(Diane L. Wilson)
If the job world were "American Idol," Cheryl Roeger and Dodi Elledge of the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center would be its Simon Cowell. "We tell them what employers won't," said Elledge of job hunters. "When you call back after an interview and ask someone why you didn't get hired, they're not going to tell you it was because your shirt was wrinkled or because your neck was too hairy. I will."
This honesty, they said, is part of what helps the students at the workplace readiness skills course get jobs. The two-week adult education course is run by Debra Wideman of the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology center and is designed for those seeking to re-enter the workforce.
The course is popular among those who have been laid off, but it can also be for some just getting started. "We've had a lot of people recently coming in after being laid off by Rubbermaid," said Roeger. "They'll tell us 'I've been working for 30 years, and I still don't really know what the interview process is like.' We also get some housewives whose husbands have been laid off and all of a sudden they need to go to work for the first time in their lives."
Re-entry often means re-education. The course focuses on resume writing, math skills, team-building activities, ettiquette, budgeting and investment. The program also arranges a day for job shadowing and the mock interview that comes at the end of the course. During the two weeks, students have the opportunity to earn a "Job Skills" certificate recognized statewide.
But the mock interviews are the realm of Elledge and Roeger. Both women work as career specialists with other organizations but volunteer their time at the CTC playing the role of perspective employers. While they encourage habits like eye-contact, good posture and a free-and-easy manner of speech, they do not shy away from critiquing personal appearance. "A lot of our students can't afford really nice clothing, and we understand that, but what you can always control is how the clothing looks," said Roeger. "I had one woman come in wearing an outfit that was, pretty inappropriate, so I asked her 'why would you wear that to a job interview?' And she said she had borrowed it from her sister. So I told her, 'If you want to get the job, you better borrow something else.'"
Roeger said she has also told students to go easy on the makeup and leave the perfume and cologne at home.
If it sounds like these career specialists belong on the red carpet with Joan Rivers, for them that's not a bad thing. Sucessful interviewing can ultimately be very superficial, they said. "I think appearance is the top priority of employers," said Elledge. "Because if you're an employer and you are looking to hire someone, you're looking for a person who can represent your company. That means not only someone you'd like to work with, but someone who looks the part." The two women also said it may surprise people to know that interviewing techniques may outweigh a good resume in the eyes of an employer.
On Monday the pair interviewed three graduates of the workplace readiness skills course. The three men came in one by one, each dressed in a suit and clutching resumes. For all of the men it marked thei first time in a job interview setting.
For some it was a daunting experience. "This is my first interview; I'm a little nervous," said Tony Harris with a sheepish smile. "No hard questions please."
James Milton, who is interested in pursuing a career in computer-aided drafting, also said the situation made him a little uneasy, "I'm more or less a people person," he said. "But this is kind of a tense situation, I'm not used to this."
Milton scored highly on all of the categories which included body language, verbal communication, appearance, and preparation. Although he did not escape without getting at least some style advice. "You need to button that top button and make sure your tie is tied and pulled up straight," said Elledge.
And overall, despite all the sweaty palms and twitching limbs, the recent graduates did well on interview day said the evaluators.
"Your eye contact was very good and you answered all the questions promptly," said Elledge of Milton. "I would just advise you to be just as determined as you seem to be."
The last student even came with a surprise announcement. "I just got hired by a construction company," said Ryan McClard, 22.
When asked whether or not the workplace readiness course had helped him during his job search, McClard was quick to answer, "The math skills and learning to type my resume; that was stuff I hadn't even practiced since grade school," he said. "I guess the course gave me a chance to expand my horizons."
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