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Career fair gives students first crack at job market

Student interviewed at Spring Career Fair

A student talks to a law enforcement officer at the Spring Career Fair.

The job market may be tight nationwide, but it flourished Wednesday inside the Bone Student Center.

More than 650 students in their Sunday’s finest chatted up job recruiters from 124 companies, government agencies, and nonprofits at the Career Center’s Spring Career Fair. (The first day of the fair, on Tuesday, focused on internships.)

The big boys, State Farm and Caterpillar, each had several tables, a dozen recruiters, and lines of waiting students on Wednesday, while recruiters from most other businesses and agencies stood in front of a single table adorned with colorful ads waiting to speak with passing students.

The fair had more companies than in the past, about a 25 percent increase over last year, which indicates companies are hiring again and are looking for strong Illinois State talent, according to Susan Whitsitt, the Career Center’s assistant director of marketing and events.

“Overall, we are very pleased,” Whitsitt said.

Spring Career Fair overhead

Students meet with employers at the 2013 Spring Career Fair at the Bone Student Center.

Hopeful chatter about job bites was in the air as students nervous about their job prospects set about finding soft landings in the “real world.”

“Personally, I’m open to anything,” said Joe Wendt, who is set to graduate in May.

Wendt said he was looking for a job in anything from finance, his major, to law enforcement. He explained that he has several relatives in law enforcement and likes two things in particular that career would offer: stability and job security.

Wendt’s practicality is understandable considering he has been attending school throughout the nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Although job numbers have improved since 2011, Illinois’ unemployment rate is still nearly double what it was six years ago.

Kraft Foods Accounting Services Director Dick Erickson agreed with Wendt’s approach to the job market. Recent college graduates need to realize that they might not find their ideal job immediately, he said.

Erickson said things are no different than when he graduated: “You took a job because it was available.”

Two Department of Family and Consumer Sciences seniors were finding that out the hard way. Elana Zussman, who is studying interior design, and Cathleen Reibel, who wants to go into counseling, didn’t see much related to their majors despite the wide array of companies that attended the fair.

Reibel said she found one interesting job, but it was located in Champaign. She would prefer to work in her native Chicago after graduation. Zussman said she hadn’t found anything yet and wasn’t sure what the job market would offer.

“I’m kind of scared,” she said.

Stephen Harrell ’12, who graduated in December, was already on the other side of the line. He returned to campus to look for any entry-level sales or business job.

Harrell said he can’t be too pessimistic about the job market, because it has taken some of his friends longer to get a job than he has been looking. And he had talked to one company Wednesday that sounded interested in him.

Even without a job offer, he said the job fair provided valuable experience.

“You learn how to answer questions in a conditional interview,” he said.

Students had good reason to look their best and be on top of their game, as companies kept a close eye on the details.

Hertz branch manager Joe Urbanec said the students seemed prepared and energetic. His company was looking for candidates who exuded confidence, made good eye contact, and had good communication skills.

Erickson said he was looking for well-prepared students who had good grades and some work and leadership experience and who knew something about his company. He said students had no reason to be unprepared considering how easy the Career Center made it to learn about the companies and also to get ready for the job fair.

He said the students with the best chances of landing jobs were those who had got ahead of the curve and attended the Fall Career Fair or at least came early to the spring fair.

“If you snooze, you lose,” he said.

The Career Center has two other job fairs scheduled this spring:

March 19: The Education Career Fair is set for 9 a.m.–1 p.m. in the Bone Student Center. The fair, which is open to Illinois State students and alumni, and non-Illinois State students, will feature employers from the education field.

May 22: The inaugural Chicagoland Fair will be held 1–7 p.m. at The Meadows Club in Rolling Meadows. It will be open to Illinois State students and alumni seeking jobs in the Chicago area.

Kevin Bersett can be reached at