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Chicago job fair draws students to give 60-second business pitches

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60 seconds in an elevator with a stranger. 60 seconds of opportunity. 60 seconds to present yourself as a viable candidate for employment.

This is the concept behind what the business community calls an elevator pitch, an interviewing skill 115 Calvin students got very familiar with this past Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Oct. 24, Calvin hosted the Chicago Job Fair. This is the first time in school history Calvin has sponsored a job fair some place other than Grand Rapids.

Two buses full of Calvin students departed at 7 a.m. to the University Club in downtown Chicago. Once there, students had the chance to interact with 16 potential employers and network with Calvin alumni over a pizza dinner.

However, this event took more than the work of one organization. Calvin’s career development department partnered up with the Calvin Alumni Association in order to make this a successful and worthwhile job fair.

The event was the brainchild of Calvin alumnus Russ Clousing, an Alumni Association Board member. His goal was to contribute something new and valuable to the board.

“I was asked to be on the alumni board about a year ago,” said Clousing. “Being on the board I wanted to bring to it something actionable, something valuable, and tangible.”

Clousing, who has worked in the Chicago business community for more than 20 years, wondered why there hadn’t yet been an official networking event in the Chicago area. Clousing noted that Illinois is the second-largest contributor of Calvin students, and has a large amount of alumni gainfully employed in the region.

Clousing used the connections he and other Chicago area alumni have to encourage big name employers to come out for the fair.

“These are not ma and pop, small businesses,” said Clousing. “14 out of 16 companies here are publicly traded.”

The employer represented at the event included big name companies such as Deloitte, BMO Harris Bank, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois and Arthur J Gallagher & Co.

He planned the Chicago Job Fair in hope of encouraging future events such as this in the area, as well as setting a precedent for alumni-student interaction in Chicago community.

“The end goal is to foster a tighter relationship between the alumni association and the school, between the alumni association and the students,” said Clousing. He said another goal is “to assist the students out of the transition out of college into work life and to keep fostering and building that community.”

Students attending the fair seemed to have similar goals. For junior business marketing major Vance Venhuizen, networking was the main focus of the event.

“I came here hopefully to set up some initial communication, a little bit of networking and be able to keep in contact with employers for the next few years,” said Venhuizen.

Venhuizen currently has a marketing internship with H&R Block, something he thinks has contributed to his success here.

“I’ve had some leads, hopefully [I’ll] be able to keep in touch with people, have their business cards, probably connect with them on LinkedIn,” he said. “Also, I plan to come here next year if they’re here again.”

But the event offered networking opportunities to students of all class levels and majors.

“I’m a sophomore, so this is just the beginning phases of networking and getting in contact with people for the summer,” said communication major Ally Alderink.

However, these networking and employment opportunities don’t simply appear out of nowhere. Planning an event like this takes a significant amount of work, according to career counselor Meredith Segur.

“Our main role was getting the students signed up and getting the students and making sure that they’re well prepared for the event, resumes in good shape,” said Segur.

Before the event, the career development department worked diligently to help students streamline their resumes and practice their elevator pitch, as well as teaching them important networking skills.

According to Segur, the partnership between the career development department and the Calvin Alumni Association distinguished this from other fairs.

“[The job fair] was pretty unique in that it was a collaboration between our office and the alumni office,” she said. “Because we’re in Grand Rapids we really relied on the alumni in Chicago to get the employers here and to recruit the employers to participate.”

But for Clousing, in the end, all of the hard work and effort was well worth it.

“You see this room full of students,” he said, “and it’s all worth it.”

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