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Tips to ace job interviews from AmeriCorps mentors

City Year AmeriCorps member wearing mask supporting students

Interview tips for City Year and beyond

Preparation can help make virtual interviews less stressful, so take this advice for putting your best foot forward from City Year AmeriCorps alum and Deloitte Senior Consultant Beth Alberty, a mentor to current corps members in Chicago, and New York-based Deloitte Senior Consultant Lindy Gould, a former AmeriCorps member at Teach for America.

The pair spoke with corps members during a City Year virtual career workshop last year led by Deloitte, the professional services organization and longtime supporter of City Year.  The pair say a successful job interview is about preparation and practice—so recruit your colleagues, families and friends for mock interviews—and remember that a huge network of AmeriCorps alums are willing to guide you on your career path! Their original tips have been lightly updated.

Perfect your elevator pitch

A great elevator pitch shows your strengths, highlights your values and goals, and helps someone remember you during virtual networking opportunities or job interviews. Avoid reciting your resume!

Beth Alberty provides a helpful roadmap to a succinct pitch: write a sentence about what you’re doing now; what you’ve done in the past; and where you want to go.  For example: I’m serving as a City Year AmeriCorps member in public schools, where I collaborate with partner teachers to help students succeed. Before City Year, I studied public health at The Ohio State University. I’d like to continue to explore the intersection of education and public health, and I think this program is an opportunity to make an impact in that area.

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In honor of January, national mentoring month, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership is holding the 11th national mentoring summit on Jan. 27-29; this year the event will be held virtually. The organization has developed resources for mentors to connect with their mentees virtually during the pandemic. Check them out!

A pitch should last 15 to 30 seconds for an informational interview and 60 to 90 seconds during a formal job interview, so you have additional time to discuss your background and include how you’d contribute to the organization where you’re applying, Alberty says. Elevator pitches also can help you ace pre-recorded interviews, common in the early rounds of a job application, when you log into a system and record yourself answering questions.

Behavioral interviews are common – be prepared!

Many businesses and graduate schools use behavioral interviews to assess your qualifications and gauge your responses to hypothetical scenarios. Interviewers want insight into how you’ll approach situations at work based on the approaches you’ve used in the past. They also want to know if you’re skilled at communication, decision-making, planning and organization, flexibility, leadership, time management and the ability to take initiative, Lindy Gould says.

Look back at your time at City Year, or in college and elsewhere, and choose experiences that show how you have leveraged those skills. “You’re going to get those five to seven stories down pat,” she says, and use them for all your interviews. Most stories can be used to highlight a number of different skills, so you can use the same one over and over in different job interviews to show an example of when you’re successful.

Develop interview stories

Try using a framework called STAR: situation, task, action, result to create a narrative.  The same STAR story can be used to answer questions about leadership skills, being a team player or creative problem solver, Gould says. Practice with a friend or fellow corps member so that you feel comfortable and confident in your real interview. Here’s an example from Gould that answers the question: Tell me about a time when you worked effectively on a team.

  • Situation: My team had to organize a school dance to engage our students. It was our first time working together as a team.
  • Task/Target: My role was to develop a project plan for the event.
  • Action: Along with another teammate, I used a backwards-planning model to stay organized, and we delegated work based on team member’s strengths.
  • Result: My team successfully coordinated the school’s first dance, which celebrated 100 students’ improved attendance that term. We also got local businesses to donate $500 worth of decorations, food and other necessities for it.

Informational interviews

While networking is important, informational interviews aren’t for asking for work. Instead, they’re a way to find out what skills can help you be successful in a particular field and give you a sense of whether that field is the right fit. Your chat with the person you’re networking with should feel conversational and productive, says Gould, who suggests starting by thanking your interviewee, and reiterating the length of the call and what you’ll be doing.

For example: I really appreciate you taking the time. I know we have about 15 minutes together. Why don’t we take a second to introduce ourselves? And then I have three questions for you about Deloitte. Does that sound good?

Try using your short elevator pitch to introduce yourself.  At the end of the call, thank them for their time and afterwards send a follow up thank you note.

Case interviews

Some organizations might conduct a case interview, where an interviewer walks you through a hypothetical business situation, for example, to assess your ability to think critically and strategically. There are lots of preparation tools online for case studies, including these tips from Deloitte.

“Don’t let case interviews scare you if you don’t have any experience with that,” Alberty says. Interview types can vary by the position you’re applying for—you might be asked to create a sample sales pitch for a marketing position or present a lesson plans for a graduate school interview. Take advantage of online tools including LinkedIn to prep for your interviews.

Before and during your virtual job interview

The same rules for any virtual work meeting hold true for a job interview—have good lighting and clear audio. Charge your laptop and earphones, turn off notifications and test your equipment, and ensure your background doesn’t distract the interviewer.

Take notes during the interview and ask for contact information so you can send follow up thank you notes to every interviewer. The note should include recap of what you’d bring to the organization and your interest in the post—and be short enough to fit on an iPhone screen.

An additional interview tip from City Year

Even if you don’t get the job you were shooting for, remember that a growth mindset can build your resilience. Every interview experience is valuable, even when, or especially when, you make a misstep or realize the position wasn’t right for you after all. All of these interviews help you move forward, increase your empathy and expand your self-awareness. Good luck!

Find out more about the benefits of joining City Year AmeriCorps:

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