Preparing High School Seniors for Job Hunting
Tips for guiding students to write résumés and—with volunteers from local businesses—practice interviewing for a job.
Part of our job as educators is to help our students be college and career ready.
As a way to keep my seniors engaged and to help them leave high school with a relevant piece of work, we spend time exploring and creating a professional résumé that’s reviewed in a face-to-face setting by area professionals. We also practice and prepare for mock interviews. This unit has evolved over the past six years from a solo endeavor with my students to one that brings many volunteers into our classroom.
From High School to HR
To kick off our study of résumés, I put students into the shoes of a professional in human resources who needs to hire for a specific position. I create a job description and place students in teams of three to four. The HR teams work to analyze the description to decide which are the most important qualities they need to see evidence of in the résumés they will look at next.
I have created nine different résumés of varying degrees of quality that students work with after familiarizing themselves with the job description. To start our exploration of the résumés, we focus initially on the formatting and eye appeal, as first impressions matter.
To help students internalize the importance of first impressions, I give them all of the résumés in an envelope and tell them that they will have 90 seconds to sort those résumés from best-looking to worst. I emphasize that all they have is 10 seconds per résumé, and they must line them up one through nine. In that amount of time, they really can’t look at the content.
After students rank the résumés based on first impressions, they analyze what made the good ones good and the bad ones bad. We generate a list of dos and don’ts when it comes to formatting and setup. We then talk about how not all the groups agreed on the very top and bottom résumés. I prepare students for the fact that in a few weeks when they sit face-to-face with area professionals, some might love their résumés and some might not.
After the initial eye-appeal portion of the activity, students turn their attention to the content. They work to mark up each résumé for typos and other errors while highlighting items that fit the top qualities they had determined earlier. Then, they have to decide as a team which three of these fictional people they would want to meet in person, which three are maybes, and which three they would not invest any further time into.
Much like earlier, after students have a chance to analyze the résumés themselves, we debrief and talk about the dos and don’ts evident in the résumés. Using information I have learned from area professionals over the years, I intentionally include some obvious dos and don’ts, such as appropriate versus inappropriate emails.
We also discuss the judgments they made about the fictional person behind each résumé. I remind them that someday someone is going to do the same thing with their résumés.
Writing Their Own Résumés
From here, students turn their attention to drafting their own professional résumés. While we draft, I offer reminders and suggestions and frequently show examples.
After time to draft, receive peer feedback, and complete revisions, students sit down in small groups with area professionals and share their résumés. The professionals give my students real-time, face-to-face feedback. And sometimes it’s brutally honest. This is the most valuable aspect of the entire unit.
When I started this activity many years ago, I found volunteers by reaching out to parents through our student management system, and now I also use social media. I have found that area professionals are more than happy to volunteer their time to come in and help with this activity. Plus, students take the advice from them much more seriously—even though I tell them many of the same things.
In addition to this experience with area professionals, we practice and prepare for mock interviews. Students practice with several standard interview questions during class time in small groups, with partners, and sometimes even with our administrators and district office staff. We discuss how to best go about answering some of the trickier questions, such as, “What are areas of growth or weaknesses you have?” and “Do you prefer to work alone or as part of a team?”
Students then put this knowledge and experience into practice during a 25-minute mock interview with more volunteers from local businesses. These professionals score each student on their interview using a rubric I created and leave them written feedback.
To wrap up the unit, students reflect on the feedback they have received throughout the process and how they can use these newly learned skills in the future. They also walk out with a professional résumé that has been reviewed by potential employers.
I have had many former students reach out after graduation to say they were grateful for these experiences. In some cases, their professional résumés and interview practice helped them land a job that they had thought was out of reach. And that makes it all worth it.