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DeKalb High School students make 'First Impressions' at soft skills workshop

DeKALB – Whether applying for scholarships, jobs or colleges, high school students must often rely on soft skills to gain opportunities after they graduate.

Those skills include but aren’t limited to a first handshake to how they’re communicating verbally and nonverbally.

To help improve students interact with professionals, the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce conducted a “First Impressions Count” workshop Tuesday morning at DeKalb High School.

During this special event, about 140 students from business education teacher Mike Wolf’s classes met with representatives of local businesses, nonprofit organizations and other institutions for two-minute sessions that evaluate their soft skills.

“Some kids have not thought about a job, so we’d like to get in the practice,” Wolf said. “For some, it’s their first real-world experience.”

Erin Nolan, art director for the DeKalb branding agency OC Creative, said a majority of students are a little nervous in the beginning since they might not be used to speaking one-on-one with adults in a professional setting. But they eventually act more like themselves, she said.

“It’s exciting to see them become more professional,” Nolan said. “We’re introducing the idea of soft skill behaviors, which is required to put your best food forward.”

Each evaluator rated the student’s performance using five categories: greeting and handshake, elevator speech, self-confidence, verbal communication and nonverbal communication. During this time, the student also heard feedback from a peer who was listening to the conversation.

Matt Duffy, executive director of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, said the more interactions students can have, the better they’ll get at it in the long run.

“They’re learning from doing and learning from watching,” Duffy said.

After receiving their results, students will follow up with a representative from Northern Illinois University Career Services on Thursday to help improve the skills they might be lacking.

Because Wolf’s class is only for one semester, a spring session is being planned.

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