BEMIDJI-Before taking the helm at construction company Kraus-Anderson's regional office in Bemidji, Bob Fitzgerald said he was a bartender, financial planner, community development planner and city administrator.

"Every one of those prepared me for where I'm at today," he told a roomful of ninth-graders on Wednesday at Bemidji High School. "'Until I found what I really wanted to do, and where I wanted to go."

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Those students won't need to make real-deal college or career choices just yet, but Fitzgerald and about a dozen other Bemidji business leaders encouraged them to explore their post-high school options at BHS' second annual "CEO in the Classroom" talks.

"There's a lot of time to figure that out," Fitzgerald said. "But you need to do certain things right now to kind of get yourself on the right track and explore things."

That means analyzing their skills and interests and getting an idea of what careers might be a good fit. It can also mean getting involved in team sports or activities; developing a social network; learning to accept authority and constructive feedback; and using social media wisely.

Students at Fitzgerald's talk said they're considering careers in physical therapy, architecture, psychology and interior design. About half indicated they're already earning money for themselves.

Fitzgerald told them that school is the foundation for their futures but isn't the "end all be all" and that people often cycle through several jobs and careers. He encouraged them to take classes that "lead to something" and visit, even now, with people who work in an industry where the students have an interest.

Company organizational charts, Fitzgerald said, are flattening out, which means more chances for workers to lead. It can also put a premium on those who can collaborate and communicate well.

After a brief analysis of a hypothetical home budget and pay scales for area jobs, students asked Fitzgerald how much he makes at Kraus-Anderson and whether he gets stressed working there and with several community organizations, such as Greater Bemidji and the Sanford Health Foundation in Bemidji. Fitzgerald said he decided to pare the number of organizations he works with from 11 to three or four.

The talks are sponsored by the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, several Bemidji-area businesses and the high school.