MADISON -- In today’s highly competitive job market, a slight advantage may be the only difference between the one person that gets the job and the dozens that must continue their search.
The Catholic Multicultural Center (CMC) aims to provide that slight advantage to job seekers by offering a weekly “Preparing for the Interview” job skills workshop.
Don Brown, a retired human resource professional, volunteers to prepare content for and teach the workshop at the CMC. Nearly every Tuesday morning for the past several months, Mr. Brown has sat with small groups of “students,” hashing over interview techniques, resumes, and how to remain confident in the job search.
Charlotte recently left her job hoping to find a more challenging position that was a better fit for her. Searching for a job presented its own challenges. “It’s hard to know what employers are looking for,” said Charlotte.
Impressing an employer
Not for Mr. Brown. “I’ve been on the other side of the desk,” he said. After spending over 20 years of his career in human resources and another 15 at his own recruitment firm, Mr. Brown is familiar with what an applicant needs to do to impress a potential employer.
Impressing an employer is especially important for current job seekers, with dozens of people going after one job. Mr. Brown observed, “In today’s job market, the only one that gets the job is the one that stands out from everyone else.”
According to Mr. Brown, good preparation will allow one to do just that. Putting together a good resume, practicing interviews, and marketing one’s skills will put an applicant ahead of “99 percent of people” applying for a job.
Learning interview skills
The workshop has two main components: interview skills and resume writing. Students are encouraged to attend the workshop at least two to three times.
Mr. Brown presents new students with an interview skills PowerPoint presentation, and those who return get individual assistance tailored to their needs.
On a recent Tuesday morning, students in the workshop were working individually on resumes and cover letters. Mr. Brown methodically discussed one participant’s employment history with her, making suggestions on how to make her experiences sound professional on her resume. While Mr. Brown offered plenty of suggestions, he allowed the student space to make changes as she saw fit.
In addition to shaping resumes, each participant has the chance to be interviewed by Mr. Brown while the rest of the class watches. According to Mr. Brown, the focus of these practice interviews is not what’s said, but rather what’s communicated non-verbally. Both Mr. Brown and the other students give feedback to the interviewee on body language, nerve control, and other general suggestions.
Practice and encouragement
Leah, whose name has been changed upon her request, spoke about her experiences in the workshop. Both Leah and Charlotte found the practice interviews extremely helpful.
While being interviewed in front of others may seem nerve-wracking, both participants said they were thankful for the opportunity. Charlotte pointed out that having peers present during the practice interview is good preparation for situations where a candidate is being interviewed by more than one person.
Leah emphasized the personal connections that grew from the interviews. She said that her group offered plenty of encouragement to one another, and not just after the practice interviews. When one member of the group received good news, such as a call to interview, they were genuinely happy for each other’s progress.
Students who attend the workshop might come away with more than a reworked resume or a clean cover letter.
Leah came to the workshop wanting to update her skills to keep pace with the changing job landscape. She worked one on one with Mr. Brown to clean up her resume, making it more concise and updating the format. “I now feel more confident in what I’m sending out,” she said.
In fact, confidence is what Leah feels she gained the most from the workshop. She said before the workshop, she never would have had the confidence to follow up with an employer after an interview.
Charlotte said she also learned tips to help shape her resume and cover letter. Like Leah, Charlotte spoke of the confidence the workshop instilled in her.
“Before, I thought that maybe I shouldn’t apply for a position because I don’t have the specific skills they were asking for. You’re never gonna know if you don’t apply! [The workshop taught me] to apply for more positions because life experience can make you qualified for a job.”
Since the workshop, Charlotte said she participated in two or three in-person interviews and one phone interview. She says now when she interviews she feels more relaxed and has better eye contact, both of which are signs of her increased confidence.
Confidence, according to Mr. Brown, can set one applicant apart from another in the eyes of an employer. When he was working as a human resource professional, the most common mistake people made was not what they said, but what they did. He often interviewed candidates who hurt their chances with poor body language: nervous habits, little to no eye contact, or sitting too still.
It is clear that Mr. Brown has confidence in his students when he talks about the potential that he sees in each of them.
When asked why he decided to develop and offer this workshop, Mr. Brown didn’t say a word about his many years in human resources. Instead, he said he believes it is our mission as people to help others.
So, on a Tuesday morning, Mr. Brown can be found leading his workshop at the CMC, showing students how to use their skills to be successful in the job search.
The CMC employment program offers other assistance to job seekers. Any weekday a staff member and trained volunteers are available to work one on one with job seekers, in English or Spanish, to shape resumes, fill out job applications, or offer suggestions on where to apply for jobs.
The Culinary Creations course trains enrolled students in food safety and food prep. When students complete the training, they walk away with hands-on experience, certification, and job references.
Through all of these programs, the CMC hopes to offer participants the skills they need to empower their lives. For more information, go to www.cmctoday.org or call 608-661-3512.
Laura Green is the volunteer coordinator for the Catholic Multicultural Center in Madison.