A Day in the Life: Career Specialist Ernest Phillips

  • Michael Fox |
  • | Mission

Perhaps the best way to understand Goodwill of Central Iowa’s mission is to step into the shoes of the individuals who guide these efforts each day — our mission services team members. In our new Day in the Life series, we’ll take you behind the scenes to better understand all that goes into helping our participants and jobseekers reach success through Goodwill’s skills training programs and employment services.

Today, we’re diving into the work of Ernest Phillips, a career specialist at the Johnston headquarters. Though Ernest has been with Goodwill of Central Iowa for just six months, he has already made an impact. He brings a genuine demeanor, allowing him to connect with staff and participants on a personal level. He wears his love of movies, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and anything Marvel related on his sleeve.

No two days are alike for a career specialist, but on Tuesday, September 18, these were the high points of his day:


Ernest meets with a participant who has brought her two-year-old daughter along. She’s concerned about some trouble she’s been having with a coworker at a new job. Ernest acknowledges how frustrating that can be. He then gives her a sheet of paper that has an empty bracket and a list of values. For this task, she must take her top eight values and insert them in the bracket. What plays out is like the March Madness of self-realization. From an outside perspective, this practice could seem uninspired, but the way Ernest utilizes it makes for some incredible insight. He lists off her values and what they reveal about her. Respect. Security. Loyalty. After a few minutes of detailed interpretations, he asks her how accurate he was. She says he knocked it out of the park. They have a conversation which yields a deeper understanding of her own expectations, as well as arming her with tools to help her resolve her workplace concerns. At the end of the session, she gives him a genuine smile that comes from a place of thankfulness.

Later in the day, I ask him about this tactic:

“There’s so much I get to do with this tool,” Ernest said. “Program participants get to see how they are and immediately start associating themselves with values that they think are good. Their self-esteem and self-efficacy soars. They can utilize that in interviews, as well.”


The jobseeker in this session is looking for a dishwashing position to supplement his current job. Ernest talks with the participant about his strengths and weaknesses, and together they pinpoint the type of work that best suits him. With this knowledge, they submit several applications for positions in the area. Ernest also creates an email account for him to receive updates about the applications. Then they create a plan for the near future, including an appointment to work on his interviewing skills.

12:32 p.m. – PASS THE TEST

Ernest runs into Katherine Riley Harrington, mission services director for Goodwill of Central Iowa, in the headquarters cafeteria. They have an impromptu meeting to coordinate certification testing for a participant in the Creating Excellence in Re-entry (CEiR) program. CEiR is a partnership between Goodwill of Central Iowa, St. Vincent de Paul, Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families and the Fifth Judicial District that provides a comprehensive program for individuals reentering society from incarceration. It combines work training, mentorship and career development assistance over the course of seven weeks.

1:27 p.m. – EARN THEIR TRUST

Ernest checks in on Job Club, a component of CEiR. They are working with Career Connector Jordan Atterberry on creating resumes. After giving them a lively greeting and exchanging fist bumps, he catches up with this group on recent life events. He has worked hard with these men to build up their confidence. In that process he’s established a strong relationship with them. They’ve put in the work, and it’s clear to anyone observing that they trust him.

Ernest poses with members of the CEiR program on their graduation day.

1:32 p.m. – DRESS THE PART

One of the job seekers, Josh, has finished his resume early and has a bit of free time. Ernest decides this is a good time to go suit shopping with him at the nearby Goodwill retail store. As a member of Job Club, Josh is entitled to a clothing voucher, good for one full interview outfit, courtesy of Goodwill of Central Iowa. Inside the store, Ernest has Josh stand up straight near the suit rack. Ernest takes a moment to size him up and states a surprisingly accurate suit size. It’s an expertise that he brings from previous experience working in a department store in Illinois. He proceeds to pull a few dress shirts from the rack and has Josh try them on. He wasn’t that far off.

2:11 p.m. – SUIT UP

Ernest checks back in with Job Club. Their time with Jordan was well spent, and they already finished their resumes. Two of the participants, Monty and Kim, head over to the store where Ernest gets to showcase his retail experience again. He sets up Monty in a three-piece pinstripe suit. The suit is stylish and a great find from the retail store. Kim decides on a classic charcoal suit. Neither of the men has worn a suit before and you can see on their faces that this means a lot to them. There’s an air of confidence around them. Thanks to the vouchers, they now have a full outfit to wear to an interview at no cost to them.


At this time, Ernest has a small opening in his schedule, so we head back to his office to talk about his work, where he opens about what drove him to work at Goodwill initially.

“I want to make an impact, and love is my highest value,” he said. “I bring that with me in everything I do. When you put those two things together, it becomes a change agent. I want to help people, so they can go on and take credit for themselves and have ownership of their lives.”

When you donate and shop at Goodwill of Central Iowa, you make work like Ernest’s possible. In fact, 85 cents of every dollar earned in our retail stores and through Shopgoodwill.com goes to support our mission of improving the quality of life for all individuals by providing skills training and helping people find jobs. Find the location closest to you or make a monetary contribution today.

Continue Reading

The AmeriCorps VISTA Experience at Goodwill

Goodwill of Central Iowa |

Serving Up Success: A Day in the Life

Michael Fox |

College Students Produce 72,800 Pounds of Donations in 2019 Campus Moveout Program

Alison Cate |