Sandburg’s Employability Skills Academy Continues to Prepare Job Hunters

  Aaron Frey
  Thursday, April 9, 2020 4:27 PM
  Campus News

Galesburg, IL

Margaret Simkins was on the phone as someone asked what made her want to become a dental hygienist, what she considers her biggest weakness and what characteristics she finds important in a manager.

They were questions Simkins might typically hear in a job interview, but there was no pressure involved in this Q&A. It was a mock job interview that she and other second-year students in Carl Sandburg College’s dental hygiene program participated in last week through Sandburg’s Employability Skills Academy.

“The thought of interviewing made me really nervous before going through this,” Simkins said. “It helped me a lot because I was able to answer questions about myself that I hadn't thought about.”

The Employability Skills Academy is led by Sandburg coordinator of career development Tracy Engstrom, a certified resume writer and etiquette consultant. Throughout the 16-hour academy, students learn and practice what employers are looking for in applications, cover letters, resumes and interviews in addition to focusing on communication skills such as positive first impressions with customers and patients. Once completed, students receive a certificate that they can tout on their own resume.

Mock interviews like the one Simkins and other dental hygiene students went through normally would’ve taken place in person with Sandburg staff members conducting them, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they instead took place over the phone. Engstrom said that experience is still beneficial to students because many employers have a first round of interviews via phone before a second, in-person interview. Other ESA sessions for the remainder of the semester also will take place online.

“This will even give them a better idea of what it might be like to teleconference with other office locations in meetings,” Engstrom said. “I love the fact that although we are not meeting in person, they are still learning best practices of making that strong impression with an employer.”

While many businesses have temporarily closed or had to freeze hirings because of the coronavirus, Engstrom said students and other job-hunters can use this time wisely by reviewing and polishing their resume. Taking those steps now can pay dividends later.

“It is important for students to know that they should not stop the job search process just because some employers have halted their hiring,” she said. “Now is a great time to perfect their resume and master their interview skills so they are even more prepared when hiring does ramp up again.”

In addition to perfecting their applications and resumes, students in the ESA also conduct team-building and communication exercises. For cohort programs like dental hygiene, that includes tasks like the group standing on a tarp and having to flip it over without anyone stepping off. They also split into teams to see which can build the tallest tower out of 40 cups. Another exercise features groups racing to complete a puzzle, with the catch that some of the pieces they need have been switched to other groups. 

“They helped us learn how to work with other people, even when people get frustrated,” Simkins said. “But we had to stay calm and help everyone try to figure it out.”

The academy also teaches students the importance of maintaining strong, positive body language and nonverbal communication. During one such session, Cheyenne Thompson, another second-year dental hygiene student, had her legs crossed. Engstrom noticed and pointed out that Thompson was uncomfortable and likely shy around new people.

“She pretty much nailed it,” Thompson said. “Now I catch myself if I’m around other people and have my legs crossed or my arms crossed.”

The Employability Skills Academy is a staple of many of Sandburg’s career and technical programs, but it (as well as other services Engstrom offers through the Office of Career Development) is available to all Sandburg students.

“I stress to students that you can have a perfect resume,” Engstrom said, “but you need to have the whole package when interviewing — whether it be phone, virtual or in person.”

To learn more about Sandburg’s Employability Skills Academy or other resources available through the Office of Career Development, contact Engstrom at 309.341.5246 or You can also follow Sandburg Career Development on Facebook.

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Aaron Frey