The Nissan Resume Challenge took the company's partnership with the 100 Black Men organization to a new level during African American History Month in February. The program offered select African American high school juniors and seniors career exposure, resume development and a trip to visit Nissan's operations in Middle Tennessee.
"These were the best of the best, the students that made it through. But even the students who did not make it through learned how to do a resume. Some of them learned how to interview (for a job), so from that standpoint it was powerful for every kid who participated in this program," said Robert L. Wilson, director, Diversity & Inclusion, Nissan North America.
Nissan and the 100 Black Men of America worked with high school students from Nashville, Chicago, Atlanta and Jackson, Miss., for a couple of months to coach them through a typical job-search process — from drafting a resume and writing a cover letter to sharing best practices for job interviews.
"If you talk about making them college – and career – ready, they have got to know how to do that. This is ramping them up the learning curve. So they are now in a position to understand the process, how it works and what corporations look for. It will make a difference. It will make a significant difference, down the road," said Ronald Corbin, Board of Directors, 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee.
Once students turned in their resumes, a panel of judges selected candidates to proceed to the interview step. From there, the top four or five students from each city were invited to Nashville to tour Nissan's plant in Smyrna, Tenn., to job-shadow employees at Nissan's headquarters and to take part in the company's Black History Month celebration.
"I was incredibly apprehensive. I had never had an honest straight-up interview before. I was really nervous when I first started with the whole process. But it was really great. They taught me a lot of wonderful things about interviewing, about networking and creating connections," said Michael Smith, a high school student from the Atlanta area. "I was just blown away. I was completely mesmerized by the entire experience of corporate America. I had never really been exposed to it before."
At Nissan, this was an example of Black History month in action – recognizing the past but preparing young people for the future. That was a message delivered to the students during a special "lead-out" development exercise and during a presentation with former NFL linebacker Dhani Jones. Jones also is the current host of the Nissan GT Academy series on FX.
"You definitely are going to need your mentors; you are going to need those who will help you think more critically so that your life can continue along the path of a positive nature and then you eventually get the point where you are able to give back," said Jones.
"This is another event that can make me take that one extra step and be that much ahead of the next person. The world is competitive today, and everyone is looking for the best. I'm trying to set myself apart," said Jermaine Francis, a high school student from Nashville, Tenn.