November 28, 2008
Career fairs seeing older job seekers
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Catherine Olohan took a buyout from Verizon Communications last year after working for the telephone company for more than 30 years. She then promptly rolled over her pension into individual retirement accounts, hoping the money would grow.
Recently, the 53-year-old was handing out résumés at a career fair sponsored by Monster.com at a Holiday Inn near the airport in Newark, N.J.
"I took a big loss," Olohan said. "I have to work now, because of the way the market is," she said, referring to the 40 percent plunge the stock market has taken in the past year.
Olohan joined about 700 others working their way around the hotel conference room speaking to recruiters from 24 companies. "The (crowds) are getting larger," said Bob Hillman of National Career Fairs, the coordinator of the event, standing among job-seekers lined up to speak to recruiters. A day earlier, about 900 people showed up at a fair in Edison, N.J., about 30 miles south, more than twice the turnout that location typically draws.
Also making his way from table to table was Woody Philippe, who got laid off in August from his a job of five years. Hired as an accountant right out of college, the 29-year-old is still enthusiastic about his work doing audits and preparing financial filings, and wears a broad smile as he talks about the people he met and the skills he developed. "It's a wonderful career," he said.
But Philippe found himself talking to companies offering sales positions. Sales "wouldn't be my first choice," he admitted, but while he has had several interviews, he has not yet landed a job in his field. "I've been looking, and so far I haven't gotten anything."
It's only been a few weeks since Evan Jones lost his job of four years in real-estate sales, but he didn't waste any time before starting to hunt for a new one. "In this economy, I can't wait," the 37-year-old said, adding that he's looking for a job that offers security. "I'm open to just about anything," he said. "But something that I'm not going to get laid off (from) in another six months."
While the number of job seekers is rising, Hillman, who has run 104 fairs this year throughout the country, said fewer employers are signing up to speak to people like Jones. "It's harder and harder to get companies here," he said.
Moreover, those that do take part are sending fewer representatives. Bank of America, for instance, had three people at its table in Newark, but in the past it has often sent twice that or more, Hillman said. Some companies, like CSX Corp., sent only one representative. One of the most popular tables at the fair, the freight railroad had a line of 15 to 20 people throughout the day waiting to see that man, Danny Ferguson. A crowd trailed away from his table even as other recruiters were packing up for the day.
Oreena Rivera-Veal has been working at job fairs for Bank of America for about 6 months. "It's picked up a lot," she said of the number of job seekers. The Newark fair also stood out for her because the majority of people seemed older.
Many of these candidates are willing to use skills they've developed in one career to try another, noted Antonio Velazquez, a senior recruiting officer for the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York. "People are clearly trying to re-create themselves," he said. Five or six years ago, he saw mostly recent college graduates and other young people at such fairs. "Now, you're seeing a lot of people who are seasoned."
While job coaches and career counselors encourage their clients to try to apply their skills to new areas, that can make it tough for recruiters. Zalman Silver, an account executive for online printing firm Mineo.com, who was seeking salespeople, said he was handed résumés with all sorts of other experience. "People are really just trying to find whatever they can," he said. "They're hungry to find anything."
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