Practicing to be a perfect employee

Mock interview sessions give South Carroll High students a chance to learn real-world skills from community professionals

March 25, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,[Sun Reporter]

Dressed in a black skirt and pinstriped jacket, Courtney Gladhill shook hands with Andrew York, an electrical engineering manager at Northrop Grumman.

Gladhill sat down and talked about how she wanted to be a nurse. Her brother was a hemophiliac, she said, and she sometimes helped her ailing grandmother.

"I like to help people," Gladhill said, waiting for York's response.

"You did a great job with your initial pitch," York said.

"Your introduction was great. It gave us a snapshot of how you perceive yourself and how that matches up with a career."

Gladhill, 16, was one of more than 200 juniors given a trial run at being the ideal job or college candidate during South Carroll High School's weeklong career-readiness interviews.

The mock sessions were the culmination of months of work updating resumes, writing cover letters and completing generic job applications.

The exercise was part of a countywide focus on career readiness, said Pat Riesner, the dropout prevention coordinator, who organized the event with academic facilitator Bonnie McElroy.

Students were also exposed to what they will experience once they graduate from high school. "We do an excellent job of preparing them academically, but we also want them to have survival skills," McElroy said.

"Part of the goal is to get a student to actually talk to somebody that they've never met, that's not a teacher or their mother telling them to make eye contact" or sit up straight, Riesner said.

"A total stranger saying those things seems to have an impact."

Such interviews could help students polish their performance and glean information from business professionals in a potential field of interest, said April L. Johnson, director of career services at McDaniel College.

"Nowadays a candidate's background and qualifications are not as influential in hiring decisions," Johnson said. Resumes can get you in the door, but "the interview is what sells you, closes the deal."

Gladhill said she found the experience - her first - helpful.

"I know what to expect when I actually go, and what I can work on," Gladhill said.

At South Carroll, Gladhill and her peers sat through interviews with managers in local businesses, retired professionals and even the school system's superintendent, Charles I. Ecker.

Most carried updated portfolios with resumes, transcripts and a self-vision statement tucked inside.

The interviewers were ready to offer advice to students.

"Do you have any questions for me?" Jim Mayola, an interviewer, asked Jacob Higgins. The 17-year-old's detailed plan for moving from high school to a four-year college had impressed Mayola.

"Um, no," Higgins said.

Mayola hesitated, a half-smile on his face. "Are you sure?"

Higgins said yes.

"When you do a job interview or an interview for school ... you've got to show interest, show me you really want this job," said Mayola, who works for the Social Services Department in Westminster.

Higgins could ask employers what they look for in an employee, Mayola said, or talk to school administrators about what makes a student successful.

York made a similar observation to Gladhill.

"This is a mutual agreement," he said. "We're trying to see whether we want you to join our club, and you're trying to see if you want to join our club."

Grant Dannelly, a retired U.S. Department of Defense employee, said he likes to remind students that mock interviews are learning experiences.

"This is where we make the mistakes," he said. "Make them here."

Jessica Gregory, 16, learned that lesson after a fairly smooth interview with Bob Anderson, a former manager for the Social Security Administration.

Anderson had complimented Gregory's "good sense of self," and praised her "wonderfully done" resume as he scanned her portfolio.

He went through an interview evaluation, checking off high marks for Gregory's handshake, smile and body language.

But then he paused for a moment, staring at the teen.

"You're chewing gum," Anderson said.

"I know," she said, smiling and covering her mouth. She had forgotten to throw it away before the interview, Gregory said, and had kept it stuck to the roof of her mouth instead.

"You cannot, you must not chew gum ... . It's the 11th commandment," Anderson said. "If you don't learn anything more from this, don't chew gum."

Anderson sent her off, wishing her all the best.

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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