What makes a resume stand out? How do you prepare for an interview, and what are good questions to ask a potential employer in a job interview? 

HireSmart Cares co-founders and CEOs Anne and Mark Lackey, who have created and run successful real estate and international staffing businesses, recently shared answers to those questions with students in Zach Carithers' Construction 3 class at Madison County High School, who will meet with representatives from various industries during the school's April 18 Career Day. 

HireSmart is a nonprofit dedicated to helping the next generation succeed through financial investments in agriculture education and workforce development initiatives, as well as teaching students about job preparedness, personal finance and entrepreneurship. 

"We're here to help you get a job," said Anne to the students. "That is our number one reason for being here." 

Anne noted that resumes aren't the place to tell a life story. Instead, their purpose is to secure an interview. They should be concise, include details on what makes the applicant special — such as promotions at previous work, stellar school attendance, extracurricular activities, or good grades — and provide clear instructions on contacting them.   

She also offered to review each of Carithers' students' resumes and urged them to be clear about what they're seeking and to prepare their resumes before Career Day. 

"When you are building your resume, you want to be clear about what you want so that you can communicate that," she said. 

Mark told students he started as a busboy at an International House of Pancakes, then earned a promotion to a backup cook position and continued to progress through the years, serving in executive roles and starting multiple successful businesses. He stressed the importance of demonstrating responsibility, initiative, and a strong work ethic in any position, whether entry-level or CEO. 

"What glory is there in that (serving as a busboy)?" he asked. "Not a lot, but I moved up their ladder, and it showed them that I took initiative. I was responsible. I showed up on time. That's what employers want. They want somebody who will show up on time and work hard." 

Anne advised students to arrive at least 20 minutes early to interviews, bring copies of their resumes, bring a pen and pad to take notes, and leave their cell phone in the car. 

"There's nothing that's going to happen within the hour and a half to two hours that you might be in an interview that is more important than the person that you're meeting with," she said, adding that mom or dad shouldn't come to the business during an interview either. 

The CEO emphasized respecting everyone, from the receptionist to the interviewer. 

"You may think, 'Well, she's just the receptionist. I don't need to be nice to her.' That is a wrong answer," Anne warned. You want to make sure that you are nice to everybody… My first real job was as a receptionist in a bank. Do you know that we didn't hire people who were rude to me? The first thing I did was report them to the director of HR and said they didn't have people skills." 

Anne encouraged the students to be in "interview mode" even before they get to the job site, since you don't know who you'll meet in traffic. That person you cut off in traffic could be the person scheduled to interview you. 

She told the students to stand up for any handshake, and then the Lackeys practiced firm handshakes with the class, emphasizing direct eye contact. She added details such as always putting your nametag on your right so that they can easily see your name when you shake hands with someone. 

"You want to carry yourself well and give them your full attention," she said. 

She said every interview has value, even if it's not your desired job, because it's great practice and helps sharpen your interviewing skills. Mark added that industry professionals talk to each other, and while a position might not be the right fit for you, an employer impressed with your resume and interview may refer you to another company seeking someone more in line with your goals. 

"Use it (the interview) as practice so that when you meet somebody that you're interested in, you're ready," he told the construction class. "It's like measuring twice and cutting once, right?" 

The Lackeys encouraged students to come prepared with questions for the interviewer and to focus on being more "interested than interesting." She said a person asking the right questions elevates their status in the interviewers' eyes. 

"You should come to an interview prepared with about three-to-five questions that you want to ask them," said Anne. "You could have written on your notepad in case you're nervous, but you should think about some of the things you would want to know. When you get those answers, if they resonate with you, you can weave them into your answers when they ask you questions." 

So, what are good questions to ask in a job interview? 

She suggested: Can you tell me a little bit about what's important to you as an employee? What can I expect in a typical day if I'm hired? What do you need to do to become successful here? Are you going to do additional training? Do you pay for certification? Do you pay for tools? 

"These are good logical questions that show that you're interested in the position, and it also tells you what your commitment might be should you go there," she said. "You're interviewing them almost as much as they're interviewing you." 

The Lackeys stressed the significance of maintaining commitments and open communication once hired. 

"Do what you say you're going to do," Anne said. "The easiest way to get fired from any job is to not do what you say you're going to do." 

Anne assured the class that they have many opportunities ahead of them. 

"You guys are sought after," she said. "Nobody here should really be having a hard time getting a job. But you want to make sure it's the right job." 

HireSmart Cares aims to help Madison County youth prepare for successful careers. Anyone with a proposal for grant funding for local ag education or workforce development initiatives, or anyone seeking a presentation to youth on job preparedness, personal finance or entrepreneurship can contact info@hiresmartcares.org with requests or suggestions. 

