They dressed to impress, offered firm handshakes and winning smiles, and walked away a bit wiser about how to dazzle prospective employers.
On March 7, high school students from Wauseon, Swanton, Pettisville, Delta, and Fayette gathered at the 4th Annual Fulton County Career Exploration Day, held at Crossroads Evangelical Church in Wauseon. Resumes in hand, they sat down with representatives from 40 area employers, who led them through the sometimes daunting process of a job interview.
Hosted each year by the Fulton County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC), the mock interview event offers students with little life experience a hands-on venue for learning to sell their skills and abilities. If they do well, there’s the possibility of actually landing a summer or full-time position.
“This is an opportunity for students to learn some interviewing skills, hopefully develop some resume writing skills as well,” FCEDC Executive Director Matt Gilroy said. “It’s also an opportunity for the employers to talk to people they may want to hire.”
If an employer likes a candidate they may suggest an actual interview, Gilroy said. He estimates about a half dozen students were hired by companies over the past year as a direct result of attending Career Exploration Day.
“The number one reason we do this is to give the students the opportunity to learn how to interview and how to network, how to shake a person’s hand, and some of those soft skills that employers (say) some of the young people were lacking,” Gilroy said.
The absence of a university in Fulton County can be detrimental to employers, he said. Area graduates move away for specific college educations they can’t receive locally. He cited two local students wanting careers in anesthesiology and pediatric dentistry, respectively.
“We send them away to go to college, so we have to build the relationship now between the employer and the high school student so…those students will gravitate back to Fulton County,” Gilroy said.
Keith Leatherman, Wauseon High School principal, said the mock interviews are a good opportunity for students to face possible employers. “It just gives them the experience, gets them out of their comfort zone a little bit, and gives them some real-life exposure to what the interview process looks like,” he said.
Participating students are schooled on resumes and necessary soft skills. The students can choose interview sessions with the attending businesses that most interest them.
“The ultimate goal is to provide the students with feedback on what they can do to best prepare themselves,” Leatherman said. “Not all kids are going to leave and go to a four-year college. So it gives them exposure to a wide range of careers.”
Fayette High School guidance counselor Janna Ballmer brought 20 students for the mock interviews. They were coached on writing resumes, maintaining eye contact, and offering solid handshakes.
“We did a lot of prep,” Ballmer said. “We tell them, ‘Breathe, sit up straight, relax, and use it as a learning experience.’ And, when it’s the real thing, to be prepared and ready to go out into the workforce.”
Each year Fayette students have attended, some have gotten offers for second interviews or jobs, she said. “They’re so mature, and they just seem like young people ready to go out into the world.”
Elizabeth Spiess, a human resources representative from Fulton County Health Center, had interviewed five students and was impressed with all of them. She marked some as good candidates.
“It seems like they come prepared, they’ve been professionally dressed, and they ask good questions,” she said. “The experience is good (for them). You’re on the spot, and you have to have confidence and talk about your abilities.”
Conducting mock interviews was a first for Sandy McFarland, a Metroparks Toledo employee services assistant. She particularly noted a student named Justin.
“He was very well-informed, very easy to talk to, knew what to ask, and had the right body language. He was just a really good candidate,” she said.
She advised students to show their enthusiasm. “Let people know you’re excited about working and coming to work,” she said. “Most jobs you’re going to be doing for quite awhile, so make sure that you’re going to enjoy what you’re doing.”
Swanton High School senior Samantha Trumball works for Shoe Carnival in Holland, Ohio. She said she remained calm and comfortable for that interview.
Interested in health care and physical therapy, Samantha hoped the mock interviews will help her find a career. “This is an opportunity for us to learn,” she said.
Clayton Pheils, a Fayette High School student, takes the Senior Seminar course which teaches life skills. He’s never had a job interview, and looked forward to the practice “to get ready for the real world when I’m done.”
Gilroy said people who trivialize what the younger generation has to offer are wrong.
“Every year, I get more and more impressed with the level of maturity that the students bring, their preparedness,” he said. “These young people, many of them work really hard, do a lot of extracurricular activities, maintain good grades, and really just need an opportunity to shine, and we hope that this is it.”
He advises the students to prepare for post-graduate life by training themselves to reach outside their comfort zones at least once each day.
“Do something you find very challenging. Press yourself, and learn something new,” Gilroy said. “The students who really take that to heart will hopefully benefit from it.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.