Students given a taste of the real world

More than 300 teenagers from Howard High School do practice job interviews

December 15, 2004|By Tawanda W. Johnson | Tawanda W. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If there is one piece of advice business professionals from billionaire Donald Trump to small-store owners tell applicants searching for employment, it is this: You must sell yourself.

That means your cover letter and resume must be in top shape, free of grammatical errors. It also means you must dress professionally and sit up straight during an interview and be prepared to discuss why you are the best person for the job.

In the Howard County school system, juniors must go through an interview process as part of the World of Work state education requirement. Last week, more than 300 Howard High School students were interviewed individually for about 10 minutes each by community volunteers representing businesses and colleges.

"I learned how to make a good impression because you have to show them in such little time, as much as you can, about yourself," said Grace Lee, 16, about her interview. "I smiled and tried to crack a few jokes. I wanted to be accepted as a student. I told [the interviewer] I was [dependable] and helpful."

Kennard Blackwell, also 16, said, "I learned to be comfortable during your interview, to be yourself and not too tense. I said I was creative and determined."

The interviewers said they were impressed with the students and offered tips for improvement.

"They were a little nervous, particularly the boys. ... But on the whole, they came prepared and had some idea of what to expect," said Jane Schuchardt, a former Howard County public school teacher and school board member.

Buzz Koskovich, who works for TCOM, an electronics company in Columbia, said his suggestions to the students were: "Don't be afraid to sell yourself. Be honest and positive."

He added that the students "did an overall good job of selling themselves."

The guidance and English departments collaborated to ensure the students' success, with English teachers giving instructions on how to fill out an application and write a resume and cover letter. The guidance department helped by talking about how the documents and interviews can help secure a person's future, said David Glenn, guidance department chairman at Howard High.

"An interview is your chance to sell yourself," Glenn said. "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."

Sonya B. Sutter, a Howard guidance counselor, said that each student is observed for appropriate dress, maintaining good eye contact, being appreciative of the interviewer's time and asking the interviewer questions in complete sentences.

The students, she added, are rated as excellent, very good, good or poor.

"I never worry," Sutter said. "Our students always do well. We had 41 interviewers volunteer those two days. Every time I turned around, the interviewers were coming up to me and telling me how impressed they were with our students."

Sutter said the students do not take the process lightly. "The students take it very seriously," she said. "They get a little anxious and nervous. But, in the end, they do fine."

The students are given written feedback from the interviewers, Sutter added. The comments range from "excellent-looking resume" and "good questions of the interviewer" to "seems a little tense," and "expand your resume a little more with leadership skills."

"[For] the most part, I think students get it," Sutter said. "Some will still ask me, `Why do we have to do this?' Others think it's fun. But, hopefully, they all will appreciate this after they graduate."

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