It’s not Dasher and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen — remember the Rudolph song? Try Charlotte, Pumpkin, Nugget, and Flappy. 

Those are the chickens at the mini-farm at Colbert Elementary School where teacher Jenny Heath shows over 400 students the joys and satisfactions in the disciplined care of animals and crops. 

“Students are learning the importance of owning and caring for livestock,” said Heath. “This is related first hand to our community as they see chicken houses all over Madison County. They are taught the purpose of livestock as well as possible careers in the field.” 

Heath also teaches students about raising crops and why the growing process is so vital to every person — we all must eat!  

“In my class, students learn what to plant, and when and how to plant it,” said Heath. “During the growing season, they help to maintain the garden and we talk about how factors out of our control (weather, insects) can either positively or negatively affect our yield. This is always related to a big picture in terms of farming. I stress how important farmers are and that this is something they can choose to do in their future even if they do not currently live on a family farm.” 

Heath’s commitment to teaching students about the land, about farming, about science, about identifying birds and plants and increasing students’ knowledge of the natural world, about how to move in the direction of self sustenance — all of these things directly match the purpose of HireSmart Cares, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping the next generation succeed.  

HireSmart Cares Co-CEO Mark Lackey visited Colbert Elementary School recently to present Heath with a $3,000 check to expand the school farm and provide more ag-education and science-related learning opportunities.  

“I love what you’re doing, and I’m really appreciative,” Lackey told Heath. “Thank you for what you do.” 

Lackey said students with agricultural skills will always be vital to society. He said the same goes for students in hands-on trades. 

“If you’re a plumber, electrician, or a carpenter, you will always have work,” he said. “That’s what we try to instill in the kids.”  

Colbert Elementary Principal James Fahrney said Heath’s program is “outstanding.” 

“Jenny Heath is amazing and she’s always thinking of new projects to introduce the love of agriculture and science for our kids — the raised beds, the chickens, the hoop house,” he said. “And she really partners with local community members, which is wonderful.”  

With the help of the grant, there will be more gardening space with additional raised beds, a covered seating area with three benches that seat six-to-eight kids per table, a platform to allow chickens to be off the ground when it rains, as well as more planting trays, pots, potting tables, soil, and other gardening materials. The majority of the garden equipment will be used to make the school’s hoop house functional. 

Lackey asked for Madison County students from the high school construction class as well as the Danielsville construction program to help in the renovations, and Heath and MCHS construction teacher Zach Carithers are partnering together to make that happen. Lackey also asked that all grant funds be spent in Madison County. 

“If you’re going to spend money, spend it in the community because that’s a job for somebody here,” he said. 

Heath, a mother of two sons, said she’s seen first-hand how valuable an ag education has been for her boys, and she wants to extend those opportunities to more children.   

“As the mother of two boys who are both involved in FFA, I have seen first hand the value of this type of learning and education,” she said. “One of my boys is taking a ‘traditional’ college path, while the other one is planning on attending a trade school once he graduates. Both will do something related to agriculture because of what they learned and were exposed to in their ag program. By growing my program at Colbert Elementary, my goal is to set the stage for younger kids to understand that what we do on a school level, can turn into a trade later in life.”  

Heath said HireSmart’s ongoing contributions to ag education and workforce development are having a big impact locally. 

"Mark and Ann Lackey are making a huge difference in our schools, community, and the lives of our students,” she said. “Thanks to their generosity, Colbert students will continue to have opportunities to experience hands-on learning through agriculture." 

Heath said Charlotte, Pumpkin, Nugget, and Flappy are also providing eggs to Colbert families. And students got a little taste of democracy, too. 

“The students got to name the chickens,” she said. “I got them to write down names they wanted, then I made a ‘ballot’ and they voted.” 

If you have a suggestion on a local ag-education or workforce development initiative that may qualify for a HireSmart grant, email info@hiresmartcares.org. 

Madison County High School student Gavin Heath lives in a subdivision in Hull, but he's learning to be a farmer as he cares for pigs "Tom and Jerry" at the MCHS ag barn. 

The freshman loves the camaraderie with other students at the facility who also care for show animals. 

"It's a family we've created at the barn," said Heath. "It's an awesome work environment. They're great kids to hang out with, and it's a great agricultural community." 

Heath's group of ag-minded friends at the barn will soon double thanks to a $50,000 grant from HireSmart Cares, a Madison County-based nonprofit focused on supporting career development opportunities for local youth. The money will be used to expand and renovate the barn before the start of the next school year. 

