May 6—Ashley Dickinson teaches students an important life skill that they will have to carry with them long after they have graduated. The social studies teacher at Newton High School also shows seniors that making a resume and writing a professional cover letter are not as intimidating as they might seem.
Dickinson has been showing seniors how to craft these job seeking staples since 2018 as part of her economic class; at the time, she had only been teaching at the high school for about three years. Resumes and cover letters play a crucial role in how students can showcase themselves to future employers, she says.
"It's the best way to organize your accomplishments, to organize your successful moments or any awards you've received," Dickinson says. "It's the best way for them to show why they are the best fit for the job they are pursuing. So I give them a template they can fill in, or I teach them how to find their own template."
Whichever way is easier for students to understand. Making it seem easy is key, as many seniors have not likely created a resume or written a cover letter up to this point in their lives. Even some adults find these tasks to be challenging, not to mention the pressure of leaving a good impression with just two documents.
Both the resumes and cover letters are also used for senior mock interviews, which are organized by administrative assistant to the principal Stacey Maxwell; Dickinson lauded her as the MVP of making sure seniors are prepared for the workforce post-graduation. But Dickinson, too, bears some responsibility.
Keeping the resume- and cover letter-making process simple and smart are what Dickinson stresses most to her students who might be taken aback by the new experience. When it comes time for those students to conduct their mock interviews, she always tells them: Do your best. Forget the rest.
"Present the information on your resume the best way you know how, showcase your best attributes, make eye contact, shake the hand, be polite," Dickinson says. "After that, it's out of your hands. If you are doing your best and presenting yourself the best way you know how, the rest of it is up to them."
Before cover letters are brought to employers on mock interview day, Dickinson is helping students workshop multiple drafts until it is just right. Which can prove difficult since some students may not have any work experience. But Dickinson reminds them that clubs, academics, activities and even hobbies are fair game.
"A lot are going off clubs they've been in, sports they've played or if they're in band or choir. So we're trying to really beef up the band competitions and choir concerts or if you're in the Dungeons & Dragons club," Dickinson says, adding that students are equating those activities to how they are as an employee.
"How does this showcase and show that I can be a good leader, that I can have communication skills, that I show up when I'm supposed to, that I'm these things? Even though it's not work experience, how can some of these school experiences also show that I am employable?"
This is the time for students to really boast about themselves, she adds, and to talk about the things they are great at and why they are great at them.
Even if it is activities or experiences beyond school life.
"Some kids, even if they don't have a great GPA, they're great at other things and I like to talk about that, too," Dickinson says. "Because not every kid that walks in here is going into these interviews with a 3.5 GPA, being in four sports and three musical activities ... So let's talk about the thing that they're good at."
Of course, Dickinson wants students to finish the lesson knowing their resume in particular is a working document that can be updated regularly as they continue on in college or the workforce. She also makes sure students — even those who are not in her class — have links to templates and other resources.
"The real nucleus to all of this is the senior interviews. It's a requirement for them to graduate, and it's a good experience for them. A lot of them have never been through an interview," Dickinson says. "We create this cover letter. We create this resume. We go through this interview. Just so they can get a feel of what it's like."
To be a part of this whole process for seniors is "wild," says Dickinson.
"I teach mostly seniors. The craziest part of that, to me, is one minute they're asking to use the restroom, and for some of them I feel like the next minute they're expected to be contributing members to society. It is such a big jump for so many of them, especially those entering the workforce."
It is good for the school district and the community to come together and prepare seniors for that transition. One of Dickinson's favorite things to do at the end of the school year is write seniors recommendation letters. It always happens at the end of the year when scholarship deadlines are due.
"It's so cool to see because later on I'll hear about the scholarships that they're receiving and remember, 'Oh yeah! That's the one they applied for!' That's really cool for me to see the evolution of them applying for these scholarships, making these resumes and cover letters and then putting those things to work later."