Looking for a job? Practice, practice, practice

Publication Date

On a recent crisp fall morning, Morgan Muggia ’15 strode into an interview teeming with confidence.

Dressed in a white skirt, black top and a pumpkin-colored blazer, the neuroscience major from Andover, Md., thought she was ready for any question that came her way.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” said Muggia, “until I sat down. Then the nerves just hit me.”

She froze at one of the first questions from the prospective employer: tell me about yourself.

“That is the worst question for me,” said Muggia. “I’m never sure how to respond.”

Fortunately for Muggia, this wasn’t an actual job interview at a company’s headquarters. Instead, it was a mock exercise in a room tucked in the Becker Career Center.

Now in its eighth year, the mock interview program pairs students with key employers from the region. For 30 minutes, student and employer go through what is essentially a dress rehearsal for an actual interview. After a brief introduction, students are asked a series of questions gleamed from their resume, provided time to ask questions of their own and then given feedback.

“We are supposed to give them feedback,” said Robert Soules, director of the Becker Career Center. “But if an actual employer is giving the feedback, a student is much more likely to listen.”

For students, many of whom have never experienced a real job interview before, the event is an opportunity to polish their presentation; for employers, it’s a way to cultivate a relationship with the College that is useful when they are hiring.

“We want the students to get as close to the real thing without having anything at stake,” said Soules,. “But what we really hope that they learn from this experience is, ‘Boy, I need to prepare better for interviews.’’ If they learn that much, we are ahead of the game.”

The annual event typically draws 60 students and about 10 employers, including representatives from General Electric, NBT Bank and the state Department of Conservation, according to Rochelle Caruso, senior associate director at Becker who oversees the program.

This year’s daylong event on Oct. 10 attracted 80 students, matched with 14 employers. The boost in numbers may reflect a lingering nervousness from soon-to-be graduates seeking an edge after watching their peers struggle in recent years to find entry-level jobs. For employers, a visit to campus could show a growing confidence that with the job market rebounding, there is a need to fill positions.

A recent national survey of employers indicates that job openings for new graduates are projected to grow by double digits in 2014-15, after several years of smaller increases.

That’s encouraging news to Andrew Luzzi ’15. An economics major from Branford, Conn., Luzzi has tapped into the myriad of services offered at Becker, which includes resume and cover letter review, icebreaker exercises and a career fair.

“It’s tough to get a job right now,” said Luzzi, a safety and captain on the football team. “There are definitely things I can improve on, so I wanted to do this.”

Luzzi showed up a half-hour early for his 9:30 a.m. interview. Students aren’t told in advance who their interviewer is; Luzzi was assigned to a representative from GE.

So how does he think he did?

“I did well in some areas,” Luzzi said, moments after he emerged from an interview room. “But it wasn’t the perfect interview.”

Very few are. While Caruso said there are instances where the student and employer made such a strong connection during the mock interview that it eventually led to a job offer, most interactions are a learning tool.

“The most common thing I see is nervousness,” said Gary McPherson ’93, an environmental engineer for the state DEC. Grateful for the education he got at Union, this is McPherson’s fourth year helping out with mock interviews.

He works to put students at ease while also giving them pointers. When Muggia struggled to answer a question about herself, McPherson recalled a picture he noticed when he took a quick peek at her Facebook minutes before they met.

“So you like to hike?” McPherson asked (though the picture turned out to be of Muggia rock climbing). He encouraged Muggia to add “interests” to her resume to help in actual interviews, while also reminding her to be aware that employers will undoubtedly troll through social media sites to learn more about a prospective job candidate.

“She didn’t have anything incriminating in the part I could see,” he said. “But students should know somebody could be looking at their Facebook and suddenly weeds them out, and you have no idea why.”

While seniors dominated the mock interview event, younger students also want to be well prepared for the job search.

“Practicing interviews is a good idea,” said Elizabeth Almonte ’17, a double major in French and neuroscience New York City. “These mock interviews are a good place to start. They help you develop confidence and get in shape for the real process.”