Weekly column by Loretta Redd
How cool would it have been at age 16 or 17, for you to go on your first job interview armed with a typed resume, certificates of achievement, and skill training?
I don’t recall having any of those advantages back in 1966, when I stepped into a women’s clothing store in Atlanta, Georgia to apply for a sales clerk position. I did get the job, but more likely because of my parents friendship with the store owner, than my non-existent sales skills.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve joined a group of volunteers to assist with ‘mock interviews’ with local high school Junior and Senior students. This training is run by the Partners In Education program, through the Santa Barbara County Office of Education with Lucille Ramirez, Development Specialist, in charge of organizing and scheduling.
This isn’t skill training for just ‘advanced placement’ students. It is available at all Santa Barbara County high schools, whether AP classes or alternative campuses. But this and other programs are limited because of the number of volunteers.
Teachers and career counselors have worked with the students on an amazing array of skills that will help enhance their chances of being hired. Maintaining good eye contact, and presenting with a firm handshake open the ‘mock’ interview. The kids are instructed in proper attire; no piercings, outsized jewelry, heavy cologne, low cut blouses, butt-hugging britches, or untucked shirttails. Most of the young men wore ties, and the young ladies were ‘dressed for success.’ In a couple of classes, their portfolios included magazine cut-out examples of appropriate and inappropriate interview attire.
Yes, these are high school students, and believe me, they stand out from their peers…even for this one fifteen to thirty minute moment! Only once did I have to advise a student that his artificial diamond stud earrings probably wouldn’t assist him in his interview with the SB Fire Department.
Contained in most of their portfolios are various worksheets on finances: how to budget, starting a savings account, caution about credit cards. If our leaders in government and industry had been taught this type of practical financial information, we may not have gone into a recession!
And their resumes are outstanding. Not only do they create a professional document free of spelling errors, they have learned to translate their skills and obligations into real experience. From organization (balancing school work, athletics, social clubs and such,) to time management (homework and project completion,) to responsibility for others (i.e., babysitting,) the students have been coached to speak comfortably about themselves and their lives.
There’s a format that the interviewers follow, asking questions that touch not only on strengths, but on weaknesses and areas for improvement as well.
“Tell me about a challenging time in your school or personal life, and how did you handle it?”
“What is something you would change about your community or school to make it better?”
“What experience has prepared you for this position and why do you believe you could do it well?”
These are not ‘no-brainer’ interviews…in fact, they’re as tough as most that I’ve been on. What tickles me is that many of the kids apologize for being nervous. I assure them , even us ‘grownups’ are plenty nervous in an interview…and if they aren’t nervous, they probably aren’t serious enough about the job. Once they settle in, they begin to share an array of skills and experiences that are generally impressive.
One real difference in today’s world, is the advice given about cleaning up their Facebook page. “Your generation has done away with privacy,” one interviewer pointed out during a group question and answer session. “And the internet is the first place I’m going to check. So make sure your friends haven’t posted less than glowing comments that would indicate bad behavior, like ‘Man, you were so wasted last night’ ”
As more teens get comfortable with posting as a way of just chatting or recording experience, it is getting harder to scrub that sort of tell-tale information from ‘personal’ pages. There is a cottage industry now of internet content managers, such as reputation.com, dedicated to making sure your internet image is presentable (whether accurate or not!)
Every student I interviewed showed strength and determination. Some were more outgoing than others; some girls especially, may have undervalued their potential; a few were a little naive about their preferred occupation or entry level requirements– but every single one was probably better prepared than you or I, when we first walked into a store or shop to fill out an application and discuss being employed.
I applaud the program, the counselors and teachers- and especially the students. If you would like to get involved in either mock interviews, or speaking on your employment specialty and seed the future generations of your industry, check out the website, then email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 964-4710 ext 4401.
Partners in Education also sponsors the ‘Computers for Families’ program, paid job training, and internships for 60 select students to receive a month or two of paid experience.
If you can’t fit career information or mock interviews into your schedule, consider attending the January 31 Annual Business and Education Partnerships breakfast. These are our future employees and workforce- wouldn’t you like to help ensure they are well trained and better prepared for their first job than we were?