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Students get valuable job interview experience

Job interviews are intimidating for most adults, so just imagine a teenager, going to a first interview for a first job. What to wear? How to act? And what about that awful question interviewers love to ask? You know the one I’m talking about: “What’s your biggest weakness?”

I hate that question.

Ketchikan High School Junior Jade Simons nailed it, though, when I interviewed her in the Kayhi library.

“I think it would be when I take too much stuff on my plate, I start to get overwhelmed and my quality isn’t as good as I want it to be, because I want it to be 100 percent,” she said. “But because I take on so much as a time because I’m an overachiever, it’s not as good as I’d like it to be.”

Our interview was one of many taking place that day. It was the annual Job Fair, and the mock interviews are the culmination of the careers class. As one of the interviewers, I was handed a list of questions commonly asked during interviews.

Jade had great answers for most, but there was one that kinda stumped her. Only at first though. I asked, “What are you passionate about?”

“I never really thought about it,” she answered. “Clothes? Shoes? Music. I love music. I love jazz music, especially. I like sitting back and listening to it. There’s some music that makes your heart pound and, and makes you have so many feelings.”

Jade also loves little kids. Her goal is to graduate high school, study early childhood development in college, and then become a preschool teacher. Interview skills could help in all her goals.

She talked a little about the careers class, and said teacher Mary Hagemann taught them the dos and don’ts of interviews. Then Gai Hooker visited from the Ketchikan Job Center with more tips, such as, “appearances, what to say, how to act, how to sit, and just the basic rules of the job interview. And she told us about turning the negatives into positives,” Jade said.

Quite a few other interviews were taking place at the same time. Police officers, Alaska State Troopers, Coast Guard personnel, city and borough officials all showed up to help prepare Ketchikan’s youth for future job interviews.

I stuck to the list of questions that the teachers gave me, but others had their own style. Jessica Matthews, the superintendent at Ketchikan’s jail, clearly is an experienced interviewer. Here she is, finishing up a mock interview with sophomore Charlie Edwardson: “If I can make one suggestion, always when you end an interview, nail something out of the park. Ask something, say something about yourself. I’m gonna interview several people, you need to stand out to help me remember why I want to hire you. Always do one really good sales pitch for yourself.”

I asked Charlie whether the experience was helpful.

“Yeah, I think it helped a lot,” she said. Especially “the closing statements, because I got that from a couple other people, so I need to work on that and improve it.”

Teacher Allegra Machado says the careers class is about more than just interviews.

“All semester, they’ve been working on not just interview skills, but resumes, job applications, we do school research, training opportunities, we do field trips,” she said.

The job fair, though, is the culminating activity, where the students get to show off everything they’ve learned. Machado says the kids often are scared before each fair, but by the end of the day, they have lost their fear.

She adds that the students compare notes later, especially if an interviewer asks unusual questions. For example: “If you had to be a fruit, what fruit would you be and why? And then the kids start sweating and freaking out. They’re like, ‘Did you have the guy that asked the fruit question?’”

I just wish I’d thought to ask the fruit question.

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