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Lots of schmoozing at AARP-sponsored job fairs brings job seekers opportunity, hope

                        Related
                        • Jobs outlook still grim
                        • Tips for jobs seekers
                        • Talk about the working life

Career counseling a big plus

One of the more popular aspects of AARP-sponsored job fairs is being able to sit down with a career counselor and have your résumé and cover letter reviewed. And looking around the Chicago fair, I noticed there was a continuous line to meet with the six counselors.

Terry Kozlowski from jobinterview911.com was among them. “What I tell [older workers] to do is make sure they have their stories ready—the things they have done in the past. Because those are things that are proven in terms of your track record, things that no one can take away from you,” she said.

“Employers hear those specific things, whether it’s dollars that you saved or new ideas that you identified or difficult client problems that you solved. Having the relevant stories makes an employer very comfortable that you are someone who will be able to do something similar for them.”

Colbourne of Blue Cross and Blue Shield strongly advocates networking.

“You need to start with the core of your contacts and expand that pretty significantly. The methods and techniques to find jobs have changed pretty dramatically over the last five to 10 years, and some people may not be aware of that because they were employed during all of that time.” He recommended social media websites such as LinkedIn—he sees more recruiters using them to find applicants.

Stay on top of things

Then, says Colbourne, “Get yourself skilled. Develop, develop, develop. You can create skills that will be in demand, anything from technology to industry knowledge to even management and leadership skills. ... Times are a little difficult right now, but prepare for the future even if you are a mature employee.”

Since March, AARP and the Employment Guide have held 25 job fairs in 16 states, attended by more than 30,000 job seekers. And even though half the year is gone, more than 40 job fairs are coming up, scheduled across the country through 2010.

At the Chicago fair, some were lucky and came away with job offers. I came away with one—not what I wanted—but I got a few leads to follow up on. And I also realized that I am not in this boat alone.

Just like Thomas Draus, 59, a local architect who’d been looking for a job for six months. He told me he was at the fair “to connect with others in the same situation so I don’t feel so out on the edge of nothingness.

“It’s a difficult time but I’m here to be positive.”

Susan Caraher is a journalist based in Chicago.

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