Sixteen-year-old Jaime McConachie took a moment to collect herself before stepping into her first job interview.
Actually, it was a mock interview, but after a series of workshops hosted by members of the Rotary Club of Half Moon Bay and Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau, the Pescadero High School junior was ready to treat it like the real deal.
For the third year in a row, volunteers visited Half Moon Bay and Pescadero high schools this fall to teach students computer, job and financial basics.
Each day was dedicated to different topics presented by professionals in the community. They focused on social media networking and privacy tips, writing a resume, budgeting, balancing a checkbook, how to deal with harassment in the workplace, professional behavior and more.
The mock interview was a place to showcase everything students had learned throughout the week.
Two women greeted McConachie, who was polished in business casual wear, when she entered the room. Sticking to a strict schedule with other candidates for the pretend job, they wasted no time in peppering her with questions about why she was a good fit for the position.
Had McConachie reviewed the job description? Did she prefer to work on teams or individually? How did she like to solve problems? What would past managers say about her if given the chance?
McConachie took thoughtful pauses and spoke quietly, admitting she was shy, but she never faltered in her responses. She breezed through the interview.
“It’s kind of weird, because the job description, I didn’t really want, so I had to act. And I’m not a very good actor,” McConachie admitted afterward.
Still, she found ways to appeal to her potential employers.
“It was a balance between modesty and honesty. I don’t like people who brag,” she said. “At the same time, you have to be honest about what you can do.”
McConachie’s dream is to be an ornithologist and her volunteer experience reflects that, but the lectures made her realize that even seemingly irrelevant activities have equipped her with versatile skills.
“I think the primary mistake young people make is they don’t have the confidence to tell the interviewer what their strengths are. We were trying to give them the confidence to do that this week,” said Charise McHugh, the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and a Rotary member.
Other students are still fine-tuning their job skills, but all the lecturers worked hard to give the students instant feedback.
“I was thrown out to the wolves to figure it out on my own,” said Jennifer Freeman, a Pescadero English teacher whose students attended in the workshops. “I think this will give them a foundation.”
The effort fits into a trend. California schools are placing more emphasis on vocational opportunities for students.
Earlier this year, Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, initiated programs that were meant to make high school relevant to all students — not just those who plan to attend a college or university.
The goal is to reduce California’s dropout rate, which was 14.4 percent for the 2011-2012 school year, and even bolster the state’s economy by preparing students with employable skills.