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Has the recession changed job fairs?

Job seekers wait in line at the Choice Career Fair held at the Doubletree Hotel in Dallas, Texas.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: One of the ways unemployed workers here in the U.S. are trying to get back in the game is by attending job fairs. But these events have changed along with the jobs picture.

We sent Andrea Gardner to a fair in Southern California, and she discovered there are still opportunities, but not the kind many job seekers are hoping for.


ANDREA GARDNER: The Long Beach Hilton is swarming with people. They carry resumes and straighten their suit jackets. Many are hoping to land a traditional nine-to-five job. But instead they are finding mostly sales jobs that pay on commission. At one booth, a representative from a direct sales company is showing women how to make money selling products in their homes. At another, State Farm Insurance is promoting an independent contractor program, where agents sell policies on commission. Some trade schools have booths too, hoping job seekers sign up for classes.

PEGGY HILLMAN: Jobs are very scarce.

Peggy Hillman works for National Career Fairs, which organized the event. Last year, it canceled some job fairs across the country, because so few businesses were hiring. 2010 has picked up, thanks in part to alternative opportunities like these.

HILLMAN: People are becoming more and more inventive about how they're going to make an income, and those kinds of opportunities work for some people.

John Diamond is here recruiting distributors for his company, Kangan Water. It sells water treatment units for homes and businesses. He says many of the people he meets haven't come to grips with the new employment market. Either that, or they don't want to pay $4,000 for a water unit. All distributors are required to buy one upfront or pay one off through sales.

JOHN DIAMOND: I don't have the clock-in at nine, and clock-out at five job anymore. And those job opportunities aren't here. And they are disappointed. They're disappointed in what the reality is.

Diamond says, too many job seekers leave empty-handed, preferring to wait for a full-time job in their current trade, rather than trying something new.

Pat Stevens is among the 500 or so people here. She's hoping to find a full-time secretarial job, but hasn't found any leads. She says commission sales jobs are too great a risk right now.

PAT STEVENS: Somebody has to buy in order for anybody to make any money. And nobody can depend on that, especially in this economy. Where are they getting the money? Everybody's broke.

But not all job seekers were quite as skeptical. Lou Giordani and Vascan Baizjian left the career fair with several brochures.

LOU GIORDANI: We're IT. engineers, and we're definitely having to look outside the box. So... Yeah, we are considering sales positions, opening up businesses, what not. Definitely something different than what we're normally doing.

VASCAN BAIZJIAN: Nowadays, you have to go with what's available.

Giordani says he'll likely sell computer products on commission. It could either be a temporary way to make money, or the start of his next career.

In Los Angeles, I'm Andrea Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Andrea Gardner is a journalism professor and writer in Pasadena, Calif.
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So what do we have here? A job fairs turning into multi-level-marketing and work-at-home scams? Job fairs full of private college promising "opportunities" that end up charging students so much that they will end up not paying their student loans?

Job fairs turning into an opportunity for vultures to pray on the weak? Come on, job fairs should have jobs, not scams.

Sad.

The situation must really be bleak if the best opportunity at the job fair is a quack water treatment. Perhaps a good Marketplace Money indicator could be the number of scientifically implausible MLM schemes at job fairs. :-)

Here's a piece by Stephen Novella on Kangen Water:
http://skepticblog.org/2009/01/05/water-snakeoil/

The job fair is the biggest load of crap. You have to give a company money so you can sale for them and make them money in this economy? A real job fair is when you have companies like boeing offering ten jobs for a year. Or the water company taking ten temporary meter readers to help out. Or the police department actually hiring someone.

Job fairs are not representative of the current job market. They allow an employer to assess the personal presentation of a candidate, and whether that individual will create a good first impression.

These characteristics are critical for customer-facing positions, such as sales. It's no surprise that employers at job fairs overwhelmingly are looking for salespeople.

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