A call to action: HireSmart Cares aims to help youth realize their potential    

"This renovation will allow us to double the amount of students we're serving and double the amount of livestock projects that we can hold here (the barn)," said MCHS ag teacher Cindy Jones, who said the barn currently serves 12-to-15 students. "And it's just touching more lives and changing more lives." 

Heath said he's eager to see more students who don't live on farms be able to raise livestock. 

"This is an opportunity for kids like me who don't live out on land and live in a neighborhood," he said. "This is giving us an opportunity to truly grow our agricultural experiences." 

Heath’s mom, Jenny, said her family wasn't involved in agriculture until her son, Ian, decided he wanted to show livestock. Thanks to the MCHS ag barn, Ian had a place to learn how to care for animals. The freshman at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) is now the president of the Georgia Future Farmers of America (FFA). 

"If we didn't have the barn, my kids would not have done this," said Jenny about Ian and Gavin. "They would not have had these opportunities, period. So, with that being said, the more families we can pull in who are like us, then the more kids will have the same opportunities that my kids did and be able to grow in the same ways that they've grown." 

HireSmart U.S. Agricultural Assistance — Kaylee's Story 

Jones said the barn renovations will improve animal conditions by providing more space and cover at the structure built in 2015 as a teaching facility, which was later modified for livestock housing. 

"We realized our students needed an on-campus housing facility for their livestock projects," she said. "So we've modified, we've rigged, and we're making due with the facility we have here for our students." 

Jenny Heath, who assists at the ag barn, along with other parents, said the renovations will include a number of small, but significant upgrades. 

"We've been in the barn for five years now, and we've made it work, but just the things that are going to be done — the extra pavement that's going to be laid, the bigger pins, oh my gosh, if there's a wash pin, huge things that don't seem like a big deal, but they are," she said. 

Jones has seen livestock projects' impact on students, calling it "life-changing." 

"It gives them a sense of responsibility," she said. "They learn every day about the nature of livestock care. They learn good practices. They learn to be responsible. They learn to take care of things. It's just such a good lesson for students to learn. There are a lot of different pathways to success for students, but a livestock project, in my mind, is one of the best." 

Anne Lackey, co-CEO of HireSmart Cares with her husband, Mark, said helping young people find success is the purpose of their nonprofit organization and the reason for the donation. 

"You have to invest in our youth," said Anne Lackey. "And the more youth we can impact, the richer our community will be. That's really what it comes down to." 

HireSmart Cares U.S. Career Assistance — Construction Class Story 

Mark Lackey said funding the ag barn expansion makes sense financially because HireSmart aims to get the most bang for the buck in terms of impact. Many grants assist a single recipient, but funding a facility expansion will benefit youth for years. He said he sees exponential returns for the community on the money invested. 

   

"This isn't about the dollars; it's about the number of kids we can impact," he said. "We're glad to be able to help a number of kids over the years." 

Plans for a Madison County Ag Center and a livestock show facility have been in the works for years. Madison County is moving forward with the larger structure, the multi-purpose ag center, which will serve the community in a variety of ways, not all related to agriculture. A large livestock housing facility is a few years down the road. 

But the HireSmart donation means the high school can address livestock housing needs with renovations before the 2024-25 school year. 

Madison County District 2 Commissioner Terry Chandler, a farmer and a long-time leader in the push for a county ag center, said, "All of us involved in the local 'ag' community are thrilled" with the commitment from HireSmart to expand the student animal housing facilities at the high school. 

Chandler said students actively involved with individual livestock projects "have traditionally been the most well-balanced, best prepared, and most sought-after products of the MC Ag program."   

"When you witness the daily responsibility that is required, the family involvement, all the necessary husbandry skills that must be mastered — certainly including financial responsibility — team building, and exposure to the best students from all over Georgia and the Southeastern U.S., those end results are no surprise," he said.   

Beyond Words: Turning Your Company’s Core Values into Daily Actions   

Chandler said students with livestock showing experience enter the workforce equipped with practical tools, knowledge, skills, and "work ethic at a level that places them head-and-shoulders above and well ahead of the crowd."   

"They are thoroughly primed for success!" he said. "Selfishly, those of us involved in agriculture benefit by having an entirely new population of community members with a better understanding of the demands of production agriculture. Hopefully, many of these students will desire to add their skills and insight to careers focused on meeting the demands of feeding, clothing, and fueling a growing world." 

Chandler said students involved in ag programs also "get exposure to an entirely new list of career opportunities and industry contacts."   

