Tips for Great Team Interviews

Interviewing is one of the most valuable life skills that students can develop during their time as VEX competitors. Most adults will eventually have to convince someone else that they are knowledgeable about something; often it’s during a job interview. Being talented and comfortable with public speaking can help, but the actual skill of interviewing is improved through practice. The VEX team interview is based on easily-understood rubrics and provides a great opportunity for students to practice and develop these skills.

The team interview gives participants a chance to explain their design process, challenges, and game strategies—it is the one time at an event where competitors get to showcase all of their hard work throughout the season and demonstrate their student centeredness.

For beginning teams, it’s fun to tell the judges about the robot and answer a few questions. As teams develop interviewing skills, they begin to focus on rubrics and ensuring that the entire team has something to say. The most advanced teams have empathy for the judging process, and can anticipate how volunteer judges will grade the conversation. The very best VEX competitors will blow the judges away with their passion and skills.

So, how do you become better at interviewing? This article will share some tips for all three levels of development.

Basic Interviewing

VEX judging interviews happen in the team pits. The reason for this is simple, especially for younger competitors: it provides a “home field” feel to the teams. Judges come to you in your team’s workspace at an event, and stay for about 10 minutes. If the Judges show up at an inconvenient time—like just before a match or while you’re struggling to repair a broken robot—don’t feel bad about asking them to come back later.

The most important things to remember during an interview are:

  • Be sure to let your team’s personalities shine through. The judges are interested in your story, your struggles, and your process. Being interesting (and interested) is more important than telling judges how perfect you are.
  • The engineering design process matters, and is a big part of the VEX competitions. If you have a good robot, that’s great! How you decided what to build, and which other ideas you considered, is even more important to the judges.
  • Give everyone on your team a chance to shine during the interview. Judges understand that there are many different communication styles, and the judging interview isn’t just about polished speaking. Each member of the team should get a chance to show off their passion for robotics in one way or another.
  • Be aware of time. There are 8 rubric points to cover in about 10 minutes. Showing what you know is the goal, but don’t put the judges in a spot where they give your team low marks because “they talked so much about their lift that they didn’t even mention coding.”

Skilled Interviewing

Once you know all of the interviewing basics, what’s next? All of the judging materials, judge training, and scoring rubrics are public. As a team that is trying to develop your interviewing skills, are you familiar with the rubric? Have you looked at the judge training materials? As a strong team, you should know how to demonstrate expert level in each of the 8 interview rubric categories.

How do you get better at interviewing? The same way drivers work on match strategies: through practice. One way to think about a group interview is that the person who is talking is holding the conversational “ball.” As a great team, you should pass the ball smoothly between team members to make sure everyone is involved. You should know the areas where each of your teammates are strong, and pass the ball to them when the conversation moves toward their strengths. If one team member holds the ball for most of the interview, even if they’re a great speaker, you’ll lose.

Things you can do to move from basic to skilled interviews:

  • Know the rubric, and what it takes to hit expert level for every criteria
  • Share the conversational “ball” smoothly among the team members
  • Understand the time constraints of the interview, and practice keeping the interview on track to match the rubric
  • Use practice time to work on judging interviews, and use the rubric to rate yourselves and have others rate you
  • Work on strengthening, demonstrating, and communicating your team’s student centered process in all areas of the competition

Advanced Interviewing

The teams with the strongest interviews have worked on their skills over several seasons. Being excellent in all areas of the competition takes work. Becoming comfortable talking to strangers about things you care about is a lifelong skill, and no matter what career path you choose this part of the competition will help you. It is impossible to give a complete guide to help a skilled team get to that next level, but some ideas include empathy for the judges, technical decisions about the interview, and answering questions in a way that lets your passion and personality shine through.

As you get comfortable with judging, you’ll realize that some of the volunteer judges at your events are new to robotics and have never interviewed anyone. Great teams can take the common question “Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?” and use it to steer the conversation toward rubric criteria that weren’t already discussed. The less experienced the judging team, the more your own time management skills and understanding of the rubric matter. The judges are going to walk away from your interview with maybe 5 minutes to talk about your team and to try to fill in the rubric. Have you made it clear that you deserve a top score in each category?

Should you consider a powerpoint or other presentation? You shouldn’t. The team interview should be a conversation between a set of judges and the members of a team. Trying to force a rehearsed presentation will hide your team’s personality. A presentation can also seem like your team is trying to take over the interview, and most judges will dislike that there is no back and forth conversation. As a really skilled team, a good balance is to have all of the elements of a presentation in mind and use those elements as answers to the judges’ questions.

Have you ever seen a professional presenter? Someone who talks effortlessly, while seeming spontaneous? It is possible they are so gifted, this came easily. It is more likely that they have practiced enough that they make it seem effortless. Let’s say you and your teammates come up with an interview plan. You each write out and work on your bits. The first few times you go through this, you will struggle to remember what you want to say—you’ll probably seem distracted and a bit wooden. As you practice interviewing, it will become more natural. The best speakers on your team might even be able to add spontaneous remarks while not losing the flow. As you develop the skill, you’ll realize that the “natural” speakers you admire might actually be relying on hard work rather than “talent.”