Arwah Gedi admitted he was a little shaky during his first conversation with a recruiter at the 13th annual Minneapolis Teen Job Fair on Saturday.
"The first one, I was nervous," said the 17-year-old, a junior at Southwest High School. "The next one lessened my anxiety."
By the end of the afternoon, he had interviewed with several companies and organizations, accruing a decent stack of business cards in his shirt pocket.
"You get to get out of your comfort zone," Gedi said of the interviews.
"This is one of the great ways to pave the path for your success in life."
Dozens of students aged 14 to 24 stopped by the Minneapolis Central Library to fill out applications, meet with recruiters and even sit down for an on-the-spot interview. The goal? Leave with a follow-up interview and if possible, a job.
Recruiters for about 20 companies — including retailers Sears and TJ Maxx and metro-area shops Cookie Cart and Lunds & Byerlys — were stationed at the second floor of the library meeting with job-hungry teens.
But the career fair also allowed students to practice skills they will need later in life, such as writing résumés, dressing the part and asking important questions, said Marc Woods Jr., the employment committee coordinator for Minneapolis Youth Congress, one of the event's lead organizers.
"The worst thing somebody can tell you is 'No,' " said Woods, 30. "Don't let anything get in your way; don't let anything detour you."
"The more you show interest in something, the better opportunity you have," he added.
Students from the Minneapolis Youth Congress start to organize the fair at the beginning of the school year.
Damari Jordan-Onchiri, a senior at Edison High School and one of the members of the Youth Congress, said the fair allows students to discover career options.
"There are multiple opportunities out there for you, and you should take advantage of as many of them as possible," she said.
It is also helpful for teens who feel the need to contribute financially to their families. "I think it's important that we offer this resource once a year to them," she said.
Saturday's fair also featured a career panel, a résumé-building workshop and opportunities to volunteer for nonprofit organizations.
Wendi Parkman, a recruiter for Sears, said she had scheduled 15 job interviews by the end of the afternoon.
Student fairs, she said, are great for companies "that are wanting to help get them prepared for life in the work world ... so it isn't so scary for them."
Gedi showed up early, wearing a gray button-down shirt, a paisley green tie and khakis. "Always dress to impress," he said.
He hoped his interview with Kelber Catering, a Minneapolis-based catering company, would turn into a job. And he's ready to go, he said, looking to start before school lets out for the summer.