"Their world gets a lot bigger and more exciting!" he said. "Thanks again to Mr. and Mrs. Lackey for their vision and gift. When this is coupled with the direction of a dedicated team of Vo-Ag instructors, committed students and parents, and a supportive community, the benefits to us all at many levels become immeasurable. This is a great start as we move closer to the reality of our ag center that will expand those opportunities even further." 

Jenny Heath said she pulls up to the barn and sees students enjoying themselves beyond the work, such as having Nerf-gun wars and other entertainment. 

"It's such a positive place for them to spend their time," she said. "And the group of kids is just a great group. They're all there with a common goal of taking care of their animals, doing the best they can at that next show the next weekend. Something's pretty special there." 

Gavin Heath said he and fellow students learn leadership skills and the importance of work ethic. 

"You really have to plan ahead on what you're going to work on," he said. "And you set goals you want to accomplish for the next show. And you have to work for it. You gain leadership through the other kids being there, and if there's anyone new who decides to show, you kind of lead them along and teach them what it is and what it's all about." 

HireSmart Filipino Scholarships: Shannen's Story 

To learn more about HireSmart Cares, visit hiresmartcares.org. To share an idea on how to advance U.S. workforce development, email info@hiresmartcares.org

HireSmart Cares founders Mark and Anne Lackey are addicted to entrepreneurship, having successfully run multiple multi-million dollar businesses.  

They love sharing tips with anyone aiming to launch a business. But their first word of advice is always — be ready to live frugally. 

"How many of you like to work and not get paid?" Anne asked a roomful of Melinda Cochran-Davis’s construction students at Jackson Empower College and Career Center in Jefferson, Georgia. 

No one responded or raised a hand. 

"No one? Well, then you probably don't need to go into business," said Anne. "As a business owner, we worked for years without paychecks. We worked for years making investments back into our business over and over and over again." 

Mark and Anne, who run multiple businesses in international hiring, real estate, and consulting, as well as operating a nonprofit, HireSmart Cares, emphasize that "bootstrapping" a business is all about commitment. 

There's no free time, and the responsibility is 24/7/365. There's no "off button." 

A call to action: HireSmart Cares aims to help youth realize their potential  

"We worked seven days a week, 52 weeks a year for seven years before we went on a vacation," said Mark. "There were days when we needed to pay our employees and guess what? We didn't have enough money left to pay ourselves. Running a business is fun and exciting, but it is challenging. It is difficult." 

Mark and Anne talked about Madison County, Georgia, teenage entrepreneur Olivia Braswell, who runs her own homemade soap-making business, Proverbs 31 Farmstead. 

"When you start a business, there's a lot more to it than just owning a business and making money," said Anne. "It's an investment." 

Olivia owns three cows that supply the milk for her business. Mark and Anne asked students to consider all the responsibilities with the cows. Olivia had to purchase the cows and make sure they're fed and properly cared for. She milks them at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. every day. 

"Every day, seven days a week, 365 days, and she can't miss a day," said Mark. 

Anne said having a good product is not enough. People need to know about what you have to sell. She talked about developing a marketing budget. 

"You need customers; you need advertising," she said. "How are you going to pay for that?" 

Anne said she and Mark worked full-time jobs and invested a portion of their salaries into their businesses, never taking out loans. 

"You have to figure out how much money or time you are willing to invest in something to see if it's going to be successful," said Anne. 

Mark shared that he considered starting a hardware business, so he worked for free every weekend at a hardware store for several months to see what it took to run a hardware store, ultimately deciding he had no desire to start such a business. 

"It was a cheap investment, rather than buying a store or starting to buy nuts and bolts and screws and things and then starting my own hardware store," he said. "I invested in learning." 

Mark and Anne said entrepreneurship is all about marrying your passion for an idea with a commitment to make it work. 

"Find those things you enjoy already," he said. 

"Understand what you do best and what you're passionate about," said Anne. 

A student asked Anne what she loved most about being a business owner. 

"Service," she said, noting that she and Mark employ over 700 people. "I get to help change lives by helping people achieve their goals and giving them health care, dental care, and community." 

Anne said being a successful entrepreneur is rooted in passion and establishing a distinct quality of service. Seeking money for money's sake isn't enough. 

"When you love what you do, and you do your best every day, the money will show up," she said. 

After the talks, Mark and Anne chatted with students, fielded questions, and heard their ideas. 

"We're here to help you," said Anne. "Ask us anything." 

That's the spirit of HireSmart Cares. It's a quest to serve youth with time, teaching, tools, and technology so today's kids can be tomorrow's leaders. 

If you're interested in reading more about HireSmart Cares, click here

If you'd like to donate to support HireSmart Cares and its initiatives to support today's youth, click here. 

