Some 120 students and community members recently spent the day working on their mojo—but there wasn’t much voodoo or magic involved. Instead, the group participated in the third iteration of the Career Center’s Interview Mojo program, which is aimed at helping students increase their facility with and confidence in professional interviews.
“Hamilton students are already great communicators,” Mary McLean Evans ’82, executive director of the Career Center said, “but we feel very strongly that critical interviewing skills are essential for success. Good interviewing takes a lot of continual practice.”
Students were given ample opportunity to practice their interview skills by participating in mock interviews with two different “employers.”
The Career Center brought in a range of different people to interview students, including College faculty and staff and local Hamilton alumni, as well as prominent local businesspeople, including F.X. Matt of the Matt Brewing Company, as well as Bill Gaetano of Gaetano Construction.
Katie Cookingham Dugan ’92, a consulting counselor at the Career Center who organized the event, said that it was important to provide a diverse pool of interviewers.
“We built up a list of local community members, and then added lists of Hamilton alumni and community members,” she said. “Even folks who are faculty have interview experience—everyone [on the faculty] is a hiring manager, no matter what their title is,” Dugan explained. Many faculty members are also familiar with the interview process for graduate and Ph.D programs, making them a valuable resource for graduating students who will be continuing their education.
“Whether you’re applying for a Watson fellowship or a job, interviewing is an essential skill,” she added.
But Dugan acknowledged that practice is only one part of becoming an exceptional candidate in interviews, which is why students also attended a panel discussion moderated by Blair Jones, who works with the executive compensation consulting firm Semler Brossy. The panel was composed of Abby Taylor, Hamilton’s director of employer relations, as well as three alumni: Jeff Koehne ’84, executive director at the Syracuse law firm of Hiscock and Barkley, Marta Johnson ’13, who works with Jones at Semler Brossy, and Hannah Weisman ’13, another recent graduate who is now employed with Semler Brossy.
The panel discussed how to market a liberal arts education in a job interview. “You might take for granted that you’re a really good writer, for example,” Taylor said, “but not everybody has these skills,” so it’s important to mention them to potential employers. Koehne stressed that it’s important for candidates to convey that they have the “raw materials” that will make them a good fit for a position. “For the first six to nine months,” he said, “a candidate will essentially be learning [on the job], so fit is important.”
The two recent graduates, Johnson and Weisman, discussed the tricky issue of deciding what questions to ask a potential employer if prompted. Johnson advised students to ask about workplace culture and environment, while Weisman found value in asking employers where more information about the career field was available.
Koehne counseled students to remember small details as well, like eye contact, and concise answers. All four panel members repeatedly stressed the importance of preparing answers to potential questions beforehand. Speaking from her own experience, Weismann said that preparing answers “allowed me to present my best self” in the interview, rather than struggling to express herself.
Both Koehne and Jones closed by focusing on Hamilton’s motto, “know thyself.” Although first impressions are certainly important, “It’s not a test,” Jones said. Candidates should be genuine and express who they are the best they can. “Go in knowing that everyone is rooting for you—your interviewer wants you to do well.”