Winning the job: Workforce Solutions helping job seekers strengthen resume writing, interview skills

Reprinted By Courtesy The ECHO

Resume and job interview preparation were the focal points of recent training for students at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville. Workforce Solutions, in conjunction with the Windham School District (WSD), held a job fair for offenders graduating from WSD vocational courses. As part of the training, speakers J. Toth and C. Kennard discussed the importance of creating a resume and successfully interviewing for a job.

"Resumes are about presenting yourself in the best light possible to a potential employer," said Workforce Solutions representative Toth while addressing the students. Toth explained that resumes should be an accurate description of a person's accomplishments, job skills and work experience.

Winning the job: Workforce Solutions helping job seekers strengthen resume writing, interview skills

"When writing your resume, include your contact information such as your name, address, phone number and e-mail address if you have one. This is the most important part of the resume because it tells a potential employer how to contact you," she said.

Other important information which should appear on an effective resume includes education achievements, such as high school diploma or equivalency certificates, and any college course work or vocational training. A list of all job-performance accomplishments, including On-the-Job Training (OJT) certificates earned while incarcerated, should also be included.

Another common concern for prisoners is how to explain large gaps in their work history. One way to fill in these gaps is to list the jobs held while in prison. Regardless of what the job was, include it on your resume so potential employers see that time in prison was used wisely and not wasted.

"Employers are impressed by applicants who demonstrate a strong work ethic, even if all or the majority of that work experience is inside of prison. The question employers (ask) is ‘What can you do for me?' So make yourself a valued commodity by developing more skills," Toth said.

Toth also described a recent discovery she made about the work habits of some offenders.

"I had to wake up at 4 a.m. to drive to conduct a workshop at a female facility. I was feeling sorry for myself until I met one of the female offenders who had to wake up at 2 a.m. every day to work in the kitchen. Her story humbled me and made me stop feeling so sorry for myself. The dedication and commitment she showed are character traits employers want in employees."

In today's technologically advanced society, many companies want resumes submitted to them electronically over the internet rather than printed and submitted to an office. The applicant should follow the format indicated by the company, which is usually available on the business's website. If a person lacks the computer skills needed to electronically submit their resume, help is available at a local Workforce Solutions office.

While a resume grabs the attention of a prospective employer, the interview is where job offers are won or lost. Offenders who have not interviewed in a long while may be nervous at the prospect, but a job interview should be considered a positive experience, not an interrogation. Companies only interview when they are interested in hiring personnel, so applicants should maintain a confident attitude.

Winning the job: Workforce Solutions helping job seekers strengthen resume writing, interview skills"When scheduled for a job interview, applicants should remember preparation, presentation and poise," Kennard said. "Most interviews begin with a request along the lines of ‘Tell me about yourself.' Be prepared to present a brief commercial about yourself usually no longer than 30 seconds, emphasizing your strengths."

This commercial should quickly capture the interviewer's attention by describing relevant job experience, listing positive character traits and presenting the applicant in a positive light. The applicant is the expert regarding their own job skills and work experience.

Applicants should be prepared to give an honest answer to questions about their criminal history. Keep in mind that businesses are usually more interested in how people used their time in prison to improve themselves. Nervousness can be overcome by practicing either in front of a mirror or with someone who can give constructive feedback. Applicants should speak clearly and address the interviewer as "Sir" or "Ma'am" while maintaining eye contact. Begin and end the interview with a firm handshake and a smile, and be sure to thank interviewers for their time and the opportunity to interview for the position.

"The old adage that you never get a second chance to make a first impression is especially true in job interviews," C. Kennard said.

Job applicants should present themselves in a professional manner both before and during the job interview, making sure they arrive a few minutes earlier than the scheduled meeting time. They should also ensure they have correct contact information for their references and previous employers. Be courteous to the receptionist and other employees, and take time to observe how employees interact with each other and with their customers; this provides clues to the company's culture. Applicants should dress in good, clean clothing, such as a nice shirt and pressed denim or slacks for men, or a blouse and modest skirt or dress for women. 

A job interview does more than give the company a chance to ask questions about the applicant; it gives applicants an opportunity to ask questions about the company. Suggested questions you might ask include whether the company has a formal training program, how the job position for which you're applying fits into the company's future plans, does the job open the way to a career path, and what kind of person would be a good fit for the position.

Winning the job: Workforce Solutions helping job seekers strengthen resume writing, interview skills

"One of the most important but ignored portions of an interview is the follow-up," Kennard said. "Applicants should call the company within 24 to 48 hours of the interview to express appreciation for their time, reasserting interest in the job."

In addition to a follow-up call, experts suggest applicants send a letter that includes a brief recap of their job qualifications and a description of how their skills make them the best candidate for the position.

"The only person who can take the initiative for your success and providing a brighter future for you and your family is you," Kennard said. "We do this so that, on the day you walk out of this place, you can turn around and say ‘goodbye' and mean it."