If you have ideas for supporting youth that you'd like us to hear, email us Info@HireSmartCares.org. 

Four Madison County, Georgia students traveled to Indianapolis recently and walked away with the fifth-place plaque in the National FFA Poultry evaluation "Career Development Event" (CDE).  

"We all truly wanted it," said team member Isabelle Williams, who was named the high individual in the written exam. "We wanted to win, and we worked so much with each other that we knew what we were good at, what we struggled with, and how to help each other through challenges." 

Williams was joined by George Parham, Devin Self, and Joshua Black, who was named high individual in the shell egg grading for interior and exterior factors. 

Participants in the poultry CDE select live meat-type chickens for broiler breeding, evaluate and place live egg-type hens, and rate the finished product by evaluating and grading ready-to-cook carcasses and parts of chickens and turkeys. 

HireSmart U.S. Agricultural Assistance — Kaylee's Story 

The Madison County team members got a boost from HireSmart Cares, which helped cover their travel expenses. HireSmart assists the next generation of farmers in a variety of ways, including covering travel costs for students to agriculture-related competitions.  

HireSmart Cares recently donated $50,000 to the Madison County FFA to expand the high school ag barn, allowing more students who don't live on farms to raise livestock and learn career skills in ag.  

Williams, who is interested in becoming a large animal veterinarian, said poultry judging success is about "paying attention to the small details" and helping each other. 

"That's the big factor in poultry judging — picking out all the defects from various poultry products," she said. "We have to judge individually, but then we would all share our suggestions on ways to improve and avoid missing things." 

Williams said participation in ag activities helps youth understand all the work that goes into food production, which she said is often overlooked. 

HireSmart hopes to raise awareness of the need for a new generation of farmers. "No farms = No food" is a succinct message that strikes home for HireSmart co-founders Mark and Anne Lackey, who commit to doing whatever they can to support youth and their ag career development. 

If you support that aim, consider donating to HireSmart's ag initiative here

You landed the job, and And you got that paycheck. Yay! Now what?  

HireSmart Cares founders Mark and Anne Lackey recently talked about personal finances with students in Melinda Cochran-Davis’s construction classes at Jackson Empower College and Career Center in Jefferson, Georgia. 

What does it take to live? 

Mark and Anne praised Cochran-Davis’s work with the students on budgeting. Davis assigned each student a salary based on their grade-point average in the class, with A's earning the most, followed by B's and C's. Students then had to allocate their income toward living expenses, including rent, auto costs, food, insurance, utilities, entertainment, etc. 

"This is a great tool!" said Mark, noting the importance of careful budgeting. 

Mark and Anne both shared their early-life budgeting processes with the students.   

"What I did is I kept a little notebook in my pocket, and every time I purchased anything, cash or check, I wrote it down," said Mark. "I did this for months, and after about three months, I could look at my history and know what it cost me to live." 

He then knew how to live within a budget because he carefully tracked the numbers. 

A call to action: HireSmart Cares aims to help youth realize their potential  

Mark said banks make a fortune off overdraft fees and urged students not to help banks make their offices bigger by incurring unnecessary and expensive overdraft notices. 

"Whatever works for you," he said. "Develop a system of tracking expenses so you don't pay overdraft fees." 

Anne shared her former system of budgeting by envelopes. She talked about days of living lean and working to make a little bit of money last. 

"When I got my paycheck, I ended up taking it and cashing it, and I put it in envelopes," she said. 

There were envelopes for rent, car payments, gas, food, utilities, and entertainment. Anne talked to students about "fixed" costs, such as rent and car payments, versus "variable" expenses, such as food and entertainment. 

She put her cash into each envelope every pay period. When an unexpected expense arose, she had to determine which envelope went light. 

"Let's say I have a situation where my car breaks down, and I have to do repairs," she said. "Where does that money come from? I only have so many envelopes." 

Anne shared the necessity of firm budgeting priorities and a hierarchy of needs. She said rent, auto, and gas expenses came first. She needed a place to live and transportation to work. When unexpected costs came, she pulled first from entertainment funds and next from food. Anne added this system helped her positively refine her decision-making. 

"If I only have $20 for entertainment for the month, maybe I'm not buying that $7 Starbucks latte," she said. 

Mark and Anne also talked to the students about good debt versus bad debt, explaining that good debt has a positive return on investment, while bad debt continues to bite into your wallet for years. They urged students not to be on the wrong side of compound interest. 

They noted that taking on major debt for college without a viable repayment plan is financially destructive, with debt payments increasing over the years because of compound interest. They urged students to consider working through college to pay as they go or to see which employers have a tuition reimbursement program. 

