How the Career Resource Center prepares students to shine in interviews
By Matthew Biddle
Think back to your first professional job interview. How did you feel walking in?
If you’re like Krissy Westmiller, you were probably nervous about standing out under pressure.
“I grew up as a very shy person, so even the idea of interviewing was intimidating for me,” says Westmiller, a School of Management undergraduate honors student. “I was insecure about my résumé and my ability to interview.”
Thanks to the Career Resource Center’s Practice Interview Program, however, Westmiller was able to practice her interview skills, identify areas of improvement and build her confidence. She even took second place in the program’s capstone experience, the GEICO Interview Challenge, which simulates an interview for the company’s Management Development Program and awards prizes for the top-performing students.
Then, a few weeks later, Westmiller nailed a series of real interviews—and secured a competitive internship with GEICO.
“The Practice Interview Program allowed me to blossom and find the confidence I needed to be successful,” Westmiller says. “As cheesy as it might sound, the program truly changed my life for the better. It opened the door to many new opportunities, and I feel much better about my future.”
Sponsored by GEICO (see sidebar), the Practice Interview Program is a key component of the CRC’s two-part “Career Connections” course sequence, a requirement for all School of Management undergrads that covers every step in the career development process. Students first learn how to make the most of development opportunities at UB and then discover how to showcase their experiences during their career search—from researching companies and customizing their application, to mastering interview techniques and learning how to convey their personal brand and value to recruiters.
“Prior to the program, my approach to interviews was almost like how I might prepare for an exam,” says Sydney Merritt, an accounting senior who won the GEICO Interview Challenge in fall 2020. “I thought the interviewer was looking for a right or wrong answer rather than just looking to understand more of who I am.”
Through the program, Merritt came to see interviews as conversations—a way for executives to get to know her beyond her résumé.
“My greatest takeaways were to be confident in my abilities and take my time to give thorough responses,” she says. “My practice interviewer encouraged me to put my nerves aside and use a storytelling approach to behavioral questions to better connect with the interviewer.”
Youssef Allam, who won the GEICO Interview Challenge this fall, came into the program with extensive interview experience yet still learned valuable techniques, like how to effectively respond to questions using the STAR (situation, task, action, result) method.
“The course helped me become more aware of how my experiences could become good interview moments,” says Allam, a senior who serves as a business development analyst at Key Private Bank while finishing his degree. “I got my first job at 13 and have been working ever since. But even for students who don’t have a lot of work experience, the course helps you see how your classes and life experiences can fill your résumé.”
To help run the program, the CRC engages a small army of student volunteers who complete more than 800 interviews per year as the interviewers. In addition, all sophomores practice completing pre-recorded virtual interviews, which are often used as first-round screens in corporate recruitment.
“This program has a dramatic impact on our students’ career preparation, and that’s really a testament to the hard work of our student volunteers and our recruitment coordinator, Kristina Martin,” says Michael Paolini, senior associate director in the Career Resource Center. “And, since coming on board as our partner, GEICO has taken the program to a new level. Now, it’s not just us helping students improve—it’s the people who hire them offering feedback and supporting their development, too.”
As an added benefit, student volunteers see things from the other side of the table and gain insights they can use in their own interviews. Last year, Shania Chen, BS ’21, performed more than 15 practice interviews a week as the program’s student assistant, picking up tips from her peers on questions to ask or ways to wrap up the interview.
“Practice really makes perfect,” says Chen, now a pharmaceutical sales representative with Eli Lilly & Co. in New York. “Some students would have interviews coming up and ask to do more practice to prepare themselves. It was great to see them grow within a couple weeks—and then they’d come back and tell me they got the job.”
Corporate recruiters notice all that practice, too. Lauren Harris, assistant director for U.S.-East campus recruiting at EY, says School of Management students often demonstrate a confidence in their abilities that sets them apart from their peers.
“Candidates who have gone through the program demonstrate active listening and are not deterred by tougher questions,” Harris says. “UB’s commitment to helping students build these skills is best in class and certainly gives students from the School of Management an edge over candidates from universities that don’t offer this type of program.”