Sierra High senior Reyes Orozco nailed his “mock” interview with Mt. Mike’s Pizza co-owner Tevani Liotard on Wednesday.
The same couldn’t be said for an actual high school student applicant who didn’t get past the return call. Liotard was calling him after going through resumes but hung up and crossed him off her list of prospective employees after hearing his cell phone greeting that went something like this: “Yo, it’s me dudes, I’m out partying.”
“Most of the time I’ll ignore inappropriate phone recordings and give an applicant a chance,” Liotard said. “But I didn’t in that case.”
Liotard was among a number of community members, administrators, teachers, and Manteca Unified personnel who conducted a series of interviews at Sierra High as part of the “Get Focused, Stay Focused” endeavor.
It was part of Sierra’s freshman transition program that is followed by three years of follow-up modules dubbed “Next Step” focusing on the skills necessary to enter college, the workforce, the military or a technical school. Mock interviews are part of the process.
Orozco, who currently works at McDonald’s, was the most at ease and confident of the first three students interviewed by Liotard given he has been through “real world” interviews a number of times and has ended up with employment.
He noted sound advice he was given — to apply for jobs that he may not really want. By doing so for practice it allows those looking for employment to get over nervousness so they can be at their best applying for jobs that they desire. That said, Liotard noted students shouldn’t make the fatal mistake of saying they don’t particularly want a job they’re applying for.
She recalled one applicant for a pizza parlor related job that she asked why he was applying.
His answer: He was turning 18 in three days and his dad had told him if he didn’t have a job by the time he was 18 that he was throwing him out of the house. The teen also shared that he had been given the ultimatum long before he finally got around to submitting resumes. Liotard said it told her that he really didn’t want to work, that he wasn’t motivated, and that he wasn’t focused.
Orozco, who has his sights on going to Modesto Junior College to prepare for a career as a firefighter after he becomes the first in his family to graduate from high school next spring, got extra points from Liotard because he actually had questions about what was expected of him.
“What do you expect from me so I can fulfill that (expectation)?” Orozco asked. “What can I do to grow?”
Another student interviewed — Sierra student Jocelyne Martinez— is already employed as well. She works at Burgess Baking Co. in downtown Ripon.
Liotard was her first “stranger” interview given she was hired for her current job because she was familiar to the owner. It explained a bit of her nervousness despite already holding a job.
Martinez, in responding to Liotard’s questions, shared how she handles challenges on her job plus how she has learned to sharpen customer service skills.
The senior wants to pursue a career path through Modesto junior College to possibly become a physical therapist.
It was Dominque Guevara’s first interview experience. As a result she was the most nervous.
Guevara noted afterwards that the mock interview and the advice she was given was a big help.
Liotard — just as the other volunteers conducting interviews did — provided feedback to students who they interviewed. She went down the list noting that the first few seconds you meet the person interviewing you not only sets the tone but has the potential to sink you out of the gate.
She stressed to students the importance of eye contact that Liotard noted “is essential for customer service.”
Researching the business you are applying is essential as it not only shows you are familiar with it to a degree but that you are serious about getting the job.
“On paper, most candidates look the same,” Liotard said of entry level jobs.
The goal, she told the students, is to set one’s self apart through how you present yourself and answer questions.
As for the value of mock interviews, Liotard has a somewhat unique perspective. Besides hiring employees for the business she owns with husband Jeff, she’s currently serving as the director of physical education for Manteca Unified and has taught in the classroom as well as being a parent. She gets that students will sometimes take the advice of teachers more to heart than what their parents may tell them. But at the same time what teachers tell them about what is expected in interviews isn’t driven home as well as actually a face-to-face interview with a stranger.
It is all part of the Manteca Unified effort to provide students with soft skills — being prompt, how you conduct one’s self, dress, and attentiveness among other things — that are critical not just to land jobs but to even do well in post-secondary education.
Liotard encourages others in the community — particularly business people — to step up when they can to help prepare students by volunteering several hours for endeavors such as as conducting mock interviews.
Programs similar to “Get Focused, Stay Focuses” are offered at East Union and Lathrop high schools.
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