Have you noticed that students searching for employment have tunnel vision? When they submit their portfolios or are being interviewed, they expect their educational and extracurricular accomplishments alone to be the central factor that will cinch them a job. Lack of a swift positive response leaves them surprised, annoyed and perplexed. They are clueless as to why they haven’t been hired or even asked to interview.
Bringing the “Audience” into the Process
Aside from spelling, grammatical and organizational issues in their writing, students of all ages seem to struggle in similar ways when it comes to interviewing and writing cover letters and resumes. There is a blind spot hindering their employment search: leaving the audience completely out of the process.
Well known developmental psychologists William Perry and Jean Piaget both claim there is a developmental stage at which adolescents may have a cognitive shift, making them aware of the point of view of another person. If this is the case, wouldn’t you think students at the college level would reflect this in their letters, resumes and interviews? Based on over two decades of experience, however, I have found that awareness of the “other” is not even on the student job-seeker’s radar screen.
While the traditional methods of helping students with their employment searches are all effective to a degree, I have discovered that simple role-playing is the missing link. It is almost always successful and it produces rapid, repeatable results as well. When students are placed in the position of the “reader” or “listener” and see that their judgments will determine their workplace success, they “get it.” When they become aware of the “other side” – judging the candidates – suddenly it is obvious where their own efforts fall short.
Setting the “Stage”
The role play is set up in such a way that the student is placed in the position of the interviewer. The student is informed that he/she will be responsible for the ultimate hiring decisions. Their ability to set up the recruitment process, pull in the best-fit candidates, and set up interviews for the top five candidates will influence their own ability to get promoted. To the extent that they can successfully handle multiple employee searches at one time with a proven track record with company managers, they will impact on their own status in the firm. With some further elaboration regarding the scene, the students are then placed in the “driver’s seat” and told that they are to ask questions which will enable them to make discerning choices before sending the finalists to the managers prior to concluding the simulation. Once they understand the significance of their skill at interviewing, they begin to view the process from that side. This has the immediate result of having them think about their own candidacy from the standpoint of the recruiter. When undertaking this process, it is significantly enhanced if the student has the opportunity to videotape the interview. Showing the tape without giving any feedback is a good first step. This way, you begin by challenging the student to self-correct their responses. If this doesn’t work, you can model the process for them. Once they’ve had the opportunity to critique the simulated interview, you can determine how much awareness they have of the process. If their self-examination doesn’t lead to the desired results, you can enhance the process with some professional or peer feedback.
Being put in the position of making hiring decisions, students discover that their fitness as an interviewer and a decision maker is on the line. They are being expected to expedite a search for a particular job that yields the perfect fit for their organization. When students role-play at being “in charge” this way, it dawns on them that they must view candidates with considerably more discernment because it is in their best interests in a very direct way.
Changing Roles Changes Perception
This role reversal quickly empowers students and enables them to view their own status more objectively. They understand instantly how they might fall short of what an employer is expecting and they gain a more realistic picture of where they stand in the applicant pool. Until they see this with their own eyes, students have trouble realizing what is necessary to strengthen their presentation to a potential employer. Once this shift in perception has taken place, students soak up all the professional career advice offered!
Numerous students have reported to me that immediately after participating in role-playing and the instructional sessions that follow, they experience concrete positive results. With the mystery taken out of the process and the “code” cracked, they feel more confident. Because they are now relying on their own instincts, greater ownership of the employment search process is claimed and with it a sense of independence.
Most students do not make this leap in understanding on their own, whether it is for developmental reasons, as Perry and Piaget say, or the student’s own temperament or level of social / emotional intelligence. In any case, coaching and prompting the student can render the desired results – for any situation. Role-playing is one of the most valuable ways Career Centers can help floundering students get the competitive edge. Teaching students these critical thinking and marketing skills consistently yields positive results in a short period of time – no special props, prep or acting experience required.
Linda Domenitz, M.A., M.S., is director of Career Development & Placement at CapitalCommunity Collegein Hartford, CT.She has been the sole careerservices practitioner in this urban multicultural community college for the last 23 years. With 4,000 students and a large ESL population, she has needed to develop strategies and processes to help students meet their goals in the shortest amount of time. She may be reached at (860) 906-5108 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.