How One Community Ensures Every High School Student Gets a Job Interview

Halifax Community College in Weldon, NC
Halifax Community College in Weldon, NC

A case of nerves before that first-ever job interview might cause some young people to break out in hives or make a beeline for the back door – or worse, perform poorly and lose out on a valuable job opportunity. But in North Carolina’s Roanoke Valley, local businesses have teamed up with schools to prepare high school students to perform well in a job interview – before they have an actual job at stake.

Since it started in 1996, the Interview Days program has provided job interview preparation to more than 13,000 high school seniors.

“Every student takes English their senior year, so incorporated in the English class is a segment on writing a resume and cover letter and filling out a job application. And every high school senior is required to do an interview,” says Duna Dickinson, manager of the Roanoke Valley Business Education Partnership.

Dickinson coordinates Interview Days and other initiatives of the Business Education Partnership – an alliance between the Roanoke Valley Chamber of Commerce, Halifax Community College, and the school systems of Halifax County, Northampton County, Roanoke Rapids and Weldon aimed at helping students make the connection between classroom learning and future career opportunities.

Local business professionals volunteer to come into the schools and conduct the mock interviews each semester.

“We encourage the business people to complete the interview the same way they would in their business environment,” Dickinson explains. “We provide a list of questions, but they don’t have to follow those; they’re just a helpful prompt. The interviewer will give each student about five minutes of verbal feedback after the interview. Then the student leaves, and the interviewer fills out an evaluation. They grade the student on a scale of one to five on things like eye contact; the quality of their resume, cover letter and job application; and their attire – was it business-appropriate, those kinds of things. The interviewer is also asked, if they had a job and that had been a real interview, would they hire the student.”

Evaluations get handed in to teachers and count toward student grades.

Stephanie Nelson, a senior at Roanoke Rapids High School, did her mock interview in November 2013.

“We had to dress up,” she recalls. “Our teacher was very picky about what we wore – not picky in a bad way, but picky in a good way. She wanted us to look very professional.”

Overall, Stephanie found the mock job interview experience to be a confidence booster. “The woman who interviewed me was really nice, gave me a lot of compliments and told me I was going to do good things in life. That was nice to hear. I will definitely feel more confident about doing real interviews in the future. I don’t think I’ll be as nervous, and I’ll be more prepared,” she says.

Other Business Education Partnership initiatives include job shadowing for 200 8th grade students each year and a Youth Leadership program for juniors and seniors in high school.

“For such a small community, our business members are very supportive of the education system,” Dickinson says.

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