Program Helps Pontiac Students Prepare for Job Interviews
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Dec. 7, 2014)
As AuJanae Love sat across the table from a woman in a suit and glasses with a stack of files, she squirmed a bit and stumbled on her words.
“I’m so nervous,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. It was the closest thing to a job interview that the senior at Pontiac High School had ever experienced. And her demeanor was like many of the young people’s who had little to no experience with the business world. The woman across the table, a local business owner, was there to give her guidance.
“It’s okay to be nervous,” she said. “That’s why we’re here, so you can learn what to do and not be nervous when you go to a real interview.”
Love and over 240 other students took part in The Marked For Success Initiative, a program by the Ascend Foundation specifically designed to prepare Pontiac students for the real life experience of looking for work. Ascend President Kaino Phillips and his team of volunteers came into the schools last year and did mock interviews with the 11th graders, giving them their first exposure to the process. Then they returned last week to do a series of workshops called “Strictly Business” for the students, who are now seniors. Then they spent two days doing a second round of mock interviews to give the young men and women even more exposure and a chance to improve.
“Our children come out of school not having a clue on how to position themselves to even get a job or even to position themselves for an internship. They don’t know anything about how to conduct themselves in an interview, structure and build a resume as well as appropriate business etiquette,” Phillips said. “We need our young people to be competitive, go out there and get those jobs.” Phillips said the District had contacted him through the Ascend Foundation to come in do a program that would help them be more prepared for the real-life challenges of getting a job.
The volunteers were business and community leaders who played the role of the hiring manager for whatever position the students decided to go after.
The interviews made a difference.
To Carmena Simpson, the experience taught the value of using a story as an example when asked about things like skills, experience or problem-solving. Instead of just saying “I handle challenges well,” Simpson was able to talk about a specific challenge at her current job.
“I work at Burger King and last night we were short staffed. We only had three people and I was the only one up front, so I was running drive through and the counter. I had to not get frustrated and just keep working with everyone to get the orders out. We could have gotten mad but instead we did the best we could,” she said.
Simpson used her sample interview to practice for a job at Footlocker. She’d previously worked another shoe store called Journey, where she learned a “four to the floor” approach to sales. “When we would go to the back we’d bring out the shoes the customer wanted, plus three other pairs. One would be close to what they liked and two would be completely different. That way we could get a feel for their tastes,” she said.
Working two jobs and going to high school had been a big challenge for Simpson, so she let the shoe job go because the pay was less, but moving forward she hopes to find work that suits her passion for fashion. She also hopes to move on to nursing or journalism. In those fields too, being able to give specific examples of success will leave a much bigger impact in an interview than stumbling over generalities.
For Antonio Williams coming up with a personal example for wanting to join the Air Force was easy. “I want to travel and fly. I feel like I will experience more in the Air Force. I’ve had family members in the Army, but I want to be the first in my family to join and be a pilot.”
Phillips grilled Williams, asking him questions that a real life Air Force recruiter might ask. “Do you know how to set goals son?” Phillips asked.
Williams responded that he was part of ROTC at the school. “One goal we have is to get 175 kids out to the Holiday Extravaganza Parade on Saturday. So to meet that goal I passed out papers and I write about it on the boards in my classes. I ask for volunteers and get their phone numbers to follow up.”
The interviews also helped give students a taste of potential rejection or at least objections. “When the interview shows doubt, speak up with confidence and follow up with a questions. Ask what further qualifications they are looking for, or if there may be training available,” Philips said. “Ask that question with all the confidence in the world.”
Regina Campbell was the woman who interviewed Love and multiple other students over the two-day period. In addition to helping hone their skills, Campbell answered questions about herself and her successes in the business and nonprofit world. Campbell is a particularly rare role model. Not only is she a woman running a construction company, she has also made philanthropy an essential part of her work, creating a nonprofit to go along with her business. She focuses on getting people out of group homes and helping create accessible environments for people in their own homes so they can enjoy independence. This also helps save taxpayer resources because it is less expensive to provide supplementary support to those who are physically challenged than to fund living in a group home or care facility.
Being part of mentoring events such as the Marked for Success Initiative is another way of giving back. Love asked Campbell many good questions about her business, including what types of people she looks for when she hires someone.
“My philosophy is this, you need a profit but you also have to have some humanity,” Campbell said. “We want someone who adds value, who is a serving leader. We want people to work together and always be helping and teaching each other.” She said her company and nonprofit also have components of mentoring youth, so being patient and able teach is important. “We really want to reach our youth and show them the sky is the limit.”
Love had been unsure of what she wanted to do, but had selected babysitting since she already has experience taking care of children in her family and the neighborhood. Like many young people she was soft-spoken and shy. But once she started asking Campbell questions, the young lady opened up with curiosity. “I was really nervous, but I think the interview helped,” she said after the experience. “It gives me something to think about, to figure out what I really want to do. I know I’m going to do something that helps kids.”
To learn more about Pontiac Schools go to http://www.pontiac.k12.mi.us.
For more on the Ascend Foundation go to http://theascendfoundation.org/.
Program Helps Pontiac Students Prepare for Job Interviews