Job fairs slighted by employers, endured by job-seekers

In this Sept. 14, 2011 file photo, Annelie Ingvarsson, left, waits in line to talk to potential employers during a National Career Fairs job fair, in Bellevue, Wash.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
In this Sept. 14, 2011 file photo, Annelie Ingvarsson, left, waits in line to talk to potential employers during a National Career Fairs job fair, in Bellevue, Wash.
Posted Oct. 11, 2011, at 9:37 a.m.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Job seeker Marcia Cerny went to her first job fair last week, and she was not happy: There were too few employers looking to hire and she had to pay $3 to park.

“Until I do more research, it’s not going to happen again,” said Cerny, 51, a Plantation, Fla., resident seeking a job as a law firm receptionist.

The odds usually aren’t good for finding a job through a job fair, experts say. Still, job fairs often draw thousands of people. Job seekers complain that too often employers are collecting resumes; they don’t have positions open. But the jobless go anyway, sometimes standing in long lines to talk with a popular employer, with hope in their hearts that their struggle for employment will soon end.

The retail store chain Total Wine & More was the major attraction for job hunters at last week’s job fair in Dania, Fla.

“You get to meet a lot of different people,” said Greg Baker, assistant manager for the chain’s Fort Lauderdale, Fla., store, who was there to interview people for jobs including cashiers, merchandisers and sales. Baker said he hires 10 to 15 percent of the job seekers who apply at job fairs.

Overall, job fairs are considered the least effective way to search for a job.

“The allure of the job fair is that you have a large number of employers under one roof,” said John Challenger, chief executive of global outplacement consulting firm Challenger Gray & Christmas, who urges job seekers to use a variety of methods including networking, online job boards, social websites and even cold-calling employers. Job fairs scored lowest in a survey of human resources executive asked about job-search methods in 2009.

Don Williams of employment service BrowardJobs.com said job fairs can give job seekers the opportunity to talk face to face with a hiring manager. But he recommends they try several methods, including LinkedIn, the professional networking site.

Adam Rosenberg, a South Florida human resources executive who has been both a hiring manager and job seeker in recent years, said employers often go to job fairs simply to promote their company. “Or, they want to beef up resumes, if they have a government contract, to receive resumes from a diverse population,” he said.

“I’ve never hired anyone from a job fair,” said Rosenberg, who urges job seekers to find out which employers are going to be at the job fair before attending and looking at the job postings, which often can be found on the company’s website.

For those job fair participants who do see a potential opportunity, it’s all about presentation and focus, Rosenberg said. “Don’t show up with your kids, significant other or a friend. Go by yourself,” he said.

Dress well and act like this is the only job in the world for you, Rosenberg said. Don’t be the job candidate who “opens a bag and hands a wrinkled resume to a person, because you’ve been too busy collecting pens and little squishy things,” he said.

Matthew Marsh, a recruiter who participated in a recent Florida International University job fair in Miami, said attendees were not the CPAs with at least three years’ experience, the level he normally hires. Still, he found the job fair useful in promoting his business. “We like to get our name out there, especially with young accountants,” he said.

At the job fair in Dania, registered nurse George Smith, 51, hoped he favorably impressed a local health care employer. He’s working part time, but seeking a full-time position. RNs “were spoiled three or four years ago. We could quit a job and have our pick,” he said.

Now nurses, like many other job seekers, are having to educate themselves on how to look for a job, he said.

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