The Right MIX for Social Skills Development in Middle School
By Todd Smith
“It gave me a real life experience”
“It was fun but nerve racking”
“It helped me to be more confident”
“I liked how we got the opportunity to come out of our comfort zone and do something different”
Eighth grade students from Buford Middle School describing their experience after completing a training and preparation program titled, The MIX (Mock Interview Experience). The MIX is a realistic, but brief, face-to-face interaction, where 8th graders practice job interviewing to learn to acquire professional social skills (such as verbal and non-verbal communication, listening, assertiveness, giving a proper introduction, appropriate dress, and punctuality) and engage in career interest exploration (Hirsch & Barton, 2017). It is one thing to explore the numerous websites about one’s career interest as a nurse, for example, but it is quite a different experience to be interviewed by two nurses who will provide students the in-person feedback about one’s potential in that field. The school spent up to four weeks preparing for the event. The preparation was conducted daily in the career exploration class for 45 minutes. Listed are a few of the main strategies involved (Sleigh & Ritzer, 2004).
Career Interest Survey: The use of the South Carolina Occupational Information System (SCOIS) was the starting point for the MIX. SCOIS is an on-line system providing career information and career development resources to South Carolina school districts (https://portal.sccis.intocareers.org). The interest survey identifies the students’ top career clusters and from this information, the student chooses a career to focus their research. Once this has been completed, a list of identified careers is used to help schedule interviewers for the mock simulation.
“Tell Me About Yourself”: The next step involves writing a carefully constructed response to this often posed opening interview question. Students acquire confidence by sharing with a partner first and then presenting their response to the class.
Critique Session: Students watch a few carefully chosen job interview videos (from YouTube, etc.) and critique the good and the bad points (paying careful attention to verbal and non-verbal communication).
Complete Sample Employment Application and Create A Resume: The completion of an application is a practice exercise to foster familiarity with questions and information requested at a typical job interview and it also serves as a handwriting improvement endeavor. Students in our district have chromebooks and a google account, so creating a resume gives them a template for future use.
Speed Interviews: This activity is set up like a speed dating exercise. Students rotate to a different partner after a designated time to ask and answer different questions. During this exercise, appropriate interview behaviors such as handshakes and eye contact are also emphasized and practiced.
Job Interview Workshop: This is an opportunity for students to hear from someone other than their instructor or counselor the nuts and bolts of job interview. Career counselors from local colleges, workforce center recruiters, and yes, even a professional headhunter participated. The presenters discussed everything about interviewing such as being on time (early) and appearance (appropriate dress).
Planning the Event
The represented careers and career clusters are identified, and then professionals representing each area are invited to participate on a pre-set date. A master schedule which includes times and locations is created and students are matched with interviewers.
Interview Structure and Evaluation
Students were required to dress appropriately for the job interview, arrive at their designated area five minutes prior to their scheduled interview time (they are given appointment cards the day before), and each interview is slotted for 15-20 minutes. This may not seem like a long time for an adult, but for an 8th grader with anxiety, nerves and the discomfort of speaking to strangers--it seemed like an eternity! The students were evaluated based on professional and appropriate appearance; verbal and non-verbal communication, confidence, and the interviewers were required to provide at least one positive comment and may give some constructive feedback. Students complete a google survey about the experience.
All in all, there was an amazing response from members of the community. For example, nurses, retired doctors, veterinarians, dental hygienists, IT specialists, graphic designers, business owners, law enforcement, HR directors, vice presidents and branch managers of financial institutions, cable TV network executives, real estate agents, construction company representatives, lawyers, and many more participated in the MIX. Ninety-nine percent of the students surveyed noted participating in The MIX was a beneficial activity and one community partner participant, Melissa Prince, Vice President of Corporate Communications for INSP Network stated:
“This creates a “real world” situation . . . While this can be intimidating for an 8th grader, it provides the opportunity to rise to a challenge and articulate their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, the interview process has the potential to help the student identify areas of interest they want (or do not want) to pursue. On the community leader side, it allows us to encourage students, speak into their lives (constructively) and meet some of the future leaders of Lancaster County. Very rewarding.”
Recommendations for Your Event
Securing Participants: Parents, staff spouses and family members are great resources for securing interviewers. Additionally, the counselor reached out to the local chamber of commerce for help and received a tremendous response. Another great resource has been the school district office staff and feeder schools’ administration.
Securing Feedback. If at all possible, counselors should endeavor to gather feedback from both students and community partners. This information is helpful to make improvements to the event in the future. Also, the information gleaned will validate the events’ worth.
Marketing Strategy: For the purpose of marketability, naming the event gave the school something to invite others to. We named ours “The MIX” (Mock Interview eXperience). Yes, this may not be that original but it is a name. In other words, something to market to the community. A graphic designer friend of the school helped developed the logo for free which was used for banners and promo materials. Now the whole school and community knows what ‘The MIX” is and when it is happening.
Hirsch, and Barton J. (2017, January 31). Wanted: Soft Skills for Today's Jobs. Retrieved from
Sleigh, M. J., & Ritzer, D. R. (2004, September). Beyond the Classroom: Developing Students' Professional Social Skills. Retrieved from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/beyond-the-classroomdeveloping-students-professional-social-skills
Strauss, V. (2017, December 20). Analysis: The surprising thing Google learned about its employees - and what it means for today's students. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/12/20/the-surprising-thing-google-learned-about-its-employees-and-what-it-means-for-todays-students/?utm_term=.d1647fc605a5
Todd Smith is a school counselor at Buford Middle School in Lancaster, South Carolina. Todd has over a 15 years of experience helping students become college and career ready. He previously served as Student Services Program Coordinator with Educational Talent Search program at Trident Technical College in Charleston, South Carolina. Todd has his Masters of Education degree in counselor education with a specialization in secondary school counseling from The Citadel in Charleston, SC. He can be reached at email@example.com or 803-285-8473.