Becoming an IT Professional – MNAiC Honorees Prepare for their First Career Experience

Amazing. That’s my response to working with many of this year’s high school female honorees for the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing (MNAiC) award. I’ve been involved in this program for 9 years and each year the young women are typically more… more skilled, more experienced, more poised, more articulate... more amazing. This year’s honorees have faced challenges like no group before them, and still managed to raise the bar. 

On two recent Saturdays, Veritas Technologies and many other MNAiC partners banded together to offer this year's version of the annual Professional Aspirations Workshops.  The workshops supported honorees to design effective and appealing resumes, build LinkedIn profiles, and interview for success. The event culminated with each student experiencing four mock interviews with real IT professionals. This was our fifth year holding the workshop, and of course our first that had to be virtual.

 

How do you virtually teach a good handshake? Oh wait... we may not do those anymore! As we brainstormed how to go virtual one of our volunteers thought of breaking the 1-day workshop into 2 days with an interview preparation week in-between. Why? To allow the young women to put into practice what they had learned.  It was a brilliant idea which yielded equally brilliant results!

 

The first Saturday we took them through the dos and don’ts of resumes, LinkedIn, interviewing tips, and we addressed audience questions.  We also had them practice some of the key interviewing skills during the session – specifically how to give the interviewer what they are looking for when they ask a behavior-based question. Yes, we also practiced the equivalent to the handshake, with calm and confident greetings at the start of a virtual interview.  At the end of the first session, we reminded them the steps to preparing for an interview – researching the company; analyzing the job description; making notes on past experiences and projects in preparation for behavior-based questions; and preparing questions to ask the interviewer about the company or position. We then guided them to use the forthcoming week to prepare for mock interview success, as well as refine their resumes and LinkedIn profiles. 

 

Meanwhile we gathered nearly 30 volunteers so each honoree would have a chance to do four mock interviews during the session.  The volunteers were devoted to their own preparation which resulted in a high-quality experience.  The volunteers were from 15 companies/organizations: Target, SPS Commerce, Code42, Prime Therapeutics, ServiceNow, ThreeBridge Solutions, CodeSavvy, Stoneridge Software, Abbott, Microsoft, Open Systems Technology, University of Minnesota, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, Genesis10 and my company, Veritas Technologies LLC.

 

The second Saturday we reconvened in the main virtual room, providing students with key reminders from the first workshop, while highlighting the lighting-round interview process they would be experiencing.  We then had them center themselves with deep breathing and focus.   Then it was on! 

 

Each interview was 15 minutes long with either one or two professionals in a breakout room. The last 2 minutes of the time was used to give feedback on how they performed in the interview. Then – bang! – back out to the main room for a 1-minute breather and re-centering… then onto their next interview with a different professional for 15 minutes and - bang! - back out. This continued until 4 mock interviews were completed for each honoree. Whew!  

 

It was assuredly a stressful hour and yet the young women did a fantastic job according to the interviewers. The young women talked about how they were able to incorporate feedback from previous interviews into the remaining ones. That’s learning and adapting on the fly - exactly what the workplace expects of its employees!

 

Then to cool things down we talked for a few minutes about professional etiquette and why it’s important. Why? It’s about respect and empathy for others, which also means it’s an evolving practice as we become more diverse and expand our awareness of the needs and gifts of others. 

 

Next came the best part of the whole workshop. We asked for one brave young woman to volunteer to be interviewed by two professionals in front of the entire main virtual room. We had a somewhat reluctant volunteer, and what do you think happened? She knocked it out of the park! Her peers gave her encouraging feedback and some suggestions for improvement, and then professionals provided feedback as well. 

 

We asked for one more volunteer and quickly had two. They also went exceptionally well, and the young women learned that every interview will be a unique experience.  Behaving authentically was impressed throughout the workshops.  Being authentic is an easy way to demonstrate confidence because no one else can authentically be you, only you can. Having a chance to watch their peers deliver three very different equally effective interviews, brought this point home. One honoree commented that she didn’t realize she could be herself during the interview. She and others thought that they needed to be some stereotyped version of a professional to do well in an interview.  So, this was a very freeing and confidence-building realization.

 

I’d like to offer my thanks to all the volunteer event designers and interviewers for enriching this rewarding endeavor.  Special thanks to Katie Bedney from Prime Therapeutics, Angi Lackens from ServiceNow, Katie Hendricksen from Target Corporation, Joann Neve from Veritas Technologies, and Russell Fraenkel from the Minnesota State IT Center of Excellence.  Most importantly, I wish to express my gratitude to the honorees for their engaged energy and authentic participation throughout the workshops.  It’s so fun to watch these talented, poised, passionate, amazing young women in action. I can’t wait to see what they do next!

 By: Julie Urban


Interested in the workshop content? 

Recordings can be viewed by anyone wishing to experience interview success. 

Workshop 1: Resume Tips https://youtu.be/OYyNtWLcRgg  

Workshop 2: Linked In Profile Tips https://youtu.be/rdS0bSWEpUI

Workshop 3: Interviewing Tips https://youtu.be/JDIsC380Twg

About SPARCS/MNAiC:  Sustaining Passion, Ambition and Resolve for Career Success (SPARCS) is a year-round program designed to inspire female high school student interest in technology careers.  The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Program (MNAiC) is a talent development program that supports and guides female students to pursue an IT education and career path.

 

About Veritas Technologies LLC:  Veritas enables organizations to harness the power of their information, with solutions designed to serve the world’s largest and most complex heterogeneous environments. Get industry-leading solutions that cover all platforms with backup and recovery, business continuity, software-defined storage, and information governance

 

About Minnesota State IT Center of Excellence: The ITCoE exists to encourage Minnesota youth and adults to pursue careers in I.T. and computer science. Through collaboration with the tech industry, our partners, and educators; we seek out, develop, and provide low or no-cost resources that teach relevant, high demand, and applicable I.T. workforce skills.