How to find work? Practice in the Job Search Support Group

A job applicant enters a room to face her interviewer. They shake hands, engage in brief small talk, and begin discussing her qualifications. At the end of the interview, the applicant confesses that she messed up one of her answers.

“I shouldn’t just say the first thing that comes into my head.”

Is it a good idea to be that self-critical? Not in an actual job interview, of course. But Nancy Kern and Joe Holliman are conducting a mock-interview as part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Job Search Support Group, a free weekly gathering that helps participants sharpen their job-seeking skills. In this context, Kern’s honest appraisal of her performance will prepare her for a series of real-life interviews.

Kern is seeking work in education and training after her former company eliminated her position. She is cheerful and articulate and will surely make a good impression on prospective employers. But she hasn’t been on the market in years and appreciates the assistance she gets in the Job Search Support Group, led by April McHugh of UW-Madison’s Adult Career and Special Student Services.

“April is so positive,” Kern says. “Each week she has another activity for us to go through, along with all kinds of resources and useful information.”

A welcome break

The Job Search Support Group meets on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon at 21 N. Park St. Aimed at those who are unemployed or underemployed, it offers insight into interviewing, networking, and generating job leads.

“The job-search process is constantly evolving, so it’s helpful to learn the latest techniques,” McHugh says. “It’s also valuable to get emotional support in this group setting, because the search can take a toll on you.”

Though Holliman plays Kern’s interviewer, reading from a list of questions provided by McHugh, he will also take his turn as the interviewee. He is a resource planning consultant looking for a new position after leaving his job in December.

Holliman finds the Job Search Support Group a welcome break in his weekly schedule.

“It’s good to get away from the doldrums of reviewing job openings,” he says.

‘A very good interview’

In her mock-interview, Kern deftly handles Holliman’s queries about her background, her strengths, and her approach to difficult situations. She hesitates in response to an unexpected question: “What did you find most draining in your previous job?”

“I liked everything I did in my job,” she says, “so this question is a little bit challenging for me.”

Kern will have time to formulate a better answer to the question in case it comes up in a real-life interview. Better to struggle in this setting and reflect on how to fix it.

“I need to review the job description over and over and be cognizant of what the employer is looking for,” she says after the interview. “When they ask a question, I need to link my answer back to that.”

Kern is harder on herself than Holliman is. He praises her preparation, eye contact, and energy, boding well for her job prospects.

“That,” he tells her, “was a very good interview.”

For more information about the Job Search Support Group, contact April McHugh, april.mchugh@wisc.edu, 608-262-2683.