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Students at Career Fair 2016
Publix store manager Dave Wilson chats with Beacon students about career opportunities with the supermarket chain.

LEESBURG — Dave Wilson looked lonely as he stood sentry near a circular table topped with a stack of “I (heart) Publix” buttons. Then, his gaze drew a trio of Beacon College students into his orbit.

Three students with one question: What kind of employee does Publix like to stock?

Wilson, a Publix store manager, sprang into recruiting mode:

“I’m looking for people people,” he said. “People who are going to be engaging, not be shy.”

Because one thing outshines straight A’s and dazzling resumes at Publix: communication.

It’s “the most important thing we do — more important than stocking the shelves or making the sandwiches,” Wilson explained. “That’s what differentiates us.”

Lesson learned.

Yet, his primer on people skills wasn’t the lone lesson shared April 8 during the Beacon College Spring Career Fair.

Career Fair 2016
Joseph Del Rio, 22, speaks with Lifestream’s Sasha Turner.

For attendees, the Career Fair — part of the Beacon’s beefed-up career-readiness mission to prepare students from matriculation to graduation for the workforce through job shadowing, internships, resume-crafting, and real-world recruiting experiences — offered valuable opportunities to chat with regional and national companies and to network.

Recruiters from Publix, Wells Fargo, Waffle House, Webster University, Lifestream Behavioral and  Center attended Beacon’s third-ever career fair. At least 114 students and alumni picked up information packets and picked the brains of recruiters staffing the tables.

Some students came in shorts and hoodies, jeans and T-shirts. Others like senior Tony Naumann — sporting a stylish navy suit and gingham shirt ensemble with a matching resume — came dressed to impress.

He strolled over to the Waffle House table, cornering Matthew Smalling, a human resources specialist with the food chain. Perhaps Naumann noticed the “We’re Hiring” pamphlet peeking out from Smalling’s shirt pocket.

Their handshake seemingly lit the fuse igniting an explosion of questions from Smalling.

“When do you graduate?”

“Do you have interviews lined up?”

“You say you’ve been applying?”

What employers like Waffle House need are candidates with ownership mentality, good communication skills who set and meet goals, Smalling later said. “If you can brand yourself that really goes a long way.”

After a productive, long chat, Naumann decides to explore other corporate opportunities at the fair.

Smalling, with a parting bit of advice, asks: “You’re on LinkedIn? That always helps. Good luck.”

With that — and another firm handshake — Naumann pivots to the next recruiter.

That is the beauty of the fair, said Susan Ward, Beacon’s coordinator of the Career Development and Outreach Center.

Career Fair Buttons “It allows seniors to apply for full-time positions to national companies,” she explained. “It allows underclassmen to practice networking, eye contact and their elevator speech. It gives them an opportunity to ask about job shadowing and internships or field experiences. These companies also partner with alumni, helping them find jobs if they are unemployed.”

A new survey conducted by the British charity Mencap found employers across the pond worried about hiring employees with learning disabilities — 23 percent of employers assumed colleagues would balk at working with LD co-workers, while 45 percent believed the public would react negatively to dealing with learning-disabled workers. Similar attitudes abound in the U.S., yet recruiters at the fair preached inclusion.

Sasha Turner, a recruiter with Lifestream offered this advice: “We have positions fit for everyone and any way we can help them get into a job, that’s we can do to try. Be yourself. The more you are yourself the better we are able to assist you with getting position. I believe that’s with any position. Be yourself. That’s who we want to hire. We want to hire you as the whole that you are.”

Meanwhile, Wilson learned from previously hiring a Beacon student that good candidates come in all shapes and sizes — and with different abilities.

“I have not met anybody today that could not function at a Publix store,” he said. “I know that a lot of people that I’ve met today are going to come in and give their absolute best and that’s all I ever ask of anybody. It’s refreshing that most of these [candidates] will do just that.”

For Jeunesse Smith, a 20-year-old sophomore, the advice and diversity of corporations on hand also proved refreshing.

A psychology major, she learned, for instance, she could work part-time at Lifestream while she pursues her degree.

The fair helped Smith “expand my career options in life,” she said. “I’m going to be a JAG (Judge Advocate General) officer, and I have a couple of steps I have to take” before that. “I have to take certain jobs to get to where I’m going and I just want to see what else I can do in getting to my goal.”