reflection. This reflection allows the student to demonstrate what he/she has learned from the interview experience. Most students say that this is one of the most valuable projects they have ever completed, and that it really makes them feel more prepared for a real interview.
The most difficult part about doing a mock interview project is having the time to actually interview students one-on-one. You may need to conduct the actual interviews during a prep-time or before/after school. It is essential to conduct the interview one-on-one and not in front of a group/class (although you can definitely have students conduct the pre-interview components in a class setting). Each interview, including debriefing, takes about 30 minutes.
This project is perfect for a Life Skills course, or as part of a public speaking class, but students will benefit from this activity regardless of the class in which it is offered. It is a meaningful project that will take your students far beyond the classroom walls.
Want to Try a Mock Interview in Your Classroom?
If you’re interested in implementing a mock interview with your students, we’ve created a tool that includes everything you’ll need rubrics, sample questions, resume and cover letter writing support, a mock application, and more. You can find it here.