By Matt de Simone
It’s never too early to get started on a career, just ask seniors at James River High School.
Being prepared is important when seeking employment, which is why James River English teacher Lori Wingo works with her students who are looking to go right into the professional world post-graduation. This particular unit of study is entitled “Workplace Readiness: Resume/Cover Letter/Mock Interview.”
Last week, Wingo’s students participated in several mock interviews set up in the gymnasium of the high school. There, students met with professionals in various fields and talked without about the businesses/entities represented, what employers are looking for, and what necessary steps the students need to make in order to land the job they want. Some of these meetings are a catalyst to students finding future employment once they finish high school.
“I think it’s been a great experience for them,” Wingo said. “The interviewers have been very impressed with [the students’] preparation. I’ve built this in as a part of my course content with these two classes. They grumbled about it at first, but as we got closer to this day, they really started taking it seriously. The great carryover is that I’ve had some of my students already come in with applications from local companies. They’re seeing the bridge and they’re getting it.”
Wingo’s seniors have participated in these mock interviews for the last four years after spending previous years touching on this preparation material. She’s worked with members of the School Board, the Botetourt Technical Education Center (BTEC), and the Future Farmers of America (FFA) when putting together this course of study for her students.
This year, her students spoke with individuals representing the military, nursing, cybersecurity, video production, shipping, auto mechanics, and banking, among others.
The James River students were eager to get in and speak with professionals, understanding this unit of study is preparing them for the professional world.
“This [course] has helped a lot,” one student said who is looking to enter the zoology field. “[When preparing] I looked up a lot of places where I wanted to work. I haven’t done any volunteer work, but I want to volunteer at a zoo. I don’t want to just stick with the ‘normal’ animals though, but work with animals like lions… animals that are more interesting to me.”
Wingo also works with her students in networking—getting to know people in the professional world so that her students know someone who may be able to direct them where they need to go.
“I think if anyone is going into a trade, you definitely want to know the right people to get into something like that,” another student added who is looking to get into the auto mechanics industry.
As a part of a “workplace studies” initiative response by the school district, the students work with an application called Major Clarity (majorclarity.com) which combines everything a student could want when exploring careers. Some of the planning and decision-making features of the app include: talking about learning styles, taking inventories of what jobs the students would like to pursue, and building a resume and cover letter.
“At the beginning of the year, we started off building our resumes,” a student said who was there looking to get into the military. “Major Clarity is a good, helpful site—especially when exploring different fields of study. I think the interview went pretty good. The interviewer asked a lot of good questions.”
Once a student builds their resources in Major Clarity, the website formats the information and, when the students graduate, they’ll have their information and resources compiled during this unit of study to carry along with them as they enter the workforce.
“They don’t have to keep writing this stuff over again,” Wingo added. “We started in the fall with the basics: ‘What are your strengths/weaknesses? If this is the job you want, what is the income expectation in the next fives years? What are the demands for this job type? Are you willing to relocate?’”
Wingo explained that 70% of the students are planning to go right into the workforce or military with another percentage planning for college while preparing for the professional world during this course. In some cases, these interviews can turn into future employment opportunities for her students.
“It starts the ball rolling so that on the night they graduate, when they walk across the stage and get to end of the platform, they’re not saying, ‘Now what am I going to do?’” Wingo said. “They walk a little taller and are a little relieved to know what path they’re headed down next.”