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EVENT: Mock Interview Workshop

November 19, 2009

SSJE Adds Starting Blocks Curriculum, Holds Mock Interviews

(Reprinted courtesy of Berkeley High Jacket)

By Claire Donnelley

On Thursday, November 19, the School of Social Justice and Ecology (SSJE) seniors in the Berkeley Experiential Senior Transition (BEST) class held a mock job interview workshop as part of the newly incorporated Starting Blocks curriculum. In preparation for their interviews, SSJE seniors created a personal resume, learned interview techniques, and designated areas of professional interest. At the actual interview, students were paired with volunteer professionals from various fields based upon similar interests and interviewed as job applicants. The purpose was to simulate an actual job interview and to give students the chance to practice the skills learned in the interview unit. Student questions, as well as feedback and advice from interviewer to interviewee were encouraged.

As a part of the BEST class, seniors in SSJE take on a variety of academic projects including weekly community internships and a thesis project at the end of the year, all designed to give them experience for post–high school life. Starting Blocks collaborates with the program to focus on teaching high school students skills for their professional and personal adult lives.

Elana Ford is the founder and organizer of the program. Her short–term goals with the program are continuing to work on and improve the BHS program, and to expand to MacGregor High School in Albany. With the help of donations and grants, Ford hopes to eventually expand the program within more BHS small schools, as well as expanding to other small learning communities in Alameda and Contra Costa County. Ford’s outline for expansion is a self–proclaimed “grass–roots method” of working from within schools to build teacher and counselor relationships before formally initiating the program.

The mock interviews were the first of several formal events that BEST students will participate in this school year, the next being a December “Mocktail” party designed to enable students to practice networking and socializing in a professional environment.

Over 30 volunteers participated in the event. The volunteers were chosen for their experiences of living and working independently and being able to connect with students. Following the interviews, the volunteers convened to fill out individual student reports, discuss their interviews, point out areas for growth and improvement in students and the program, and discuss the success of the project in general.

Overall volunteer feedback was generally positive. One anonymous volunteer was impressed by “the maturity and poise” of the student she interviewed. Another volunteer said that she felt privileged to be involved, noting her student was “an impressive young man.” However, several volunteers pointed out that their students were not ready to be interviewed because they did not have a resume, a crucial element to the interview process.

One question that was addressed during the follow up discussion was how to answer questions about weaknesses. One volunteer offered the advice that weaknesses should be stated in the framework of positive comments, or improvements that are being made to rectify a weakness, in response to the inevitable interview question “what are your weaknesses.”

During the feedback session, the need for individual student attention during the preparation process was stressed. Because of the large size of the BEST class and the corresponding large student to faculty ratio, Ford notes that it has been a struggle to give students the individual attention they need.

To improve upon this, Ford is attempting to provide mentors for individual students that would work together throughout the year to develop a personal connection and give students more individual attention.

Volunteer Nathanael Player thinks that the Starting Blocks program has great potential, and can “help keep students following a ‘good path.’” Player noted that it’s helpful when students feel that “adults in the community care about them,” and that Starting Blocks can be a positive influence for students in this way.

When asked to describe her connection to the students, Ford stated that she want to cultivate“a personal connection with each student in the class.” She continued, “when we work together one–on–one, I am continually impressed by how articulate they are when it comes to expressing their thoughts and feelings … They are really cool people with a variety of dreams for the future.”

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