May 26 • 04:20 PM

Job fair hones student skills

Local companies interview potential employees at Venture High School

June 02, 2010
IMLAY CITY — Finding employment in today's troubled economy is a challenge regardless of one's age, education or experience.

When you're a young person seeking his or her first job, the process can be particularly difficult.

That harsh reality compelled Venture High School Dean of Students Todd Barraco to devise a way to provide his students with an advantage in the job search market.

On Thursday, at Barraco's invitation, representatives from five local businesses conducted job interviews at the school.

The invitees included Robin Brown of Goodwill Industries, Alex Malburg of McDonald's, Krystal Damm of Taco Bell, Eric Cattane of Kroger and Joe Pirrone of Mike Pirrone Produce, Inc.

The goal, said Barraco, was to give students a real-life experience and practical knowledge that will serve them well during a job search.

Barraco said 13 of the alternative high school's nearly 70 students chose to take part in the interview process. Each of them was required to create a resume and cover letter in advance of the interview.

Taco Bell Manager Krystal Damm shakes hands with Kevin Wasmund following his interview. photo by Tom Wearing.

Some of the students benefited from pre-interview tips and suggestions offered by Cindy Bullen, a youth advocate for ThumbWorks!, representing Lapeer and Sanilac counties.

"This was a unique opportunity for the students and something I'd not witnessed before," said Bullen. "These were not mock interviews. They were real interviews for real jobs."

"The interview process was open to anyone in the school," said Barraco. "We feel the kids need to take responsibility for themselves. This was an opportunity for them to learn how to dress, act and communicate during a real interview."

Each participating student sat in front of the panel of five prospective employers, who alternately asked questions typically posed during a job interview.

Following the interviews, the panel members critiqued the students' performances and offered suggestions for improvement.

"We're here to help you learn how to conduct yourself in an interview," said Brown told one of the interviewees. "I recommend that when you walk in for an interview, you give the interviewer(s) a firm handshake. You need to demonstrate that you are confident."

Pirrone agreed, noting that when possible, he literally observes a candidate's physical demeanor in the parking lot.

"I'll watch how people walk to see if they have a bounce in their step," said Pirrone. "You don't want people who seem like you'll have to push them to get them to move. You have to present yourself well and sell yourself."

Pirrone reminded another young job seeker that physical appearance can be important and often separates the employed from the non-employed.

"A lot of us have inbred prejudices," he admitted. "If you have tattoos, long hair or inappropriate clothing for the workplace, people will make judgments about that," he said.

"The biggest thing is to get the employer to believe you are there to make his customers happy. That's the key."

Barraco said each of the participating students will be provided an assessment of their interviews.

"We'll do a followup with the students—to critique their interviews and let them know how they did," he said. "The overall goal is to give students the experience and knowledge, so they can be successful during these tough economic times."

Bullen works with young people ages 16-21, both in and out of school. She said she was impressed with the program and with the students' interview performances.

"Inexperience is something all of these young people have to deal with," said Bullen. "That's a competition in itself.

"To have your very first interview conducted in front of a panel of five people had to be intimidating," she continued. "On that basis, I think they all did very well."

Bullen noted that the students were instructed on several key points of a good interview. They included: making good eye contact, smiling, speaking loud and clearly and demonstrating confidence and personality.

"Some of them were obviously nervous and never cracked a smile," she said. "They'll need to work on being more relaxed."

Still, said Bullen, all the students and the school deserve credit for the innovative program.

Bullen said the reality of the current job market is that young people face even greater obstacles to finding employment.

"They are very aware of the situation and concerned about it," she said. "It's on their minds. They are willing to work. They just need a chance to show they can do it."

On Thursday, there was ample evidence that some of the local employers on hand were ready to hire.

"We had two students who were offered jobs on the spot," said Bullen, "and several others were encouraged to follow up with applications. That was a very positive outcome."

For more information about employment opportunities for youth ages 16-21, call Cindy Bullen at 989-635-3561, ext. 243 or 810-705-0103. Or e-mail to:

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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