Sitting around tables in the school library, students nervously smoothed the skirts of their dresses and straightened the collars that hung over the buttons on their dress shirts. The Battle Ground High School students chatted and exchanged a few grins, but most sat quietly.

They waited their turns for one of the scariest moments in a person’s life: the first job interview.

Kevin Weeks, the high school’s business teacher, examined his list of students and called two names. Slowly, and in receipt of apprehensive stares from their peers, the two students took their seats in empty chairs, each across from a member of a local Rotary Club.

“We talk about kids being career and college ready, but if they can’t sit down and have a conversation with an adult, then they aren’t really ready for anything,” Weeks said. The Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher has set up mock interviews for the students in his career English and technical writing classes for the last 14 years. “I want to help students prepare for what it’s going to be like sitting across from someone they don’t know,” Weeks said. “I want to alleviate the stress and all the butterflies kids have.”

Research has shown that students with greater exposure to CTE are more likely to be employed and earn higher wages after secondary and higher education. CTE programs engage students in problem-solving activities, provide hands-on activities and bring students and community members together for collaborative learning. Battle Ground Public School’s CTE program prepares students for the workforce by connecting them to a variety of career paths and empowering them with the skills to secure jobs in those fields. Both Battle Ground and Prairie high schools offer classes in business, health services, industrial occupations and digital and visual arts.

No matter what path students pursue, Weeks wants to give students an edge in landing their first job. With that in mind, he has developed elaborate lessons on resume and interview preparation and sought to make the interviews as realistic as possible with volunteers from the Lewis River and Battle Ground Rotary clubs serving as “hiring managers.”

During the semester in career English and technical writing, students cover how to create resumes, learn how to tailor cover letters for specific positions, and get tips for filling out job applications. They learn about proper job hunting etiquette (such as personal presentation and following up an interview with a thank you card) and communication skills and practice interviewing. Then there is the mock interview.

“It’s a wonderful life skill,” said Nancy Heidrick, a member of the Lewis River Rotary who volunteers to interview students each semester. “It’s important to know how to dress appropriately, speak appropriately — these are protocols that will never change, and these are skills that kids don’t learn at home.”

To prepare for the interview, students read help wanted ads and can apply for one of several varied positions with the fictitious business, The Employment Company. The business has 13 openings: from an apprentice plumber and a cashier, to a salesperson, a child development teacher and even a veterinary assistant. Weeks directs students to tailor their cover letter and resume to the help wanted ad describing the position for which they want to apply. All jobs are entry level and do not require experience. Weeks said he talked with local business people to find out what skills are required for each position and what general interview questions managers would ask applicants. During the interview, the Rotary volunteers evaluate students based on a rubric with scores for communications, eye contact, greeting, closing, presence and written materials.

“They’re here to get the experience,” Weeks said. “Real-life experience and the potential to be better in the next — perhaps real — job interview.”

Most students took the BGHS business course to learn how to create or improve a resume and write an effective cover letter. “The hardest thing to do is to get what you want to say on paper,” said Cheyenne Miller, a BGHS senior in the career English class.

Some students, like senior Courtney Melton, want to be ready for the workforce after high school. Melton wants to be a veterinary assistant and is exploring options for earning certification through a four to six week online course. “I want to improve my communications skills and have a better resume,” she said. “Graduation is not far off.”

Sitting across from their smiling interviewers in the library, some students sat erect, seemingly frozen as they answered questions. Other students relaxed, returning the smiles as they processed each question. “Some of what we do is calm their fears,” said the Lewis River Rotary’s Heidrick, “because if you’ve never interviewed before, it’s very scary.”