"Think about your income potential after college," said Anne. "We often see kids saddled with $100,000 worth of debt, and their earning potential is $40,000 a year." 

Mark talked about how powerful compound interest can be for students if they save money over time and invest it wisely in interest-bearing accounts. 

"So compound interest can work for you in savings and against you in a loan," he said. 

Along those lines, Anne advised students to "beware of credit cards," noting the high-interest rates that saddle young people with debt. 

"They (credit card companies) make it sound so interesting, but it can get you into bad trouble," she said. "Don't try to live over what you earn because that will get to you." 

High schoolers are zooming toward the days of paychecks, rent, insurance, and other adult concerns. Mark and Anne want the next generation to face those challenges with skill and confidence. That’s why HireSmart Cares allocates time, tools, teaching, and technology to those efforts.  

To learn more about HireSmart Cares or to make a donation to the nonprofit’s mission to empower today’s youth through skill-development initiatives, visit hiresmartcares.org. 

HireSmart Supports Top FFA Ag Communications Team in the U.S. 

Katie Carrouth and her teammates, Abbi Adams, Anna Moon, and Anna Kate Mathis, laugh at the video of their surprised faces when they learned that, "Yes!" they're the best in the nation. 

The Madison County FFA Ag Communications team earned first in the U.S. at the 96th Annual National FFA Convention and Expo.  

"All of us were so shocked, and since then, we've all re-watched the clip so many times, just laughing at our own expressions," said Carrouth. "It was super sweet to have that moment filmed so we can all remember it." 

Adams, who placed sixth overall in the individual competition, said the moment was intense. 

"To me, it felt we were the only people in the room," she said. "All of my senses were both heightened and subdued at the exact same moment. It was a feeling I had never felt before. When they announced the second-place team and we realized we had won, I remember a feeling of shock. It wasn't until we left the stage that my sobs began, and I realized my hands were numb from stress." 

The quartet got a boost from HireSmart Cares, a nonprofit focused on helping youth develop job skills, which provided grants for Madison County FFA members, including the ag communications team, to cover costs associated with the trip. 

A call to action: HireSmart Cares aims to help youth realize their potential    

A primary focus of HireSmart is encouraging youth involvement in agriculture, which involves spreading the word about career options and the relevance of ag in so many aspects of life. 

That's also the focus of ag communications teams — providing the public with a greater understanding of agriculture. 

Adams, a student at Wesleyan College majoring in English education and minoring in communications, said the importance of ag communications often goes overlooked. 

"Without agricultural communications, nobody would know anything relating to the agriculture industry," she said. "'Ag Comm' hopes to create advocacy and transparency. It is important for the future of the agriculture industry as it will help connect consumers to farms and major corporations." 

Carrouth, a singer/songwriter and music producer getting a Bachelor of Arts in Music at Georgia College and State University, said the agricultural communications focus in high school "allowed me to branch out and try more things that challenged me which has helped tremendously at college." 

HireSmart U.S. Agricultural Assistance — Kaylee's Story 

She wasn't raised on a farm, "so I always felt a bit left out of that sector," but she has relatives and peers in agriculture. 

"I saw the need for bridging the gap between non-traditional and traditional agriculturalists through activities of the FFA such as the agricultural communications CDE," said Carrouth.  

She added that reaching consumers to educate them about agriculture is "one of the most important things for the agriculture industry to focus on." 

Adams and Carrouth said the team's first-place finish in the U.S. was a byproduct of the companionship they felt as they worked toward a shared goal. 

"The four-person team dynamic is really special because it allows four separate approaches to creativity to be combined into one cohesive project," said Carrouth. "This competition is a lot of work and has many parts to complete, so having a team like ours is super important. As far as taking first place, I feel that it comes down to our passion for it. We all wanted to do well, so we put every ounce of effort we could into it. We are also very good friends, so teamwork skills came naturally." 

Adams said the "contest brought us closer than we ever imagined." 

"While we worked through every step of the way, we understand each other as well as the vision we hoped to create," she said. "We practiced compassion while simultaneously holding each other accountable… We wanted to keep practicing and tweaking the fine details because we wanted to be the best, and we didn't quite know what that meant at a national level. We all care about this contest so incredibly much. We didn't only want to win for ourselves; we wanted to win for each other." 

HireSmart Cares U.S. Career Assistance — Construction Class Story 

HireSmart Cares applauds the FFA team for their commitment to each other and their hard work toward a shared goal. If you have a workforce development idea and would like to share it with us, email info@hiresmartcares.org. To contribute to our efforts to help today's youth be tomorrow's leaders, click here

You’re going for that interview. You want that job. How do you land it? 

