Preparing Work-Based Students for the Interview & Seeking the Value of LinkedIn

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A few weeks ago I met with my work-based learning students to address some of the concerns I shared in two recent posts about their current skill set in concern to communication and professionalism. You can find those original posts here and here. When we met as a class, I did not admonish them or use the time to berate them due to my concerns. I wanted, instead, to have them actively engage in the process of working on those communication and professionalism skills. To help in this endeavor, I enlisted the help of Taylor Rogers, an account executive for Randstad and a former mentee of mine when he was in high school. (Have I really been teaching that long already?!) Taylor, in kind, enlisted the help of friend of his, a financial guru and serial entrepreneur, Alexander Brown–who most recently launched the start-up app Draw My Hunt. 

With their help we generated 7 commonly (and a bit uncommonly) used interview questions that students then worked in small groups at various stations to unpack and determine how they would individually answer the questions and then collectively share them with their group. Some of the questions they had to grapple with were:

  • What are your biggest strengths? Also, what do you need to improve on as an individual? Be honest.
  • Why should I hire you?
  • Describe a decision you made that wasn’t popular and how you handled it.
  • Logic Question: You’re in a room with three light switches, each of which controls one of the three light bulbs int he next room. Your task is to determine which switch controls which bulb. All lights are initially off, and you can’t see into one room from the other. You may inspect the room only once. How can you determine which switch is connected to which light bulb?

20170918_130726That last one is a doozy, right? The logic question was a really important revelation for me. As a teacher who has been employed for nearly 11 years with limited reasons to be interviewed, I had not realized how common these questions have become, especially in the tech workplace. Students understandably struggled answering the logic question; although, we did have one student (a robotics and programming student) who solved it. (And no, I’m not telling you the answer.) Even besides the logic question, the other questions gave students pause as well. A few students pointed out as I we walked around that they had been asked that question in an interview before, while others were clearly concerned at how unprepared they were to answer some of them. The conversation that followed the activity was insightful, and students discussed how difficult it is to point out your own weaknesses or how difficult it is to think up an answer on the spot.

20170918_130749My distinguished guests worked to help the students unpack their concerns and provided a few pro tips on answering the questions both honestly and while putting your best foot forward.

The second half of our time together concentrated on the value of creating and maintaining a LinkedIn profile. I discovered about 4 students already had profiles, but most students did not know much about the networking site. Taylor and Alex presented them with a few different profiles and pointed out their strengths and weaknesses all while emphasizes that while a resume is still necessary, a LinkedIn profile is what can land you the interview. I spoke to this as well, relaying the recent story of needing to hire a long-term sub for a teacher headed out on maternity leave. When a resume came across my email, the candidate had their LinkedIn profile at the top, which I immediately clicked first. While I certainly perused the candidate’s resume, I spent more time on their profile to determine if I should interview them. Ultimately, I did interview them and offer them the position.

20170918_132418Once students were introduced to the value of a LinkedIn profile, they were offered the opportunity to create their own with our professional guests there to help. Taylor helped incentivize the creation of profiles by offering a Amazon gift cards to the top three profiles any of the students created. The contest is still on-going at the moment with a deadline of October 16.

Several students had to work that day, so they were allowed to leave after the initial LinkedIn discussion, but several students stayed behind to work on their initial profile. To date, I have about five officially submitted to me. I am interested to see how many complete a profile. While I hope they all do, some may simply not be ready to develop a well thought out profile, which is a big reason I did not make this task a grade. Making a profile just to make it does not really help a student worker. A student invested in the potential of the profile will really take advantage of the experience.

If anything, my students were exposed to tough interview questions and the importance of creating a professional presence online. I walked away from the workshop believing students had gained knowledge and flexed a few skills as well. One change I will absolutely make if I run my internship program at my school again next year is students will meet with me for workshops more often. I may even change that expectation for second semester. There is so much work still to be done. In the meantime, I need to mobilize my career and technical teachers (CTE) to start developing lessons that truly address employability skills. More on that challenge (and hopeful solution) soon.

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