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Business leaders help Forsyth students hone interview skills

FORSYTH COUNTY — High school students in Forsyth County have been prepared for the job market through the often advanced coursework they complete, but they recently have been putting their professionalism to practice.

Juniors and seniors have been participating in mock interviews with community and business members as part of their third year of CTAE career pathway coursework.

Leaders from the business industry, the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce and all five local rotary clubs volunteered to take their turn in talking with these students, grading their “soft” interview skills and giving them feedback to better prepare them for the “real world.”

“Some employers actually look to hire interns,” said Valery Hall, career development specialist for the school system.

About 1,200 kids will go through this by the end, with each of the five high schools spending a few days during one week on the interviews.

“It’s a natural segway for getting them connected with organizations and colleges,” said South Forsyth High’s principal, Jeff Cheney. “It’s a tremendous opportunity … to put them in the best position to get jobs and get into college.”

He said most students who go through a Career, Technical Agriculture and Education, or CTAE, career pathway – a three-year sequence of courses in one field, such as marketing, manufacturing and business – will seek higher than entry level positions for their first job out of school.

“They cannot learn soon enough how to interview,” said Alice Collien, liaison between the school system and Siemens, which has a specific partnership with South. “It’s not just to get them jobs, but to prepare for college.”

She said the process helps students develop their confidence, and getting feedback from an actual employer is especially helpful in practicing their communication skills.

This is the second year CTAE students participated in mock interviews.

By chance, Collien interviewed the same student both years and was able to see how he improved from his junior to senior year.

“He was trying but struggling as a junior,” she said of Trent Schick, who sat at her table in a suit and, as she noted, had prefect posture. “Last year, he would not have even passed a screening test [in a real job interview]. But now, I’d be handing him out to managers everywhere.”

“I’m better at presenting myself and my qualities,” Schick said. “I can talk about my experiences with jobs and volunteering and internships.”

He said these interviews were a good way for him to reflect on himself and allow him to see where he sits in terms of presence and communication skills.

In between last year’s interviews and now, he took an advanced marketing class within the marketing career pathway.

He said his teacher pushed him to join DECA, an international marketing and business club, though he used to be shy.

He ended up presenting a project that was born through a family joke – a burger and sub shop called Schick Happens – and qualified for the international level of competition.

That, combined with feedback he received during mock interviews, taught him “what it’s like to be in the real world. What it’s going to be like.”

Schick plans to attend Kennesaw State University next year to continue his marketing education.

“It’s a competitive market, they have to sharpen their interviewing skills,” Siemens’ Collien said. “If you don’t know who you are and how to present that to a potential employer, you’ve got yourself a huge challenge.”