BENTON HARBOR — Inside a large room in Whirlpool Corp.’s newest portion of its Riverview Campus, Ashley Mitchell was asked about her strengths and weaknesses.

The Benton Harbor High School senior was interviewed for a fictional job she did not intend to pursue. However, the experience was duplicated for the other 50 students Wednesday who were there for Mock Interview Day.

The mock interviews are an annual collaboration between Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates and the home appliance maker employee resource group called FOCUS – formerly known as Whirlpool’s African American Network.

During their visit to Whirlpool, participating students from Benton Harbor, Bridge Academy, Dowagiac and Hartford showed off their interview and employability skills.

“I’m looking forward to continuing my education because I know I’ll end up needing to be ready for interviews,” said Mitchell, who is pursuing a career in dental hygiene. “I thought it was a good opportunity. These interviews will help me for when the real thing comes along.”

Each student sat through two mock interviews that lasted 10 minutes Wednesday with Whirlpool volunteers. The event gave students a real-world interview experience, while also getting tips and advice from volunteers in five-minute segments after each interview.

JMG is a statewide initiative meant to raise Michigan’s high school graduation rate and increase post-secondary education. The program’s executive director, Kristin Harrington, said the interview sessions were a way to highlight all the soft skills JMG students had worked on this year.

“We go over all the best practices that come with finding a job. Resume writing and interviewing skills are just a part of it,” Harrington said. “Maintaining eye contact can be important, which isn’t always a given with young people.”

Tameka Robertson, a care advisor at the Customer Experience Center for Whirlpool and community lead for FOCUS, said Mock Interview Day evolved from something a Whirlpool employee began nearly a decade ago.

Robertson, who began helping at the annual event, said the employee wanted to prepare seniors for job searching. Six years ago, JMG got involved and the event became focused on interviewing skills.

“Her first intent was to educate on finances and accounting and it changed to mock interviews,” Robertson said. “It became focused on what the real need was.”

The sessions, which ran the gambut of soft skills from handshakes to eye contact, included seniors and juniors.

Dominick Erby, a Benton Harbor junior, is interested in becoming a computer engineer and decided he wasn’t going to risk being unprepared for future interviews.

He said he felt the random questions he was given by the carousel of interviewers helped test his improvisation.

Meanwhile, it was Mitchell who was thankful for the tips she received from her resume and cover letter.

“They helped me when it came to my objective on my resume,” she said. “It should state what I’m going toward. I was just bragging about myself instead of saying what I hoped to accomplish.”

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski