May 31, 2024

Real-Life Lessons in Job Hunting: HireSmart Cares CEOs Share Tips with MCHS Construction Class 

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 with requests or suggestions. 

Article written by Anne Lackey