Students from Huntley High School’s Cooperative Education (Co-Op) program got a leg up on their college and career paths with help from the local community. More than 30 members of the local business community volunteered their time to conduct mock interviews with students on April 9.
“It was a phenomenal experience,” said senior Brad Szekeres, who plans to go to college and pursue a career in marketing. “It’s a weird feeling getting outside of the comfort of the classroom. You have to be on your toes. Before this, I felt like I wouldn’t have been able to do well in a college interview or a job interview. Now, I feel prepared for a real interview.”
Students in the Co-Op program work part-time with local employers, and have classwork devoted to developing career skills, including resume writing, portfolio building, networking, and interviewing.
The volunteers conducted 15-minute interviews with students, providing them both on-the-spot feedback and a grade using a common rubric outlining expectations for students’ personal presentation.
Getting these types of experiences early on can give students an edge as they move on to the next steps on their life plans.
“A lot of students wait until the end of their school career, so it’s nice that they are getting it early,” said Evette Thompson, coordinator of career services at McHenry County College, who served as a volunteer interviewer. “They have to be comfortable with interviewing. The more practice they get, the more comfortable they will be.”
Page Schaschwary, Huntley High School’s Cooperative Education teacher, told the volunteers that the students had practiced extensively in class, reviewing common interview questions; guidelines for proper posture, dress, and etiquette; strategies for answering difficult questions; and dealing with nerves.
She emphasized that the goal of the mock interviews was for her students to “walk away from the interviews with real-life skills and to gain exposure to varied interview techniques and styles.”
“In the end, it’s all about the kids and how we, as a community, can help them gain self-confidence and skills in order to be fully prepared for a competitive job market,” she said.
“It was really nerve-racking, but they made me feel really comfortable,” said senior Jordan Winkler, who plans to attend University of Wisconsin-Whitewater as a business and marketing major. “It will definitely help me out in the real world.”
Despite the nerves, the students managed to impress their professional counterparts.
Sheldon Clark, financial advisor with Edward Jones, enjoyed mentoring the students, saying that he “had more fun than the kids.” Clark said he also valued being able to add to the student’s interview skills and enjoyed speaking with them, appreciating how they are all quite different personalities.
“Some of these interviews were stronger interviews than real job interviews I’ve been a part of,” said District 158 Superintendent John Burkey, who served as an interviewer. “This part of the program really prepares students for the job search process. I’m very impressed with the high level our students have gotten to.”