Career un-fair or I’m not that desperate yet
(reader’s choice)

This morning’s career fair was scheduled to start at 10:00. About that time I was sitting on a stalled downtown V train reading ads for law firms and lottery tickets and thinking John Roland and the Take 5 Little Bit of Luck guy might be related. They’re definitely both creepy. Traffic was light for morning rush hour, probably because I was on a local train. Others also wore business suits. I wondered if they had jobs or were heading to the same place I was. I felt like a kid in his Sunday best playing grownup, and failing.

The line of waiting job seekers extended all the way down the block, around the corner and up that block. Sales people worked the line plugging discount health insurance and thinly veiled pyramid schemes – predators preying on the injured, like “Animal Planet” in business attire. That’s the capitalist spirit! Jobs must really be hard to come by these days. You’d think there was some kind of economic crisis going on… silly rabbits. The line moved quickly.

My expectations were low from the outset. I go to these things during every job search (typing that makes me cringe) and never have anything resembling success. After the last career fair, I swore them off for good. But there I was, two years later and another layoff under my belt. Fresh copies of my resume – printed on good paper – were in my bag. Maybe this time would be different.

The cast of companies and the types of jobs are always about the same. This event’s lineup included life insurance and makeup companies, along with some education companies and, of course, the military. It just wouldn’t be a career fair party extravaganza without the military. The jobs are usually sales-related, and that was especially true this time around. Companies seem to come to fill positions they can’t fill in other ways. Why again would I want a job that no one wants? Oh right, a paycheck. Got it.

Companies were arranged in two rows, each at a foldout table with a generic sign hanging from a curtain backdrop. The scene resembled a really scaled-back conference that no one wanted to attend. The major difference (aside from the distinct lack of free pens and squishy balls) was that the hard-sell sales pitch went the other direction. My job, when I reached the front of each insanely long line of job seekers, was to sell myself. Their job was to listen, give me some corporate info and move me along.

The first company seemed the most promising. Their openings are all over the job boards, and their business has to be booming right about now. And they’re not McDonald’s. I introduced myself to the rep and gave my spiel (marketing professional, MBA, market research and packaging experience, blah blah blah). She asked what blah blah blah meant and passed me along to a colleague who could give more insight into relevant openings. I waited patiently to talk to him. An odd older woman who was neither affiliated with the company nor in search of work started asking me random questions. When she wandered off, I exchanged WTF glances with the person next to me. The second rep was more knowledgeable than the first; the jobs were in his department. He made it clear, in an informed but pleasant way, that I really wasn’t qualified for the two marketing openings. He encouraged me to convince him otherwise via email. He was right, I’m probably not qualified. But I may try anyway. It’s only time.

The second interesting organization – someplace I actually temped once – turned out to be not at all interesting. And the line was so long and slow-moving that a few people in it asked me to kill them, begged me even. One woman actually grabbed my leg and wouldn’t let go. It was kind of embarrassing. I declined all death requests, of course, claiming that I couldn’t risk damaging my suit. I needed it for future interviews. Interview… me… that’s rich. Luckily the career fair pamphlet actually listed the jobs this company had available. There was nothing in my field. There wasn’t even anything that began with the same first letter as marketing, at least nothing that didn’t end in “aintenance.” I skipped their table altogether.

The third company on my list was only interesting because I have a good friend who works there. He’s way too senior to be manning a table at a job fair, never mind that he lives in another state. But at the time it seemed possible he could be there. He wasn’t, of course. I left.

An overcast morning had turned into a beautiful Spring day. I put on my iPod and strolled to the subway. Fare card swiped, I descended the steps only to see the sign for Brooklyn-bound trains. This was the wrong direction. Catching the Queens-bound train required leaving the station and entering on the other side. When I did, the turnstyle wouldn’t let me through. It was too soon to swipe an unlimited fare card again. I leaned against a pillar and waited. I wasn’t going anywhere.

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  1. nikol_e wrote:

    Glad to see that my experiences with job fairs aren’t unique. Good luck to you!

    Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 11:55 pm | Permalink
  2. Tina wrote:

    Loved this line:
    “Sales people worked the line plugging discount health insurance and thinly veiled pyramid schemes – predators preying on the injured, like “Animal Planet” in business attire.”

    Have a great Friday Norm.

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 10:19 am | Permalink
  3. I keep almost going to job fairs and then finding something else to do, basically creating excuses. I’m glad to hear they’re as pointless as I thought they were.

    Interesting to hear people were working the line. That’s so bad.

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  4. fern wrote:

    if it’s any comfort, you do write very well.

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Permalink
  5. underemployed wrote:

    There is a job fair every month… same people, same recruiters, same location.

    Last one I attended had 5,000 people show up.

    After waiting for over an hour to “register”, there were 6 booths.

    research trial (i think edd)
    resume writting service
    construction booth

    It was so sad. Ill never get that day back or the parking fee.

    Great blog.

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
  6. Kim wrote:

    Great blog… I guess no matter what state you are in job fairs are all the same… Pointless!!!

    Best of luck in your search!

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 10:11 pm | Permalink
  7. Frank wrote:

    Spot on about job fairs! Organizers make $200-$500 per booth, companies participate because its a low cost trolling event and a day out of the office for HR. Seldom are there actual jobs to be filled – certainly not for those interested in an income above $30K.

    Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 12:25 am | Permalink
  8. L wrote:

    Where are your sponsors? Hope a mention in the NYT puts you on the blog map.

    Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 1:40 am | Permalink
  9. Donna wrote:

    I don’t think the job market for the “educated” is ever really going to come back to what it was. Colleges and universities are basically feeders for an overly complex society that has become over-stratified and over-specialized. One needs to start thinking about developing one’s burger flipping skills as well. Glad to see someone has discovered that the job fairs are a waste of time. People need to let go of the fantasy that college is a ticket to a better life and that the “education” complex can keep churning out grads for increasingly nonexistent jobs. This isn’t an ordinary downturn. Wall Street has collapsed, and the higher education industry cannot be far behind once people start realizing it is basically a Ponzi scheme too.

    Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  10. Ronin wrote:

    To the writer above, how shameful of you to minimize the credentials needed for burger flipping. For your tuition you get a combined BA/MA in “Flip Dynamics” and an MBA in “Fry Dynamics”. How could anyone think that is a Ponzi Scheme? It is one major that people can still find jobs in. 🙂

    Good luck everybody.

    Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 6:38 pm | Permalink
  11. Ronin wrote:

    Incidentally, I am looking for someone who can blog and write for my website and blog, or cover events for my cable show. The pay sucks, but it does pay. Contact me at if interested.

    Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 6:42 pm | Permalink
  12. Catherine wrote:

    This post really brought the whole job fair scene to life…and it reminded me of parts of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Bait and Switch, about unemployed white collar workers, and how they are often preyed upon.
    I am also job hunting, after many years owning my own business, raising a family. No doubt, it is very tough out there!

    Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 7:06 pm | Permalink
  13. Norm wrote:

    Thanks for the kind words, everyone. The compliments definitely make me feel good.

    Monday, April 6, 2009 at 12:22 am | Permalink
  14. Joy wrote:

    Norm, I just got back from a job fair and found your blog hilarious and spot on. Keep writing – you’re very good at it. And I’ll join the growing list of folks who bypass the job fairs from now on.

    Good luck to us all.

    Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  15. JJ wrote: (Los Angeles) is a
    WASTE OF TIME! Really a waste of time. It is not a JOB fair BUT a RECRUITMENT fair. It is frustrating that you walk into a small 20′ x 40′ room full of school and commission based salesperson recruiters. NO REAL JOBS, as the website mentioned, were offered! The companies they mentioned weren’t even there. What a complete waste of time.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  16. Jeremarie Force wrote:

    What a joke……false advertising. I will never waste my time at one again. I complained to the man taking registration on the way out, and Radisson’s Reservation Manager before I left. You wasted our precious time. There were only 3 booths that had any jobs (engineering, sales cold calling,and pyramid sales). It infuriates me that you listed 48 different positions available on your e-mailed list….you lie too.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Permalink
  17. GW wrote:



    Monday, March 22, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Permalink