Interviewing 101 Helps Students Hone Skills

Students Plan, Pursue Career Goals

Senior Katlyn Siddall ends her practice job interview with Allyson Baumgard with a strong, confident handshake – a key interviewing technique

Had it been a real job interview, Katlyn Siddall might well have been hired.

In a practice interview in the high school library, Katlyn told Allyson Baumgard her step-by-step plan to become a pediatrician, and why she wants to be one

“The way I look at it is, if you get the kids well enough to get the education they need to go further in life, they’re going to become the next us,” the senior said with conviction.

Myia Garrett, in checked shirt, was one of about 60 Pathways High School students who took part in practice job interviews

“That’s great,” Baumgard said. “Omigosh, wow.”

As human resources manager for the Wayland-based Windemuller electrical construction, automation and communications firm, Baumgard wouldn’t be hiring Katlyn as a doctor. But she was clearly impressed by her interviewing skills

“She knew the answers to the questions right away,” Baumgard said afterward. “She was prepared. She knows what she wants to do.”

Helping students know what they need to do and learn in order to get good jobs is a key component of Pathways High School, an alternative program for about 75 Kenowa Hills students. Housed in the middle school, a flexible schedule and online learning enables them to work at their own pace while getting support to pursue college and/or career goals.

Students recently participated in simulated job interviews with representatives of eight organizations, including graphics, machinery and electronics firms and the U.S. Army. This experience was one way to connect students with a workforce hungry for qualified entry-level employees, said Pathways Director Jared Herron.

“We’re hoping these interview skills help build their confidence, their resume and their communications skills,” Herron said.

Katlyn Siddall and Lucas Belonga say Pathways has helped them in school and find focus for their careers

Good First Impressions

Katie Bush, one of three Pathways teachers, prepped small groups of students before they went to meet with their interviewers. She reminded them to maintain eye contact, give a firm handshake, and get the interviewers’ names so they could send them thank-you notes. “You’re going to be just fine,” she assured them.

Senior Lucas Belonga looked just fine in his tie and navy blue police-style uniform, which he wears for the Kent Career Tech Center Criminal Justice program. Like Katlyn, Lucas attends the Tech Center from 6:55 to 9:10 a.m., then Pathways until 2:40 p.m. After school, Lucas works at Bob Evans Restaurant until 10 p.m. as a line cook and trainer of new hires.

He interviewed with Staff Sgt. Emilio Villalobos, a U.S. Army recruiter who has worked with him before at the Tech Center. Lucas seemed at ease, sitting upright, hands folded on the table and looking attentively at the sergeant.

Villalobos went down a print-out of a dozen questions, which the students had helped write: what is your biggest accomplishment, what is a weakness, where do you see yourself in five years, etc. On the latter, Lucas was clear as a bell: in law enforcement, preferably working as a homicide detective.

Whatever he does, Lucas said, “I will give my all – being part of something bigger than myself, to help my community and my country.”

When Villalobos asked about leadership, Lucas told of rallying his fellow linemen on the football team during a subpar practice. “That week I was actually made captain,” and the team won its next game, he said with a smile.

“That’s what companies are looking for,” Villalobostold him. “They’re looking for leaders, they’re looking for people who are going to bring something to the table.”

After giving him some tips, Villalobos told Lucas he did very well. “I would hire you,” he said.

Katlyn Siddall spoke in great detail about her plans to become a certified nursing assistant, a pediatric nurse and eventually a pediatrician

A Clear Career Path

Lucas aims to study criminal justice in college, and was interested in what Villalobos told him about entering the Army Reserves and getting his tuition paid for. Like Katlyn, he struggled his first two years in high school but found a good fit at Pathways.

Katlyn is studying at the Tech Center to earn credentials as a certified nursing assistant. She hopes to graduate in March and begin college in June to train as a pediatric nurse. Eventually she aims to return to medical school to become a pediatrician.

She laid out her plans in detail to Baumgard, along with her visits to local hospitals and the long hours she puts in to earn CNA credentials while in high school, rather than waiting to do so in college.

“It’s not just money to us,” Katlyn said of herself and fellow CNA students. “For us it’s a career, it’s a life goal, it’s a passion.”

Her passion impressed Baumgard, who would like to see more of it in the high school graduates she hires as apprentices at her 210-employee firm. “Not a lot of them have the drive,” she said.

Programs like Pathways give today’s students many more tools to prepare for the workforce than when she was in school, she told Katlyn.

“It’s just great to see you guys have these opportunities,” Baumgard said. “It makes me hopeful for the next generation.


Pathways High School

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.


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