Return to Headlines

AIU Mock Interview Event Builds Confidence in Allegheny County Teens

AIU mock interview event provides hands-on learning, builds confidence in Allegheny County teenagers

By Daveen Rae Kurutz

Taylor Roberts straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath. With a smile, she sat down at the Achieva Family Trust table and introduced herself. Her professionally organized resume in hand, the Gateway High School sophomore maintained eye contact and listened attentively as the recruiter explained the services offered at the South Side-based nonprofit. Roberts discussed her extracurricular activities and her belief that everyone should work in fast food once in their lives.

“Schools don’t always prepare you for job interviews,” said Roberts. “[Mock interview events] help you get so much experience that we really need. There needs to be more events like these.”

Roberts was one of more than 100 secondary students from 21 schools to participate in the 13th annual mock interview day hosted by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in partnership with the Transition Coordinating Council of Allegheny County in March.

Dubbed “Mock It ‘Til You Rock It,” the event is offered to help local teenagers feel more comfortable working with recruiters and hiring managers as they join the workforce. Sponsored by UPMC’s Center for Engagement and Inclusion, the event featured break-out sessions and dozens of local businesses to help participants learn more about the job application process.

Erin Grimm, Ed.D., organized this event for more than a decade as the AIU’s secondary transition training and consultation coordinator. She said the annual event creates a gateway to employment for these teenagers.

Dozens of students fought through the nerves to help prepare for the right-of-passage that is their first job interview. Dr. Grimm said most people, regardless of their age, are uncomfortable going into job interviews. Mock interviews can help counteract those feelings and help build confidence in this type of situation, she said.

“It’s all here, the collaboration, the networking, the enthusiasm, the energy,” Dr. Grimm said. “These kids are having a great time.”

Students attended break-out sessions led by local business owners and each student completed three one-on-one mock interviews with employers. Translators were on hand to help students from the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf participate in one-on-one interviews as well.

Every student received a swag bag featuring earbuds, pens, and other gifts from participating companies and organizations. Local students at the Mon Valley School, an AIU-operated special education school, and Baldwin High School were commissioned to help customize the event’s swag, including 140 drawstring bags, pens, and magnets.

Break-out session speaker Toby Schwab, human resources director at Maverick Dental Laboratories in Monroeville, said applicants who interview for jobs across various industries can better understand how desired skill sets and attributes differ for each.

That variety of experience is why Lynn Martin, a gifted coordinator at Gateway High School, brought 10 students to the event. “Our teenagers are not aware of 80% of the jobs that exist out there,” Martin said. “There are so many different types of careers out there.”

For some students, participating simply meant a chance to sharpen their interpersonal communication skills. Because English is Janerit Gonzalas’s second language, she was nervous to meet with recruiters. “This was an opportunity to meet employers and improve my communication,” said Gonzalas, a senior at Brentwood High School. “I’ve been speaking English for two years, and this helped with some confidence.”

The event helps employers hone their interview skills from the other side of the table, said Bridgette Pepmeyer, staff supervisor and occupational therapist with Brother Andre’s Cafe in the Hill District. The outreach provides employment opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “I love this event,” Pepmeyer said. “What better way to see these teenagers through this experience than putting them in real world situations?”

Baldwin-Whitehall senior Ali Bououdina signed up to get more experience answering interview questions. Currently a crew member at Panera Bread, Bououdina plans to study neuroscience in college before attending medical school — and he knows he has a lot of interviews ahead of him.

“[Events] like this help teens reduce stress about public speaking and interview situations,” Bououdina said. “These are definitely skills people need to devote a lot more time to developing.”

That was the end goal for Dr. Grimm — helping teenagers develop skills that will give them more confidence in their daily lives. “It all revolves around making a difference for children,” she said. “And that's what's important  — that connection and building partnerships with the greater community to make a difference for children and youth.”