Starting Out Right
Speed interviews offer fast track to real-world experience
By Isaac Stone Simonelli
Group interview
Starting Out Right
Speed interviews offer fast track to real-world experience
By Isaac Stone Simonelli

hen it comes to landing prestigious internships during college, there are typically more students vying for spots than positions available. But that situation was turned on its head during a speed interviewing event in March. The event was a collaboration between the Construction Leadership Council and the Education, Training and Workforce Development Committee, a committee of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska, or AGC. All students seeking the high-paying, professional-skill-building opportunities with members of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska were hired for the summer.

Even University of Alaska Anchorage Construction Management student Eli Mortensen—a freshman—landed a position.

“A lot of contractors are looking for workers, and I thought even if I don’t get a job, I might as well go and meet those people and kind of build those relationships,” Mortensen says.

The decision to attend ended up being a good one. Cruz Construction scooped him up for a summer internship working in remote Alaska.

“The majority of the summer, I’ll be out working on the Newtok Airport relocation project,” Mortensen explains. The project is part of a massive effort to relocate the entire village of Newtok to Mertarvik due to coastal erosion.

Jeff Miller, vice-president of operations for Cruz Construction, met Mortensen in person at the event. It was the first time Miller had personally attended the speed interviews and admitted that it was a great use of his time.

“It’s really nice to grab a person when they’re at a younger age just to see if they like it or don’t like it,” Miller says. “We want to indoctrinate you into what we do so you can decide if the shoe fits, or we can decide whether we want to give you the shoe.”

The real advantage of the internships—and jobs—offered through the event is that it gives students on-job experience. That’s exactly the sort of experience that employers are looking for when they’re hiring people out of the UAA Construction Management program.

“For college-educated students to be able to say that they have real-world experiences and an internship with a company … that makes them ten times more hireable once they graduate,” says Aaron Bartel, a project manager at BC Excavating. “That’s probably one of the single biggest things that college graduates encounter after graduation is they have no experience.”

Bartel explains that his primary objective for participating in the event is to provide students the opportunity to get experience that will give them a significant advantage in the marketplace once they graduate. He points out that even by showing up, students are showing the kind of initiative and interest that makes them an attractive candidate.

“The only problem I had is that they all got hired and I didn’t get a chance to hire one,” Bartel says, noting that his business schedule forced him to leave immediately after the event and by the time he reached out to candidates other contractors had already scooped them up.

AGC has been hosting the networking event, similar to a job fair, for construction management students at UAA for four years. The rapid-paced, five-minute talks between interviewers and interviewees offer a unique opportunity for students to get face-time with a number of the biggest contractor firms operating in the 49th state.

Originally slated for February this year, the event was postponed due to bad weather and rescheduled for late April. The event was forced to go remote in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was slated to return this year as a hybrid model, giving students and contractors a chance to connect remotely if they weren’t able to make it in person. But all eight students attending accepted a position before there was a need to open up the online opportunities.

Contractors and UAA CM students pose for a group photo at the Construction Leadership Council and Education, Training and Workforce Development Committee's speed-interviewing event in March.
Contractors and UAA CM students pose for a group photo at the Construction Leadership Council and Education, Training and Workforce Development Committee’s speed-interviewing event in March.
“The idea was, if there were any students leftover that didn’t get a job, we would get a chance to do the virtual interviews,” Bartel says. “And there were no students that didn’t get jobs, so there was no need for it.”

Ruby Oatman, the training and workforce development coordinator at AGC, explains that the lack of students was a bit of an anomaly. In previous years there have been upward of twenty students in attendance. Remote learning and other COVID-related changes are thought to be the root cause of the problem. Nonetheless, Oatman says AGC is looking at ways to encourage more students to join next year.

Contractors and the AGC board behind the event are all hopeful that the word will get out next year about the incredible opportunities to be paid to learn the trade over the summer. While such internships aren’t designed to be easy, they are created with the idea of helping students better understand what they are specifically interested in the field and how much they like the work.

“Trial by fire is the Alaskan way,” Miller says. “Your goal [with the internships] is just to expose them to as much as you possibly can.”

Isaac Stone Simonelli is a freelance writer who has spent the last five years focusing on Alaska industry. Photos courtesy of Ruby Oatman/Associated General Contractors of Alaska.