Mock interviews go virtual

Stock photo so Zoom meeting

With more employers using Zoom to interview job candidates, Freeman’s Career Management Center reorganized Mock Interview Week to help students prepare for virtual job interviews.

Howard Bendell (BSM ’85) enjoyed taking phone calls from students as part of Tulane Connect, but as a vacation ownership resort advisor and consultant based in the Miami area, his schedule typically prevented him from participating in Freeman’s Mock Interview Day, the annual day on which alumni would visit Freeman to conduct practice job interviews with students.

When the pandemic unceremoniously shut down in-person mock interviews in 2020, Bendell was eager to sign up for a new version of the program, one that brings alumni and students together virtually.

Howard Bendell“Virtual meetings are fast becoming the standard in business today, so it’s increasingly important for students to develop virtual interview skills,” says Bendell. “I was thrilled to participate in a program like this.”

With more and more employers using video conferencing apps like Zoom to conduct screening interviews, virtual mock interviews have gone from a pandemic-necessitated substitute to a valuable simulation of the real-world.

“Employers were already looking at more virtual ways to recruit students, but the pandemic really accelerated things,” says Carla Coury, director of operations with the Freeman School’s Career Management Center. “They like recruiting virtually because it gives them better access. They can recruit students from smaller schools they might not have been able to get to in the past, and they can interview more students per day than they could on a typical campus visit.”

In November, the Freeman School hosted its third Virtual Mock Interview Week, which expanded the pre-pandemic program by using Zoom to connect students with alumni interviewers from across the country. The November event featured a record 419 students being interviewed by 141 alumni interviewers.

The Career Management Center has organized mock interviews for many years, but the program has been an official part of the required undergraduate Career Development and Management (CDMA) course since 2019. As part of CDMA and its graduate-level equivalent, Perspectives, all Freeman sophomores and first-year MBAs are required to sign up for a mock interview, a requirement that has become increasingly challenging due to the school’s surging enrollments.

“It was hard to find enough alumni to interview all the students,” says Coury. “They’d have to be able to take a day off work and spend it on campus, interviewing a different student every 30 minutes. It was difficult.”

When the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, the Career Management Center staff shifted to online programs and helped arrange as many Zoom interviews as they could, but the virtual mock interview program really took shape the following semester.

“The fall of 2020 is when we really transformed the event,” says Tori Lane, associate director of career education at the Freeman School. “We took the lessons we had learned in the spring and started to focus on what would make this a more valuable experience for students.”

One of the biggest benefits for students is a dramatically expanded pool of interviewers. Last year, the Career Management Center teamed up with Freeman’s Alumni Affairs Office to recruit interviewers. With alumni able to participate remotely, the number of interviewers has grown from about 40 per semester when the program was held on campus to an average of 136 over the last three semesters. The participating alumni are also more geographically diverse, hailing from every region of the U.S. Last semester, students interviewed with alumni located as far away as Paraguay, Singapore and Afghanistan.

“I wouldn’t say it’s any easier, but it’s more satisfying because both the students and the alumni have such a better experience,” says Lane. “It’s exhausting interviewing 10 people in a row every 30 minutes. That’s not as positive of an experience as getting to make a real connection with, for example, four students on your own time from the comfort of your own home and potentially have a bigger impact on their careers because of it.”

“We’re finding that alumni are very excited for the opportunity to engage face-to-face with students,” adds Coury. “Perhaps a Freeman alum helped them along the way or gave them some particularly good advice. They see this as a way to give back.”

Lucinda Clark (PHTM ’85) had previously hired students through the Tulane Remote Internship Program. When she found out about the virtual mock interview program, she was happy to volunteer to interview students.

“When you look at the future of the workforce, what Freeman has done to prepare students remotely has been outstanding,” says Clark, who produces films and runs an independent publishing company in Augusta, Georgia. “Even if the pandemic were to go away completely tomorrow, the virtual interviews should continue.”

While Coury doesn’t expect virtual interviews to completely replace inperson interviews, she says the Career Management Center plans on providing students with opportunities to practice their skills in both settings.

“We’re going to continue to offer a mix,” she says. “Depending on what happens with the pandemic, we’re going to be testing and trying things to find out what works and what doesn’t.”

For alumni, whether they’re interviewing students on campus or online, the incentive remains the same.

“You can never ignore the fact that tomorrow’s leaders are sitting right across from you,” says Bendell. “For me, that’s one of the greatest motivators. Sharing experiences and helping these leaders anticipate what to expect is one way to help make a difference in their future careers, and that’s enormously rewarding for everyone involved.”

Alumni interested in participating in the Virtual Mock Interview Program should email for more information.

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