We were approached by Cambridge House in Southwark, a leading social action centre based in South London, to run a CV and Interview Skills workshop, to boost the confidence of some of their clients who, for a variety of reasons, had been unemployed for some time. Cambridge House aims to tackle the local effects of poverty, disadvantage and discrimination by enabling individuals and communities to take more control of decisions that affect their lives as well as actively promoting efforts towards social inclusion and change.
Cambridge House is an amazing organisation where people who live in the area can go for advice and support. They currently run a mentoring scheme called ‘SE17Working’ and our workshop was to be part of this project.
After a considerable amount of consultation we devised a course which focused on the key elements associated with structuring a powerful CV for approaching job searches and email correspondence, plus a very practical approach to preparing for and handling interviews.
The course began with an introduction from both the trainers who then outlined the aims and objectives of the day. This was both ‘upbeat’ and encouraging so that the clients would be reassured that the content, tone and style of delivery would be supportive, constructive and practical.
The group then divided into two, one half went into one room and focused on CV creation for the morning and the other half worked on the way to prepare emotionally and physically as well as intellectually for the experience of an interview.
Jane, who took the CV component, had a series of good and bad CVs prepared for discussion, plus examples of effective and poorly written emails to send with the application. She also provided a list of suggested vocabulary to help achieve a positive and professional tone to all the written material. The clients were involved in both group discussion and individual work on their own CVs.
Susan did some dynamic practical work on dealing with nerves and tension. The group was then asked to write down all the information they hoped to be able to communicate in their interviews. They practised making a positive and professional entrance and initial greeting with an interviewer. These were filmed by our cameraman and replayed so that the clients could appreciate the power and importance of this initial meeting, as well as its relative impact when compared with what they might say during the interview.
They then role-played an interview with the trainer acting as the interviewer, the aim being to include all the key points they had listed irrespective of the questions asked. These were replayed for analysis, style, impact and content. We then broke for lunch, after which the groups changed rooms and the two sessions were repeated.
The two groups came together for a final session encapsulating all we had learned in the day and ending with offers of further support – with CVs to be sent to Jane for feedback, and phone support with Susan in relation to future interviews. The clients were given some notes about preparation for interviews and other support material, as well as a DVD of their interviews.
We were sensitive to the fact that clients on the course did not know one another and might find it difficult to work in a group situation; however, we found the response to all the sections was enthusiastic, generous, appreciative and motivated.
One of the points raised was that some of the clients had been given initial interviews on the phone and had found it very hard to do themselves justice and make an impact with just the voice but no eye contact or visual interaction. Some work was subsequently done on vocal delivery, particularly where clarity of articulation was an issue and suggestions were made for future development in this area. It had been suggested that the clients attended the course as if attending an interview and several of them came very smartly and professionally dressed which added greatly to the spirit and effectiveness of the day.
Most of the clients were highly responsive, motivated and appreciative and the Project Officer was delighted at the confidence and enthusiasm expressed by the attendees. Cambridge House showed great foresight in arranging a real-life case study.
Cambridge House has an excellent volunteering programme and provides opportunities for individuals to volunteer and grow with the organisation into paid positions when possible. A testimonial from a member of staff really helped explain the value of volunteering and their journey into full-time paid work, in particular hearing how it improved their self-confidence, wellbeing and self-worth was of great value. We all found it a most rewarding and valuable day.
The facilities were terrific and the feedback from those attending was very positive. The Project Officer was also delighted as it was the first course of this kind that she had initiated. She wrote:
I would like to thank you for the wonderful workshop you have delivered today at Cambridge House. I have heard very positive feedback from our clients. I would be very happy to work with you on similar projects in the future.”