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Career Coach’s Guidance Helps Water Valley Student Take Bold Step Forward


Experience highlights importance of job interview skills in career preparation

JACKSON, MS — It takes the talents of more than 30,000 educators to teach and guide students in Mississippi across the graduation finish line. Now, a small—but rapidly growing—number of career coaches are preparing them for life after earning their diplomas.
AccelerateMS, established legislatively in 2020 as Mississippi’s lead workforce development office, has deployed its career coaches statewide, with more on the way. These professionals step in where a traditional guidance counselor’s duties end, introducing students to a multitude of career paths that can be fulfilled right here in Mississippi.

“Career coaches target students who really aren’t plugged in or just don’t know what they want to do, or they just don’t fit the traditional high school student mold,” says Lori Nail, a program manager at AccelerateMS.
Kim Ayers, a 2011 graduate of the University of Mississippi, was teaching when she heard about the new career coaching program and decided to investigate.

“I started reading the job description and thought, this is my dream job,” she says.
Now a career coach for the North Central Planning and Development District who works with students at Water Valley and Coffeeville high schools, Ayers helps students define career goals and works to place them with area businesses.
One of her first cases was a high school senior with an interest in coding who had applied to Base Camp Coding Academy, a Water Valley-based non-profit that teaches students the fundamentals of coding and app development, as well as life and leadership skills. The program is affiliated with Northwest Community College, which has a campus in town, and students can use their academy work as credits toward degree programs there.

The student didn’t have coding experience, but that wasn’t a problem. As it turns out, she had a perfect match in Ayers. “Ironically enough, before I took this position, I was teaching computer science, which is all coding,” Ayers says.

Knowledge of the subject matter was only part of the job, though. When the student expressed her anxiety about interviewing, Ayers was able to ease her into the process through mock interview sessions. First, she conducted research that brought her deeper into coding and computer science. Using that knowledge, she drafted sample questions and worked with the student to develop her answers.

The student also initiated multiple mock interviews with the school’s guidance counselor and band director—both trusted and familiar faces to her—to become more accustomed to talking to different people who take differing approaches to the interviewing process.

Ayers then worked with the student to express her inner confidence through her demeanor.

“I told her to make sure she had great eye contact, and to know it was very important to dress professionally the day of the interview,” she says. “And to express her gratitude after the interview.”

On the day of the student’s first interview with Base Camp, Ayers let her set up in her office on Zoom so she could have a quiet and controlled environment for her video call. Ultimately, the interview went well—even though she was only asked one of the prep questions she and Ayers worked through—and she was asked back for the second round.

“After working with her, I was like, ‘This is why I’m here. God put me on the earth to do this,’” Ayers says. “I knew I was supposed to work with children, and I’ve been in education, but helping students fulfill their career dreams is a different feeling. Her gratitude made everything I did seem so worthwhile.”

AccelerateMS serves the people and businesses of Mississippi by developing and deploying workforce strategies to connect individuals with transformative, high-paying careers. By leveraging resources and partnering with organizations that hold complementary missions, AccelerateMS effectuates positive change, creating sustained individual, community and statewide economic prosperity.