The end of the firm handshake?

I was standing in front of a mirror in an ill-fitting suit, repeatedly sticking my hand out while practicing, ‘hello, my name’s Michael I’m very pleased to meet you’. Back then I was a rather unconfident young man, floppy hair and pimpled. I was about to participate in my first and only ‘mock-interview’, to be held in the shadows of Chester Cathedral at the Northgate Street offices of Barclays Bank. I can still feel the pangs of anxiety as I rang the bell and waited for a George Banks type figure to open the door. The finals words of advice from my mother ringing loud in my head, like one of the nearby Cathedral bells…’remember to shake their hand, shake it firmly’.

I think I was so concerned about carrying out her advice I squeezed the hand so hard that they reciprocated in kind, or possibly in anger such was the firmness of the grip! From a serious perspective mock interviews have been done in this way for years. I would say we now need to do more, go that extra step and evolve to reflect what the real world now needs.

Back in February Andrew ‘Bernie’ Bernard wrote a blog on the need to reshape the use and format of the CV. In the piece Bernie talks about participating in a virtual mock interview session and later goes on to speak about the deadly dull CVs that had been produced and shared. I think Bernie is largely on the money here, allowing students to make use of their skills as digital native is definitely the direction of travel we should be heading down. However, I would add that young people are asked to produce a CV that mirrors the environment or job that they are aiming for – this would require students to be multi-skilled in CV design.

This is the same philosophy or approach that Bernie participated in regarding virtual mock interviews. I remember setting up a blended approach to mock interviews with Barclays Bank. Year 12 students were provided with the opportunity to experience both a physical face-to-face interview but also offered a phone interview as well. The feedback from the employer on the traditional approach was very different than that of the new. Evaluations were significantly more positive with the traditional format, almost certainly because young people have more experience interacting with adults in this way. That is not to say that those interactions were perfect, they weren’t. However it was obvious that there was further distance to travel with upskilling young people on the untraditional approach.

With all the time and finance invested in getting Teams or Zoom introduced into schools in would seem that there is no better time to roll out these blended mock interviews wholescale. More and more employers are taking a untraditional approach to recruitment practices. With some geographical restrictions lifted through remote working, larger businesses are using virtual interviews in the first step in the interview process. It is essential that young people are provided with experience of how these interviews are conducted. Not only that but they taught how to set up a virtual interview environment at home. Understanding that having a stack of dirty washing up or clothes drying in the background isn’t the best impression to give. You might not present yourself as the most professional person in the world if you’ve got an inappropriate poster hanging in the background. Similarly having the correct lighting in place is also a valuable and important consideration.

There are applications that schools, colleges and universities can buy that allow young people to practice those all important first impression interactions. Applications like InterviewBot allow users to choose a relevant industry and then practice industry specific interview questions as they would expect in ‘real life’. This is conducted through their AI avatars and after the interviews users are then presented with detailed analytics on how they performed.

We need to ensure that those young people who for which the digital divide is one that is a lived experience, a divide almost impossible to bridge, they are not denied access to already hard to reach careers because economic and technological disadvantage. Support needs to be available to these young people either at school or through local social support channels.

Access to practice virtual interview settings is one element we can improve on. Another is providing young people the opportunities to practice and prepare for assessment centres. We know that some employers like to make use of these centres for psychometric/personality testing. The time and money it takes for an employer to recruit they need to make sure they’re recruiting the ‘right’ candidate. Will this person work well in a team? Are they motivated by reward? Perseverance? These are important questions that employers need answered, getting those answers before the interview stage might be essential. As such, providing young people with the chance to ‘game out’ an assessment centre might make a huge difference on how they perform in a real environment.

All this of course doesn’t mean that we throw the traditional way of doing things out the window. We need to educate our students by building a programme that allows young people to use deliberate practice to hone the skills needed to be successful no matter the interview format. What does this mean for the firm handshake? Well, maybe wi-fives are the next stage of interview evolution.

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