“What’s Your Best Quality?”: From Trite Questions to Tangible Employment at Boys Republic

August 22, 2017

As they drift through aisles of formal wear, the teenagers are distinctive in their worn cotton shirts, basketball shorts, and prized sneakers. Daniel discovers a striped, sherbet button down shirt in the racks. Adding one to his bundle, he enters a fitting room and emerges as one would expect a sixteen year old boy to look in interview clothes: a bit awkward. He’s swimming in a long dress shirt and black pants while his four friends laugh at his appearance. Determined, Daniel retreats to his room to find a dress shirt and slacks that fit.

Eventually, Daniel chooses a blue collared shirt, satin tie, and black slacks. With his supervisor Heidi Madris, Daniel and other teens carry their shopping bags through the parking lot. The teens’ outing is among the first times they have shopped for formal wear. Heidi explains that selecting appropriate clothing is one transitional skill she teaches. Heidi, a Boys Republic staff, shepherds older students through exercises that are key for independence.  Exercises like identifying suitable interview clothes, tying a tie, and writing a resume help teens prepare for self-sustaining employment.

Round Table: Marshalls employees volunteer their time to help prepare Boys Republic students for successful job interviews.

Preparing teens for employment, staff teach appropriate interview etiquette and help them practice job interviews. Sometimes, though, the youth have trouble taking staff seriously when they practice interviews. That’s why Marshalls Department Stores generously assisted student learning by holding formal mock interviews on April 2.  Daniel and his peers, dressed in their new formal wear, practiced interviewing for a cashier’s position with Marshalls volunteers. “Where do you see yourself in five years?”, “How would friends describe you?,” “Why are you ideal for this job?”—all uncomfortable interview questions to immediately answer— were among those posed to teens. The hesitant teens responded as best they could with their immediate thoughts. Once each student spoke, many asked the professionals for advice on lengthening their responses and determining interview-appropriate discussion topics.  For Daniel, “It was difficult and scary to talk so much in front of a large group, but it really helped me practice answering the kinds of questions I’ll be asked in my next interview.”

Undoubtedly, Daniel’s next interview will be soon. He and his peers must be employed, either on or off campus; in addition, they must practice applying and interviewing for off-campus jobs. Employment in the community is one goal for teenagers enrolled in the Independent Living Program (ILP).  Boys Republic’s ILP is a short-term living arrangement for teens like Daniel transitioning from residential treatment to independent lives in the community. For Daniel’s transition to be successful, he must learn the various skills taught in the ILP.  Building an appropriate interview outfit, a persuasive resume, quality work experience in Boys Republic’s vocational programs, and effective interview strategies with generous companies such as Marshalls—Daniel’s chances at successful employment are greatly increased. Daniel’s first shopping experience may be uncomfortable and look odd, even humorous, to peers, but so may the first time he writes a grocery list, grossly underestimates his monthly budget, and mumbles nervously through his first job interview. The point is, for Daniel and other ILP students, that they are shepherded through the skills and resources needed for productive adulthood. In the ILP, an extension of Boys Republic’s program, Daniel and his peers gain the successful independence they wouldn’t have otherwise had.