MBA students Zoom toward interview success

by Jennifer Johnson,

  • Assistant Director of Career Management Jonathan Scrimenti
    Assistant Director of Career Management Jonathan Scrimenti helped organize and run a series of career-related Zoom sessions for students.

Virtual job interviews aren’t new. But for soon-to-be graduates, the pressure to ace it is higher than ever. 

Facing an uncertain job market, they’re stepping into the same arena as millions of other job seekers at a time when in-person interviews are mostly forbidden. 

Since early March, Willamette University MBA students have been practicing how to present their best self to employers and iron out the “ums” through mock interviews, feedback sessions and career strategy lunches via Zoom workshops.

Anticipating a season of virtual interviewing, career management staff have helped students engage future employers through technology and storytelling, said Assistant Dean and Director of Career Management Beth Ursin. Students were reminded that little details can help make — or break — an interview.  

“Even something as simple as remembering to make eye contact in the camera or thinking about being strategic with their background really helps them prepare,” she said. 

Alumni, employers support students

The workshops addressed student needs across the business school for both jobs and internships. 

For the mock interviews, small groups split off into several “breakout rooms” to field authentic questions from alumni or local employers like Kelly Carisle, executive director of the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation, then get feedback. The volunteers were very receptive to participating in the workshop, said Ursin. 

“We had several people reach out and say they recognize it’s a hard time for students and asked if they could help out in some way,” she said. 

Students also tackled one of the most common — and most commonly fumbled — interview questions using Interviewstream technology that records their presentation for study and feedback. When asked “Tell me about yourself,” the idea for students is to avoid the typical chronological response and tell a story instead, such as describing a problem and recalling what they learned from it, said Assistant Director of Career Management Jonathan Scrimenti

“We want them to get in the habit of telling their story in a way that’s new and genuine, not like a sales pitch,” he said. 

Networking is still everything

In lunch sessions, students learned how to define their brand, update their LinkedIn bio to reflect their professional experience and build and sustain connections. 

Even in a temporarily virtual world, networking is still crucial for MBA students as half of the population’s new employment comes through alumni or meeting with employers, said Scrimenti. 

Michael Montague ’20, MBA’21 has been interviewed four times for internships so far. The mock interviews boosted his confidence and the experience overall was incredibly valuable — it would be for any graduate, he said. 

“In every interview, I’ve been asked, ‘Tell me about yourself,’ and I’ve practiced it so many times I have it down,” he said. “They prepared us for questions we know are coming and how to think on our feet really well.” 

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