Why do them? There are many ways to help students develop interview skills. They can participate in presentations, discussions, critiques and tutorials. All of these facilitate the development of transferable skills that students can use in interview. Being able to talk about their work, experiments and ideas is possibly the most useful skill a student can develop.
Interviews create their own particular kind of experience, students won’t know the person they are talking to, so they need to be able to discuss their attitude and personality as well as the work, asking questions and sounding committed to being creative at the same time. One of the only ways to give them a taste of that kind of experience is to provide them with a mock interview.
The Case Study
I recently observed a lecturer helping students to prepare for interview. There was a class of about 10 students. In order to avoid disruption, the lecturer gave students different sets of objectives for those that were having mock interviews and those that needed to complete portfolio tasks.
The mock interview was implemented in a very innovative way. One student was asked to be on the interview panel with the lecturer whilst another student was being interviewed. It was set up very professionally and there were appropriate introductions as rôle play. While it might seem a little awkward to pretend not to know the student, it did help to increase the level of seriousness. It also made the learners think about how the interview might start and what they would do with their portfolio. If a student is in a real interview situation, simply knowing which way the portoflio opens and how to best present it can avoid all kinds of nervousness.
The lecturer had a list of interview questions they shared with the student on the interview panel. They supported the student interviewer by starting off the questions and only steering the discussion and interview at critical points. Most of the questions came from the student, but the lecturer made sure there were also some questions that were more difficult to answer or that provoked higher levels of reflection and evaluation.
The discussion covered all the points that an interview would normally such as the student’s artwork, experience and career intentions. It also gave the student an opportunity to ask questions and the lecturer had to rôle play very well.
At the end, the interviewee was asked to take 5 minutes to evaluate their performance on their own. During this time the lecturer evaluated the interview performance with the student interviewer in a separate discussion. This then gave them a very rich learning experience. The directed questioning during this time was very sophisticated and really helped develop very high level evaluative skills in the student that would be very difficult to develop in another way. By looking at the performance of another student, the student interviewers were able to compare and contrast their own method and learn from best practice.
Once this discussion was complete the interviewee returned for a review. There was a full and frank discussion, which the lecturer directed and steered in order to make sure the interviewee took away the most critical points from the experience. The feedback was balanced between positive areas and opportunities for development. The lecturer engaged the interviewer student to help the interviewee find practical solutions and didn’t just tell them what they needed to do. As such, both students had to find creative solutions and think very quickly about how to develop complex abilities.
A very exciting aspect of this lesson was to see how, through a structured format, the lecturer was able to steer the students through a learning experience without giving them answers or solutions. The students were provided with a safe framework within which to be honest, to listen and to really help each other. Every opportunity for participation of the learner was taken and as such the learning was maximised.
Mock Interviews methods
There are potentially as many variations on mock interviews as there are lecturers. Here is a discussion about some effective structures:
Whole team interview:
This is a really effective method of providing the same kind of pressure as there would be in a real interview. Having a large panel will provide different perspectives on feedback for the student. Another benefit is that it could be used as a live assessment tool with immediate standardisation taking place. However, it can be very difficult to pull a team together for such a long exercise, especially if it is a large group.
The idea is that the whole class take it in turns to interview one person in a controlled environment. Lecturers can provide prompts to the group through a handout. A real benefit is that students then get to see a wide range of portfolios and repeat the experience of an interview many times. One of the major downsides to this structure is the seriousness the class gives to it, any small level of distraction from student observers can really upset the student being interviewed. However, it can be successful for more confident learners and those in higher levels of programme. Another issue is the amount of time it takes away from productive study time. This method could be used in conjunction with another method. For example, a confident student could be interviewed by the whole group and then the rest of the students could be interviewed using a different method.
In this method, each student is interviewed by the lecturer and someone they don’t know. Having an unknown person on the panel gives the situation a heightened sense of formality and really adds to the experience. It can be difficult to find someone willing to contribute so much time. If it could be someone from industry that would be ideal, but there is also the opportunity to invite someone from the careers service to help out.
Inviting colleagues that don’t teach on the team to interview students in your class is a very simple way of providing some realism to the interview situation. An advantage of this kind of method is that the favour can be returned for their class. Simply having someone new in the room that the students haven’t had a long working relationship with means they can’t count on the rapport and security they are used to. This method can be combined with other methods, for example there is no reason a colleague couldn’t come in and interview using the whole class method.
Lecturer and Tutor interview panel:
If the roles of lecturer and tutor are separated out at your school or college then it might be really useful to team up on the interview panel. Students can then get input from both a personal and pastoral viewpoint and also from a lecturer’s perspective. Another benefit of this is that the tutor may not have seen much of their work or really have a clear awareness of their creative potential without actually seeing their work.
Higher levels interview lower levels:
If there are different levels of a similar course, such as Foundation Diploma being run alongside Level 3 Diploma or A Levels, then there is potential for higher level students to interview lower level students. The more experienced students gain a range of skills and shouldn’t just treat it like time out of their normal study. Simply discussing the creative cycle and identifying creative solutions in others’ work is really valuable. The lower level students will benefit from the seriousness that comes from wanting their contemporaries to be impressed with their work.
One way that saves a lot of time is to facilitate peer interviews. Students are put into groups or pairs and use a list of questions to interview each other. If the students are aware of the importance of the task then they will take it reasonably seriously, but there is a risk that they don’t make the most out of the situation without strong input from the lecturer. One of the main disadvantages of this is the lack of feedback from the lecturer the students get, but the process can serve as good practice for the mock interview.
Careers service interview:
Many schools and colleges will have a careers team whose role it is to support students in progression into professional practice. They will often provide the service of mock interviews, which means that the course team do not have to lose precious contact time. One of the disadvantages is that the careers team usually support all kinds of progression and may not have in depth awareness of the interview process within the arts. While they may not have been through art school, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to give useful feedback to the student. Interviews don’t have to just be about artwork, they can also be about personality and transferable skills and if students are able to recognise and discuss these then they will benefit. You may be able to provide the careers service with a list of questions you want them to ask the students in interview.
Self-assessment can be difficult as people are often not aware of their own behavioural traits, such as body language or vocabulary, that they use all the time. One idea is to video the interview so that students can watch themselves presenting. If they were higher level or more confident learners, there is no reason why this video couldn’t be watched by peers who could also feedback.