HireSmart Cares founders Mark and Anne Lackey recently talked with Melinda Cochran-Davis’s construction classes at Jackson Empower College and Career Center in Jefferson, Georgia about the essential soft skills needed when searching for work. 

"There are some foundational skills you need to know and practice," said Anne. 

Mark and Anne emphasized the need for respect and interest while seeking employment. 

"What we hear from employers and what we hear out in the community is one of the bigger problems is the lack of respectfulness given in those initial introductions," said Mark. 

The first sign of respect a job applicant can show a potential employer is a professional appearance. 

A call to action: HireSmart Cares aims to help youth realize their potential  

Mark talked about how he worked full-time and took evening classes in college, where he arrived dressed in his three-piece business suit from the workday. A marketing professor called Mark and several classmates to the front of the room, asking, "Which person would you trust with your $10,000?" When the instructor pointed to Mark, the class cheered loudest. He said it really drove home the point that first impressions matter. 

"You don't have to wear a three-piece suit," responded Anne. "But you can be clean — no stains on your shirt, have your shirt tucked in with no wrinkles. You can do many things to make a good first impression that are easy and don't cost any money. Again, how's your hair? How are you coming across? Are you offering a good, firm handshake? Those little things make a huge difference in how people perceive you and how seriously they take you." 

Mark and Anne had the students stand and practice firm handshakes. One other tidbit of advice: If you wear a nametag, put it on the right side so that when you shake hands, it's visible to the person you're greeting. Also, remember to call people by their names and leave your cell phone in your car. No phone call or text is more important than a job interview. 

The couple emphasized the need for timeliness. Arriving for a noon interview at noon is late. "Always be early!" they said, noting the importance of factoring in potential delays, such as a traffic accident on your route. 

They urged the students to consider their behavior and appearance well before the interview begins, noting that how a person acts toward a receptionist is a vital indicator to employers of a person's character, which decision-makers notice.   

"Your interview starts the moment you step on the premises," said Anne, stressing the need to be respectful to everyone, including those encountered in seemingly chance meetings, perhaps even before entering the job site. 

"You don't want to cut someone off in traffic and then go in for your interview and realize that's who you just cut off in traffic," said Mark. 

Both urged teens to "be interested instead of interesting," pointing out that employers are drawn to intellectually curious applicants who ask good questions about the place of employment. 

An interest in others leads to better conversations, more information, and more potential connections. So, if a job doesn't work out, a connection has been made, and that person may be a source for additional connections and job opportunities. 

"What you do matters, how you act matters, how you treat people matters, what you look like matters," said Anne, adding that it's essential to get all of those things right to stand out in a competitive job market. 

HireSmart Cares empowers the next generation by donating to a variety of community efforts aimed at helping children and teens be self-sufficient in years to come. But for Mark and Anne, it's never about just writing a check and walking away. It's about truly being present for youth hungry for knowledge and encouragement. 

That’s why HireSmart Cares allocates time, tools, teaching, and technology to those efforts.  

To learn more about HireSmart Cares or to make a donation to the nonprofit’s mission to empower today’s youth through skill-development initiatives, visit hiresmartcares.org. 

"How many of you have gotten a paycheck?" 

HireSmart Cares founders Mark and Anne Lackey recently asked that question to a roomful of high school students at Jackson Empower College and Career Center in Jefferson, Georgia. 

Several raised their hands. Mark and Anne then led the students on a journey from job interview, to managing personal finances to starting their own businesses. How do you make smart decisions every step of the way? 

HireSmart Cares empowers the next generation by donating to a variety of community efforts aimed at helping children and teens be self-sufficient in years to come. For instance, Mark and Anne provide $2,000 grants to construction teachers in Madison and Jackson County to aid their efforts in developing teens’ hands-on skills.  

But at HireSmart Cares, it's never about just writing a check and walking away. It's about truly being present for youth hungry for knowledge and encouragement.  

“We’re here to try to help you be better in the future and give you some tips,” said Anne to students in Melinda Cochran-Davis’s class at Empower. 

The successful entrepreneurs, owners of six multi-million-dollar businesses, share their time and knowledge with young people who will soon face the challenges of getting a job, managing finances, and looking for potential entrepreneurship opportunities. 

A call to action: HireSmart Cares aims to help youth realize their potential  

The basic theme of their talk? Success is all about attention to detail. 

Mark and Anne emphasize the importance of attention to detail in every aspect of professional and personal life. They draw from their vast experience, illustrating how meticulous planning and execution played a pivotal role in their success. They shared anecdotes from their own careers, highlighting the small but significant decisions that led them to where they are today. 

