🖤 Donations of all sizes power our public service journalism Give Now
Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Job fairs: all work and no pay?

Lisa Napoli Jun 5, 2009
Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Job fairs: all work and no pay?

Lisa Napoli Jun 5, 2009


TESS VIGELAND:One option he may have is to visit a job fair. They’re popping up all over the country for people who need help with resume-writing and figuring out what job might fit their skills. But even with all those fairs, the jobs are sparse and they don’t generally promise riches.

In fact, as Lisa Napoli tells us, some of them don’t pay at all.

Lisa Napoli: When you walk into the massive ballroom on the campus of UCLA for the Idealist.org career fair, there’s a chart that helps you navigate the 80 non-profit groups that are recruiting here.

Green means they’ve got full-time work. Orange part-time. Purple’s for internships.
Red is for volunteer positions.

Job-seeker Jose Gutierrez says he sees a whole lot of purple and red and not a lot of orange and green.

Jose Gutierrez: It doesn’t seem there’s too many opportunities.

Jose’s been unemployed for five months. His last job was as an advocate for immigrants; before that he was a teacher in the Los Angeles schools. So a career fair focused on non-profit jobs was a tantalizing prospect, until he walked the floor.

Jose: It’s like being so close but just so far.

Many of the experienced professionals who have come here today are like Jose. They figure if you’ve got to work for a living, you might as well do something meaningful with your time.

Jeremy Taback is a branding and marketing guy. And in this economic downturn that’s left him without a full-time gig, he’s had an awakening of a sort, about where he should be directing his energy these days.

Jeremy Taback: IF I’m going to work the way I work, I want to do something that’s going to make some difference that’s tangible to me.

But since he’s not worked in the non-profit world before, Jeremy finds himself in a tricky spot.

Jeremy: Because I’m kind of in that tweener space of having some senior level experience and being new to this. I’m not ready to strap on the intern. I’ve got kids.

Working for free at a non-profit can be an excellent way to get a foot in the door and could lead to paying work down the line. Not to mention volunteering is a productive way to spend downtime during a job search.

Steven Joiner is director of the “Career Transitions Program” at Idealist.org. He says these fairs offer a good way for potential employees to shop for opportunities.

Steven Joiner: Everything we know about non-profits and HR hiring and organizational philosophy says that two hours — one hour spent at a networking event and one hour conducting an informational interview — will get you lightyears ahead of two hours of sending resumes out into cyberspace.

But these days, the math isn’t adding up for job-seekers. Pamela Miller-Macias has been volunteering with the homeless for a few years now in her spare time. A few months ago, she lost her paying job in journalism. And that’s given her a sense of urgency about her quest to find full-time work in the nonprofit world. Today, she’s disillusioned:

PAMELA MILLER-MACIAS: I have a few years experience working with the homeless population in one-to-one situations, but not from the background of someone with social work.

Recruiter: Right now, I don’t have any openings in that respect.

The agencies here that are recruiting for paying work say they’re overwhelmed by the number of applications.

Jake Smith is a senior recruiter for Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles. He’s looking to fill medical, clerical, and outreach jobs.

Jake Smith: The email inbox when we post a job is just blowing up. I mean, where you would typically expect 75 or less responses, say over the weekend if I put something up on the job sites. If I put something up on Friday, I’ll get 500 responses perhaps.

Despite this, Jose Gutierrez is steeling himself to remain optimistic.

JOSE: It’s just a matter of time, so it’s being patient, let fate take its course.

And in the meantime, keep circulating.

In Los Angeles, I’m Lisa Napoli for Marketplace Money.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.