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McDaniel students gain confidence on Interview Day

Interview Day was launched 11 years ago as a way for students to gain practice in applying interviewing skills with real world employers, and has been held each October since. (Jon Kelvey and Max Simpson / Carroll County Times)

On Thursday afternoon, McDaniel College senior Makayla Comeau, of Taneytown, was standing outside Lewis Recitation Hall and getting her head in the game for an interview with Carroll Hospital. The double major in accounting and business administration hopes to one day own her own tax accounting business, but she first needs to get experience in the business world.

That's where the annual McDaniel Interview Day, which gives students an opportunity to "speed interview" with more than a dozen firms, comes in. Comeau had already done one interview, and was looking forward to three more in the interest of practice and testing the post-graduate employment waters.

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"We are here to gain interview experience and resume feedback and maybe potentially an internship," she said. "I feel good. I am from Carroll County so I feel like people in Carroll County are pretty nice."

Interview Day was launched 11 years ago as a way for students to gain practice in applying interviewing skills with real world employers, and has been held each October since, according to Kerry Duvall, assistant professor of accounting and the chief organizer of the event at McDaniel.

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"Interviewing is kind of a skill that you learn by doing, rather than being told," Duvall said. "Until you go through and do it, it's hard to pick up those skills."

That each interview is only 20 minutes long teaches students both how to pitch themselves to employers in a succinct manner, and provides more practice in a single day than most job applicants could achieve through normal job hunting, she said. The repetition builds confidence and eases nerves.

"Once they get through the first couple [of interviews], everybody raves about the experience," Duvall said.

The interview has really grown over the years, according to Duvall: More than 50 sophomores, juniors and seniors participated Thursday afternoon, interviewing with representatives from 23 firms, including Mariner Finance, Gross Mendelsohn, The Motley Fool and T. Rowe Price. As the event has grown and attracted more and larger companies, the opportunities have grown also, with some students finding real employment opportunities post-graduation.

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"The focus is still practicing, but there are also jobs and internships that come out of this day, which is evidenced by how many alums come back to do the interviewing," Duvall said. "They are continuing the tradition."

One of those alums is Mike Bucci, a 2015 McDaniel graduate who now works at RSM, a public accounting firm in Frederick. Bucci first began working with RSM as an intern after participating in Interview Day his junior year and said he believes it provides an incredible value to the students.

"One of the hardest parts of finding a job, at least I thought, is just getting in the door," he said. "You get in the door and get that experience in talking to potential employers."

It's a lot less nerve wracking being on the other side of the interview table as a returning alumni, Bucci said, but he's also had the opportunity to learn even more about what makes for a great interview, having not played both roles. For one thing, he said, applicants need to do their research.

"You can really tell when people come in prepared. You can also tell if they are relaxed and you can also tell how passionate they are, if they really care," Bucci said. "Definitely do your research and show your passion when you get in there — It makes a huge difference."

While not yet an alum, in fact, still only a McDaniel junior, Will Koester has also had the opportunity to benefit from the Interview Day experience, and from both sides of the interview table.

"Last year as a sophomore, which is actually pretty rare, I was fortunate enough to get offered an internship for the tax season in the spring with Gross Mendelsohn," he said. "This year, instead of interviewing with other companies, since I will be there again for the following spring, they asked me to help interview my peers."

That's been interesting, Koester said, notably in that he has learned a lot from other interviewees with good technique. He's even picked up some better answers to those pesky, "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" questions.

"I have also picked up on some things you shouldn't do," he said. "The way people act and sit during the interview is actually very apparent when you are on the other side, whereas when you are doing the interview you have no idea because you are so focused on answering the questions."

And learning about how you present yourself in an interview is, at its core, what Interview Day is all about, according to Koester, who called it "undoubtedly valuable."

"To be able to interview with real companies, for real positions and know that if you don't get it there are tons more out there — It helps you build a lot of confidence," he said.

It worked for Comeau. After her interviews were done, she said she felt they had gone well and that she had learned a lot, even from her mistakes.

"I was thrown off by this one question. It was, 'name a mistake that you've made recently and what you did to go about fixing it,'" she said. "I wasn't really expecting that one so I wish I had been expecting it more and had planned for it a little bit better."

But if she could distill what she learned during Interview Day into a simple piece of advice for job applicants everywhere, Comeau said, it would be to relax and keep things in perspective.

"When you're interviewing, just smile and relax," she said. "Know that you are not just being interviewed, you are also interviewing them to make sure its a company you think you would fit in well with."

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