The concept of “attention to detail” was not just limited to job tasks or business plans, but extended to everyday life decisions such as budgeting, time management, and setting goals.  

Mark and Anne discussed the importance of financial literacy, pointing out common mistakes young people make and offered practical advice on budgeting, saving, and investing. Their message was clear: managing money wisely is a crucial skill, especially for those aspiring to start their own businesses. 

The entrepreneurs also encouraged the teens not to get too down in the face of failure. They shared their experiences with setbacks and how they used them as learning opportunities, highlighting the reality that failure is often a stepping-stone to success.  

Mark and Anne urged the teens to be intellectually curious, to ask questions of others, and to recognize that there is a vast range of options for their future.  

The shared success stories, such as “Tony,” a local teen who made an HVAC industry connection while in high school and now has a profitable job in that field.  

“Tony has been promoted and promoted because he had skill sets that he demonstrated here in class being attentive, being interested,” said Mark. “Tony sat in one of these chairs just like you do.”  

High schoolers are zooming toward the days of paychecks, rent, insurance, and other adult concerns. Mark and Anne want the next generation to face those challenges with skill and confidence. That’s why HireSmart Cares allocates time, tools, teaching, and technology to those efforts.  

To learn more about HireSmart Cares or to make a donation to the nonprofit’s mission to empower today’s youth through skill-development initiatives, visit hiresmartcares.org. 

Ava Willoughby recently got a taste of being a veterinarian when she had to care for her sick goat, Lupe, through the night. 

“We had to give her medicine throughout the night, every four hours,” said the eighth grader, who watched Lupe recover and regain her appetite. 

Ava loves the feeling of helping animals and plans to make that her career. 

“I like being around animals, and I feel like that’s what makes me happy,” she said of her desire to be a veterinarian for both big and small animals. 

HireSmart Cares wants Ava to thrive in that role. So HireSmart steps in with support for Ava and many other youth aiming to gain skills now for a brighter tomorrow. 

For instance, the nonprofit is covering the cost of an ag barn expansion in Madison County, Georgia so kids who don’t live on a farm can learn to care for livestock. HireSmart also funds ag-related scholarships and a variety of grants for youth interested in ag careers. 

Ava was able to travel to Indianapolis, Indiana, for the National FFA Convention in October with financial assistance from HireSmart for lodging, travel, and fees. 

She said she enjoyed the trip and had a chance to hear from a variety of people about their agricultural backgrounds. 

“It was fun, definitely really cold,” said Ava about the convention. “We had a lot of entertainment. We went to the zoo and then we had our sessions where we went and listened to people talk about their experiences.” 

The daughter of Josh and Brandi and the third of four children is in her first year showing goats with FFA. Ava has two goats, Peaches and Lupe, and will soon add a third, Ginga. 

“A few of my friends show, and I thought it would be really fun, and since goats aren’t the hardest to show for your first year,” she said. “The cows take a lot of work, probably double the time you spend with a goat.” 

Still, Ava said she will probably show cows during high school. 

“I’ve thought about having a cow,” she said. “I don’t feel like I want to do it right now, but I definitely want to when I’m in high school.” 

Ava participates on the middle school livestock judging team, learning to perform market evaluations. 

“If you’re judging your market animals for the meat, you want them to be bigger, and you don’t want them to be fat,” she said. “You want them to be bigger and muscular. And then for the breeding, you want them to have a good structure so they can hold up when carrying (offspring).” 

She’s also a middle school FFA officer this year, serving as the parliamentarian. 

“We’ll do a slideshow of how agriculture relates to what we’re talking about in that meeting,” said Ava. “The last meeting we did basketball. We stayed for the middle school basketball game, and I did a slideshow over how that related to agriculture.” 

She talked with fellow FFA members about how the basketball flooring is hardwood, the ball is made from cowhide, and the first-ever basketball goals were peach baskets. 

Ava smiles when talking about animals, including her dogs, Ivy and Banjo, and she’s looking forward to a future looking out for all creatures big and small as a veterinarian. 

HireSmart aims to help Ava and her peers take those steps to success, making the future brighter for all. 

Ava’s mom, Brandi, said she’s grateful for the support. 

“Being able to attend the National FFA Convention was definitely a privilege, said Brandi. “Ava was able to gain a larger perspective of the FFA organization and the opportunities it can provide. We are grateful that HireSmart Cares was willing to help provide Ava with an opportunity to expand her knowledge and build upon her success with FFA and her future endeavors.” 

If you’re interested in helping HireSmart support youth like Ava through a wide variety of workforce development initiatives, click here to contribute.