Case Study: Bridging the Opportunity Divide with Year Up Puget Sound
In September of 2019, we brought on our first strategic workforce development partner, Year Up. They were the first of several and have paved the way for our mission-aligned, community based partnerships to help differentiate underrepresented job seekers in the interview. WholeStory’s introduction into Year Up’s program added significant value. A 2020 study showed that after using WholeStory, Year Up participants were measurably more confident in talking about their job-critical soft skills in interview-type settings.
We recently had the opportunity to interview Melanie Chavez about how they’ve used WholeStory thus far. Melanie is an Employment Placement Manager at Year Up Puget Sound and a passionate, multi-talented non-profit aficionado.
Year Up is a workforce development non-profit whose mission is to close the “Opportunity Divide” for young adults throughout the nation. It was founded 20 years ago on the premise that while talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not. For many young adults 18-25, a four year degree is out of reach for various reasons—lack of resources, access, familial support and/or outside connections, etc. However, they often have remarkable life stories comprised of many challenging experiences that give them the fortitude, attitude, and drive to better themselves and the world around them.
“It’s really what you bring to the table, your grit, your resilience, your tenacity, your drive. That is something a degree cannot really tell you.”
Year Up serves as a year-long springboard to get young adults into high paying, professional jobs and provide a talent pipeline to corporate America. It’s 100% free to students, paid for primarily through corporate sponsorships. On average, their graduates earn an annual salary of $38,000, often moving up from minimum wage, dead-end jobs.
Nationwide, they partner with local colleges to enroll students in courses to learn specific technical skills. Year Up provides the wrap around services and support that ensure their students success both in the classroom and the workforce. The first six months are spent in the classroom building their technical, professional, and job search skills. Students then spend the second six months in an on-site internship.
Melanie Chavez (or just “Chavez”)
Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, Melanie is a first generation Latina. Her mother immigrated from Guatemala and got her GED at age 23. Her dad did not graduate high school and Melanie is the first in her family to earn a college degree. She is a vivacious person and channels her energy into meaningful work. In 2017, she moved to Seattle without a job, connections, or resources. The one thing she did have was a clear vision for her career: she was determined to work for a non-profit that serves college-aged students, specifically those who are first generation immigrants or college students.
“I’m a first generation Latina, and my family wasn’t supportive at all of me. It’s not what Latina daughters do, we don’t quit our good paying jobs and just chase our dreams!”
Her tenacity landed her an interview with Year Up. Though she hadn’t heard of them before, she knew immediately that this was the place where she could make a difference. After meeting her, several people have asked if she was a Year Up alumna. Had she known of the organization earlier in her life, she absolutely would have joined. Instead, she had to find her own way to bridge the opportunity divide.
“Our students stand out because they work harder, they communicate well, they are always asking questions.”
In her role as an Employment Placement Manager, she serves two primary functions: teach the students professional and job search skills, then place them into jobs. In the classroom and beyond, she frequently and proudly shares her story, both to inspire her students to do the same and to illustrate the powerful impact life experiences have on our professional capabilities.
“To find an organization like Year Up that was teaching everything I wish I would have known, I just felt super excited and passionate and knew I had to be a part of that because I did grow up in the opportunity divide. […] I feel connected to our own student’s stories and also really want to motivate them to share their own stories.”
Melanie has played a central role in integrating WholeStory into their job readiness curriculum. Every student who went through the last Year Up Puget Sound cohort (126 students), built a WholeStory profile and used it in preparation for their internship interviews. In the first six months of their training—between learning about resumes / LinkedIn and interviewing for a job—they now have a dedicated class for WholeStory.
During this class, Melanie prompts students to think about how they’re going to stand out. When there are hundreds of other candidates who have better credentials and more work experience, story is their only means of differentiation.
When she first learned of WholeStory, she immediately felt like it was “the technology part of what Year Up is!”
By using a standardized, scalable approach to incorporating stories of pivotal live experiences into their interview preparation, Year Up students are able to confidently and clearly articulate their unique value.
“We bring in WholeStory to talk about the stories that stand out in an interview that [our students] will be remembered for.”
One of the students shared a story about her car breaking down. In a week’s time, she had to teach herself how to drive a stick shift. Through this experience, she realized that she could teach herself just about anything.
Through this partnership, we conducted a study on the effectiveness of job seekers using WholeStory for their interview preparation, in conjunction with a team of research psychologists. We then replicated the study with hundreds of students, spanning multiple additional Year Up cohorts and multiple cohorts from other workforce development partners.
The study results were consistent for every cohort. WholeStory significantly improved participants’ confidence in the interview process. Job seekers are significantly more confident in both talking about themselves and standing out from the crowd when they use WholeStory. Their confidence and ability to communicate their soft skills translates to hiring managers being better informed about their soft skills, the most important success factor for new hires.
“The ability for a student to talk through what they’ve learned before in an interview is so important.”
After graduating, many alumni report back to Melanie and say, “Chavez, you were right about storytelling!” and the question that comes the easiest for them is ‘Tell me about yourself…’
With WholeStory, rather than getting stuck or getting nervous during their interviews, students are able to answer questions of their skills and qualities with confidence. Like a quiver of arrows, their WholeStory profile provide a variety of compelling, relevant examples from which to draw from.
Storytelling in the interview is powerful for everyone—it’s how our brains are wired to both share and receive information. However, it is particularly potent for opportunity youth and underrepresented people in the workforce. Sharing real life examples of their ability to learn, adapt, and navigate challenges enables a more authentic, empathetic conversation to flow. People are then seen as human beings in full, 3D and valued for the entirety of what they bring to the table.
“WholeStory empowered our students to think about their life experiences in a new and meaningful way. Thinking about their lives through the lens of a ‘whole story’ has helped them articulate how they stand out from other job applicants and will be a valuable asset to any company.”
“WholeStory helped me reiterate how important it is to share your story in a job interview.”
“WholeStory helped me better understand our students so I can provide more direct/pointed support. Understanding some of their past experiences on a deeper level will give me an opportunity to make deeper connections with each of my students.”
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