I had some time this afternoon, and as a Professional Opportunist I’m always looking for ways to make money, so I ventured into Oak Ridge for the Anderson County Job Fair. There’s a lot to be learned from job fairs, and I’m going to share with you a few things I learned, plus some suggestions if you’re trying to find work. I’m not a big fan of job fairs, but they’re a good way to see what local businesses are hiring, take the pulse of a community, and see if there’s any deception afoot. In the case of Anderson County, there’s a little bit of all that in play.
First a word about Oak Ridge. I don’t have an issue with the town, but it gives off a vibe of sadness and despair. Whether this has something to do with the immense lack of jobs in the region or the presence of a nuclear weapons plant in the town, I’m not entirely sure. In recent days I’ve become far more mindful of where my mind goes in certain areas with regards to emotion, so I’m able to spot it and shift that mental frame into a more positive one. Despite this, Oak Ridge just carries a lot of negative energy. That said, let’s discuss the positive facts I learned.
- There’s a big job problem, especially in rural areas.
It’s hard to call Oak Ridge “rural,” but it’s very clear there’s a job problem everywhere. Anderson County is about as “rural” of a city as you can get, especially so close to Knoxville, and the amount of people at this job fair were staggering. I got there about 45 minutes before it was scheduled to open and the parking lot was already full of potential job-seekers. The lobby was packed as well with people hungry and ready for a steady paycheck. I hung back and observed the general tempo of the crowd, just in an attempt to see what I could learn.
The gamut of dress ran from absolute casual to full-blown business attire. A few people even had their children with them. I’m not sure whether this was due to an inability to afford child care for an afternoon or find someone to watch their kids, but it was definitely a sticking point in my head as I walked through the exhibition hall. Some people carried briefcases or binders. Many flashed stacks of resumes.
When the job fair opened everyone poured in though a narrow opening, almost like cattle, and began hitting up the various booths. Some people were talkative. Others simply grabbed applications and left the table without even saying a word. One guy I saw do this kept muttering “as long as I keep applying they won’t put me in jail,” which was a rather telling statement as to what sort of legal situation he faced, as well as just how nervous he was in his current environment.
2. Everyone wants to work for the government.
The biggest demand from the job seekers was time in front of the nuke plant officials. Once the hall opened, nearly every job-seeker made a beeline for the nuke plant table. It’s understandable, the benefits were great and the job pool larger than just about any other table. Yet few seemed to realize with that dearth of people coming to the table, very little of the faces would actually be recognized later on in potential job interviews.
3. Education is failing as a job market.
Most of the jobs were for rather specialized skill sets that didn’t require a higher education degree. In fact, one of the better paying jobs only required a GED or high school diploma as educational experience. This didn’t stop two colleges from showing up to flaunt their “track record” for job placement and shill how signing up and paying them money for a diploma would grant you keys to the world.
This presents a very interesting question. Why are colleges hitting up potential students at a job fair? With sliding enrollment rates, more people realizing trades and marketable skill sets are better than a piece of paper, and the continued spread of academic culture that promotes feelings over facts and perpetuates “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces,” it’s not that hard to pick out. Yet the schools are that desperate, so much so they’re willing to try and take the money of those who have none at an event ostensibly designed to create jobs and place people with jobs. It’s a deception, and one I’m dangerously close to exploring in depth.
4. The most sought after skills aren’t taught in higher education.
Driving a fork lift, building houses, welding, and working with the developmentally challenged were some of the most lucrative positions offered at this job fair. However, most of the people who came to the job fair didn’t have a chance at any of these positions, because they didn’t have the requisite training or skills marketable enough to land these positions. Most of them aren’t hard to learn; I got a chance to learn my locksmithing skills by asking an expert if I could apprentice under him. Yet most people won’t take the time to even sort our these skills and simply choose to blame others for their inability to find a job.
Tips for successfully negotiating a job fair.
- If there’s a lot of people flocking to a booth, ignore it and see if you can’t find the point of contact for the person who’s running the department you want to work with. Standing in line for 30 minutes to an hour not only wastes your time, it practically guarantees you won’t be remembered by a hiring official sent to the job fair unless there’s something about you that sticks out.
- Go to the booths that look “different” and talk up the people there, especially if you notice they’re not getting a lot of traffic. Tell them you want to speak to the “interesting” people, and they’ll fall head over heels for you at that point. You might even get word of some interesting job opportunities better suited to your liking this way.
- Take a look at the flyers presented by the Chamber of Commerce. You’ll usually be able to pick out what booths you want to visit and those you don’t that way. Your time is valuable, make the most of it in advance by not visiting the places you don’t want to work.
- Leave your kids at home or with a caregiver. If you can’t do that, ask a relative to watch them. Finding good child care is hard, but just as it’s not beneficial to you to bring your kids to a job interview it’s not beneficial to take your kids with you to a job fair. Plus they’ll get bored quickly, and bored kids don’t usually behave well.
- Dress at least in business casual. If you don’t own a suit, buy a dress shirt. If you don’t have slacks, buy some. If you don’t have the money to do even that, go check out a local thrift store or ask about job clothing programs. They usually exist. And remember, you get a tax deduction for job seeking expenses.
- Have something that makes you stand out for a job hunter. I took Bobby Motta’s “The Informant” with me and performed it for at least three people at job booths. They get my business card and I leave an impression on them, knowing I can “read minds.”
Give it a shot. You don’t have to be unemployed if you don’t want it. Job fairs can produce positive results, you just have to approach them correctly.