Middle-schoolers already practicing their job interviewing skills

By Robert L. Wilson knoxnews.com

LOUDON — Calling her program “right-now-oriented,” Karen Katcham spent her Friday giving seventh-grade students at Fort Loudoun Middle School a step or two head start on their peers when the time comes to look for a job.

“I want them to recognize,” she said, “that the future is a reality” and be aware that gaining the personal skills necessary to obtain employment need not wait until the job search actually begins.

Every one of the 100 or so seventh-graders at the school participates in the one-day program, in which outside interviewers — “volunteers, former teachers, friends and parents of kids I have taught,” the language arts teacher said — sit down with the students and question them as if they were considering the youngster for employment.

Each student compiles a portfolio with an application and reference letters. Some even have resumes. Interviewers examine their credentials as the interview progresses.

Students have been coached on some of the basics, Katcham said, such as shaking hands, eye contact and appropriate dress.

On Friday most young men wore ties and the women were in dresses as they faced people asking what they thought their strengths are and why they want the jobs they were ostensibly interviewing for.

If seventh grade seems a little early for such activity, Katcham notes that 80 percent of the student at the middle school receive free or subsidized lunches, meaning that they will, in all likelihood, be seeking a job at their earliest opportunity, possibly while still in high school.

The students, she said, underwent seven or more “mock interviews” with eighth-graders prior to Friday’s more formal process.

Katcham said the program gives the students greater confidence and that when the time for an interview comes “they will know what to do.”

Like maintaining good posture and not chewing gum.

One of the interviewers Friday was Jason Vance, director of schools for the county. Vance said the program helps with speaking skills and starts students “thinking about obtaining greatness.”

He professes a deep belief in the program, but like Katcham, he said its benefits are difficult to quantify in terms of its success rate in helping young people get jobs.

But, Katcham has gotten feedback from both former students and parents who told her the exercise did prepare them better for the inevitable job search.

Interviewers grade the students on their performance on a scale that ranges from “I would not hire this person” through the “maybe” stage and up to “Yes, I would hire him or her.”

Katcham says she refines the responses and gives them to the students so they will know how they did.

“It’s sort of my final exam.”