Three hours, two desks and one golden opportunity. These elements set the stage for SAP’s volunteer event at the KIPP Charter School in New York City this past Tuesday. About 15 SAP employees, headed by Corporate Social Responsibility Coordinator Erin LaBarge, met at Mercy College ready to engage high school students in mock job interviews.
The idea behind the event was simple: Guide a group of rising 10th graders participating in KIPP Through College’s career prep program through a rotation of mock interviews using a common template with questions ranging from the classic, yet daunting “Tell me about yourself” to the dreaded “What is your greatest weakness?” Each student then received personalized feedback from his or her interviewer, culminating in a group panel discussion where students and volunteers were able to ask questions and get to know one another.
Traditionally, interviews are a daunting task for the interviewee, making students with dreams of employment feel as if they are being interrogated. SAP’s volunteer event provided a chance for employees (who were interviewees not so long ago) to share their interviewing strategies and set the KIPP students at ease.
Brooke Connolly, director of Individual Giving and Marketing at KIPP, gave clear instructions before allowing us to disperse into our new roles as interviewers and potential mentors. Question template and sticky notes in hand, we used the 10 questions provided as a guide, but were also encouraged to create our own. The students revealed many different career aspirations, from aiming to be a top dancer to aspiring towards a corporate job in banking to dreaming of graphic design at an advertising firm. The volunteers all agreed that the group was very bright, hard-working and wonderfully unique — “all trying to envision a better future for themselves,” according to LaBarge, who has worked with the KIPP Program in the past.
During the panel discussion, each volunteer shared their experience, expertise and professional life lessons openly and honestly. The mood among the students transitioned from interview uncertainty to an eagerness to understand how we were each navigating our current career paths.
Hand after hand shot up with questions about interview coping techniques and real advice on figuring out how to choose a direction.
“How do you manage to stay focused in an interview?”
“Did you always know that this is what you wanted to do with your life?”
All of the volunteers provided answers that were frank, helpful and often funny. We had a lively time recounting horrible interview experiences, breakthroughs in understanding the importance of personal branding, and what really happens in a day in the life of an SAP employee.
Having joined the SAP community as a global marketing intern just six weeks ago, it was rewarding to connect with the students and an honor to receive professional enlightenment from my peers about a topic that everyone could relate to. Most importantly, I think the students found the experience especially meaningful because of the open and approachable manner in which it was executed. It was a day that both the students and volunteers are sure to remember.