Interview clinic helps teens look ahead

At Atholton, most students see exercise as a worthwhile experience

March 25, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

A group of students waiting their turn to be interviewed at Atholton High School joked with one another about what they would say if they were asked the "vegetable question."

For two days last week, the school's juniors took part in the Junior Interview Clinic, practicing job-interview skills with parent volunteers as part of a springtime ritual that has long been a graduation requirement throughout the county.

By the second day of the clinics, Wednesday afternoon, word had spread that one interviewer asked a student this question: "If you were a vegetable, what kind of vegetable would you be, and why?"

Maybe the rumor had started as a joke, but maybe it was true, the students reasoned. Why not be prepared, just in case?

Manar Khaskia, 16, was torn between saying she was a squash or going for the salad, which was actually many vegetables and therefore more diverse, she said. Another student announced he would be iceberg lettuce. But Richa Shah, 16, decided she would just "go with the flow" if the vegetable question came up.

For the most part, though, students waiting their turns for the mock job interviews seemed to view the requirement as a worthwhile learning experience. Many had never been on a job interview, they said.

"It's only going to help us in the future," Richa said.

"It's good," said Greg Perkins, 16, who was wearing a button-down shirt, tie and khaki pants. "It gets you some experience."

Carolyn Tong, 17, agreed. "I've never gone through any kind of interview," she said, "so I think it will be a good experience."

Though students would not receive a grade for their interview skills, the parents volunteers filled out scorecards, evaluating them on such criteria as "handshake - firm or limp?" and "realistic and honest about himself/herself."

Todd Kriner, head of the school's five-member guidance department, said about 25 parents volunteered during the course of two days to conduct mock interviews with a total of 350 students. "It's an important skill," he noted. Before the interview, students prepared resumes, and they were given basic advice about how to conduct themselves.

For example, said Kriner, they were told to avoid excessive use of "um" and "you know" when talking, to answer questions honestly and to dress neatly. Kriner said sometimes students have a hard time talking about themselves, particularly with adults.

Parent volunteers were given private offices or classrooms for the interviews, which typically lasted about 15 minutes. They also had score sheets and a list of sample interview questions, such as "Have you held any part-time jobs?" and "What do you see yourself doing five years from now?" The vegetable question wasn't on the list.

As he waited for his interview, Elton Harrison, 16, said he was not sure what he was going to say. "It will come to me when I talk to them," he said. But he expected the experience to be useful. "It gets you ready for if you have to take a real interview," he said.

Denise Bruskin-Gambrell, a social worker who lives in Columbia and has a ninth-grader at Atholton, was one of the parent volunteers. She said she was impressed with most of the students she interviewed.

"These are some really neat kids," she said. She noted that most had extensive rosters of extracurricular activities, and they had given considerable thought to their career paths. "They were very articulate," she said.

Leaving the guidance office after his interview, Jenkyn Kittrell, 17, said it had gone well.

"She basically just asked me to talk about myself a little bit," he said of his interviewer. "It was fine. Just hanging out with some adult, chatting about your life."

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