Medical assistant students practice to perfect job interview skills

Jul 29, 2020Courtney Morris

What are your strengths and weaknesses? How do you handle upset patients? What makes you the best candidate for this position?

Sitting across from their interviewers, medical assistant students have ditched scrubs and medical terminology for slacks, blouses, and employment speak. It looks like an actual job interview. But it's the next best thing: mock interview day.

These San Jacinto College Medical Assistant Program students at the North Campus are honing their job interview skills with help from the College's career services office.

Connecting the dots

Career services walks students through the entire job application process from portfolio preparation to in-person presentation. After career services presentations in class, medical assistant instructors build job preparation assignments into the coursework. By semester end, students have assembled portfolios with resumes, cover letters, and references to use for interviews.

Each fall and spring, medical assistant students test their skills by participating in a mock interview day. Students begin by receiving a mock company and position they are applying for. After filling out an application, they sit with an interviewer — career services staff or health science faculty — to discuss skills and experience.

Kelly Folkerts, medical assistant instructor, created mock interview day because some students have never experienced job interviews. While faculty members cover verbal presentation skills, they also address students' digital footprint and work wardrobe.

"We discuss various cases where social media posts have affected future or current employment," Folkerts said. "Also, professional dress is not only important for interviewing but also important when students start to advance into administrative positions."

Cultivating confidence

Mock interview day is not medical assistant student Charity Vidock's first rodeo. Vidock has worked almost two decades at assisted living facilities. She currently holds a full-time supervisor job while attending the College full time.

"Even though I've had experience with interviews before, this mock interview event was very good," she said. "I still get the nerves. I have to be put in a situation to acclimate myself."

Sporting a crisp Oxford shirt under a gray leopard-print sweater, Vidock exudes experience, but she still learned from the event. Her biggest takeaway? Confidence speaks for itself.

"I learned I don't have to list my accomplishments for the interviewer," Vidock said. "My interviewer told me, 'Your interview will outshine your resume.'"

Stephanie Vazquez chose the accessible, flexible medical assistant program as a gateway to the medical field. Less seasoned in the job application process, she learned the importance of preparation.

"Before the event, I put together my portfolio, which included my resume, cover letter, education, employment, references, and certificates," Vazquez said. "I surprised myself that I did a good job. I was prepared and relaxed."

Interviewer Jennifer Cerda, South Campus career services specialist, gives feedback after each interview, then fills out a scoring rubric. Students will receive these results in class next week so they can examine their strengths and weaknesses.

"We're trying to embed into them to work on these skills ahead of time, to get them to prepare long- and short-term goals," Cerda said. "These are skills they can use whether they're interviewing for a four-year university or for a career."

Finding the perfect match

Career services offers resume development, mock interviews, career assessment, counseling, and job search help. Throughout the year, staff also holds industry-specific career fairs, panel discussions, and workshops at each campus.

Donisha Moss, North Campus career services coordinator, says these events polish students for any interview, especially if they have no work experience.

"They may have the skills and credentials necessary to be successful in the workplace but may not be as successful in communicating that to employers. We're here to help," Moss said.

Her advice to job applicants?

"Take a deep breath. Practice, practice, practice!" she said. "Come to career services and schedule a mock interview. Make sure you do your research about the company, and don't forget to make sure the company is a good fit for you."

Interview Prep 101

Career services specialist Jennifer Cerda offers these pre-interview tips:
  1. Set up a mock interview with career services to release jitters and practice.

  2. Research the company. Learn about its services and mission. Refer to these during your interview.

  3. Prepare questions to ask during the interview.

  4. Set your alarm and get plenty of sleep.

  5. Bring to the interview: (1) Paper and pen for notes and (2) application materials, resume, and job description for reference. Using a highlighter, mark things your resume and the position have in common.

  6. Tell self-doubt bye-bye. You got this!