Mock Interviews With Corporate Executives Part Of A Day's Work At Hartford's High School Inc.
High School Juniors Practicing For Summer Internship Interviews
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
February 28, 2013
HARTFORD —— The shiny jewelry in Amer Ahmetovic's left earlobe might be cool with classmates at High School Inc., the insurance and finance academy for city teenagers.
But during Thursday's mock interview with a Webster Bank executive? Well, it's a lesson learned.
Ahmetovic sat slightly slouched on one of the school's fifth-floor sofas. The 18-year-old — among more than 50 juniors to interview with executives this week to prepare them for the real thing in April and May — agreed that the earring wouldn't work in a corporate setting.
"You should take off your book bag," said Helen Fazzina, Webster's vice president of commercial real estate. Ahmetovic slipped off his backpack, and when asked about experience, talked briefly of the time he worked as a cashier at a mom-and-pop grocery store.
"You need to make it sound as interesting as possible," Fazzina advised. "Customer service... Say you're willing to go above and beyond to get the job done."
The 386-student High School Inc., founded in 2009, is a Hartford public school with 18 corporate partners. As an affiliate of the National Academy Foundation, a network of career-themed high schools, administrators say students aren't just learning the basics of finance, they are groomed for a possible future with major corporations that are seeking to diversify their ranks.
Students take classes in a downtown office building that now holds lockers. They have eaten meals with CEOs such as Travelers' Jay Fishman and Liam McGee of The Hartford, said Brandon Frame, the school's director of business partnerships and development.
During spring break, Frame is taking 25 students to Paris and to Travelers' London office. Travelers is the school's chief corporate sponsor.
"If you're going to tell students about global business... how will they really understand it if they don't see it?" Frame said.
Thursday's practice interviews seemed to catch a few juniors, including Ahmetovic, by surprise. Some forgot their resumes. Companies such as United Healthcare, Northwestern Mutual, Webster Bank, Prudential and Travelers plan to pick High School Inc. students for summer internships after formal interviews in the spring.
Executives told soft-speaking students to project their voices. When 16-year-old Fatmata Sesay was vague about her career goals — "I do know that I want to go to college," Sesay said — she was instructed, at the very least, to say that she likes working with people.
Denisha Walker answered all questions from Brian Picard, a Prudential vice president, with a calm confidence and perfect posture. Walker, 16, aspires to be an FBI agent with a law degree who does engineering in her spare time.
Interviewers used a High School Inc. point system that evaluated students on their resumes, "appearance and poise," how they present their skills, and delivery and language. ("Does interviewee avoid distracting mannerisms and phrases? ... Hair twirling, etc.")
Getting 11 points out of 20 means "DON'T CALL US, WE'LL CALL YOU...," according to the scoring sheet. Nineteen points, which was Walker's score, designates "YOU'RE HIRED!!!"
Ahmetovic admitted to being nervous for his interview.
"You're going to do another one," Frame told him.
"You're going to do two," Frame said. "Practice makes perfect."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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