Students Improve Skills in Mock Interview Workshop at UNC – Chapel Hill

Written by Allen Lum, Master’s Candidate, 2016, Department of City and Regional Planning, UNC – Chapel Hill

and Pete Sullivan, AICP, Senior Associate, Clarion Associates

Urban planning students at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill’s Department of City of Regional Planning recently participated in mock interviews to gain valuable practice for the ultimate goal: landing a planning job.

Planning students are no strangers to the job application process, but it can be trickier to practice – and receive targeted feedback on – a key career skill: the job interview. Like other professions, interviews are a crucial aspect of landing an urban planning internship or job, and it is important that students understand how best to successfully prepare for them. For this reason, the Alumni and Career Development Committee at the Department of City and Regional Planning (DCRP) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hosted a mock interview workshop on February 22, 2016, which took place in the Reading Room of the New East Building.

The Committee felt that students needed exposure to the job interview format, and a chance to practice their responses to commonly-asked questions. Practicing the art of interviewing can be helpful for planners at any career stage, but the mock interview event was particularly helpful for students with less prior exposure to a formal interview setting. By anticipating likely questions, one can better organize his or her thoughts in advance, and clearly explain why s/he is the best fit for the position. Without practice, it is easy to forget the skills and training one has gained during school and career – especially when faced with an intimidating hiring panel. Participants in the February 22 event found the practice very worthwhile, and that they now had a better strategy for preparing for future interviews.

This workshop was conducted in a small roundtable format where students were divided into groups based on which organization/firm/agency they wished to interview at. Each table was facilitated by a professional planner, who asked each of his or her assigned students a question that usually surfaces during real interview settings. As a result, the workshop involved a high level of role playing from both facilitators and students alike. Students received feedback about their interview techniques and approaches, and their ability to link prior professional experiences to the needs of the position. Facilitators also made sure to sprinkle in tips for trickier questions too, like “Please explain one of your weaknesses.”

The four facilitators are all planners from the Triangle region, with professional backgrounds in both the public and private sector, including:

  • Cindy Camacho, AICP, Senior Environmental Planner, AECOM
  • Eric Feld, Community Sustainability Planner II, Town of Chapel Hill
  • Pete Sullivan, AICP, Senior Associate, Clarion Associates
  • Bergen Watterson, Transportation Planner, Town of Carrboro

Following the workshop, students enthusiastically remarked on what they considered to be a very valuable learning experience. Some cited the small table format as an effective means to learn from others’ techniques and styles. One of the participants, Maureen “Mo” Devlin ’17, thought the group interviewing format “provided more points of comparison.” Although feedback was directed to one person, each student in the roundtable benefitted from hearing it; thus, students were able to adjust their approach accordingly. In addition, because some DCRP students are in the midst of making career transitions, Devlin spoke of how the event encouraged her to start talking about herself as a professional planner.

Another student, Ashton Rohmer ’17 said that she appreciated the advice she received from the workshop facilitators, and that one piece of advice that stood out in particular was that “interviewees should always be honest about their technical skills.” Students were also provided some constructive criticism about their techniques. A common area of improvement was that students needed to closely listen to each part of the question and to carefully respond to it.

At the conclusion of the workshop, students and facilitators continued the discussion informally, and exchanged various tips for job-seekers.  Professional networking is almost always a good time investment, but the February 22 DCRP event was particularly valuable because students gained practical insights on the final step toward launching a career: the interview.

Figure 1: Current students engage with local planners during an interview workshop.

Figure 1: Current students engage with local planners during an interview workshop.


Figure 2: Students hone their interviewing skills with help from local planners.

Figure 2: Students hone their interviewing skills with help from local planners.


All photos owned by Allen Lum. © 2016