COLUMN: Ryn: Job fairs: The great compression

Cattle generally have it better than folks who stampede through a job fair. And the cattle get shot in the head.

My friend Bart used to work in a slaughterhouse, and he told me plenty of grisly tales about the air guns.

No one was shot during Tuesday’s massive Jobing.com fair at the Tucson Convention Center, but I may have volunteered to be put out of my misery.

Something about being in a room stuffed with thousands of people vying for a mere handful of jobs tends to make me weak and weary.

Others weren’t quite as depressed about the job fair, though I tried to make them say they were.

“It doesn’t make me depressed, no,” said Luis Gomez, 53, who was looking for computer-related work. Self-employed for some time, he said business was down and he needed some part-time income. “It’s a source of hope, not depression.”

Kristen Nyboer, 22, who is trained in working with autistic and developmentally disabled kids, also felt pretty positive about the fair. Until she saw that the line was longer than those for the Porta Potty during a beer fest.

“I’m still not depressed,” she said, “but maybe a little less optimistic.”

Even Stephanie Jamison, 37, who has been to every Tucson job fair in the past several years and only once got a job from them, had uplifting things to say.

“No, it doesn’t make me depressed,” she said. “It gives me encouragement to know Jobing.com is doing this to help people.”

No matter who runs them, job fairs have always left a bad taste in my mouth, not unlike drinking coffee while eating tuna fish.

To be fair, I’ve only attended one job fest prior to Tuesday’s packed event. It, too, was a jammed event, but at New York City’s Javits Center, a four-level behemoth of a building large enough to host floor hockey games and international motorcycle shows – complete with the latest lines.

I recall being pushed, shoved, smushed and drenched in sweat, wearing an ill-matching pseudo suit that was much too big for me.

Sure, I’ve come a long way since those pre-college days, and now even have clothes that fit, but I still tend to get morose when I feel like I’m at a cattle call.

Job fair volunteer Tyler Evans, 24, shared my lack of enthusiasm for the event. He was collecting the little registration papers some people actually threw in his general direction.

“Only about 10 percent of these people will get a job,” he said of those hoping for an offer after the fair.

Part of that was because the applicants far outnumbered the available jobs. But another part was due to people’s attitudes.

“They sabotage themselves,” he said. “They go into it like: ‘Hi, my name is so-and-so and I don’t want to work for you.’”

Meanwhile, he continued, the employers are often paying attention to the long lines and the person behind the person they are supposed to be interviewing.

“I wouldn’t go to this,” he said of the fair, “I’d go to a business personally to get a job.”

Yes, Evans is employed. He’s training to be a nurse. It’s not a position he nabbed from a job fair.

I didn’t think my luck would be so great at the fair, either, despite my matching and fitting clothes.

Not necessarily because of my attitude, not because I felt like bursting into tears, but mainly because I didn’t hand out any résumés.

I simply couldn’t.

As much as I wanted to embrace the attitudes held by Gomez, Nyboer and Jamison; as much as I wanted to be grateful for the chance to meet a host of employers under a single roof; as much as I loved my little matching winter suit; I couldn’t bring myself to smile and hand over a single résumé.

My thoughts lingered, instead, on the air gun.

Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist and Tucson Citizen reporter who is not expecting any callbacks from the job fair. Listen to a preview of her column at 8:10 a.m. Thursdays on KLPX 96.1 FM.

This column originally appeared in the Jan. 30, 2009, issue of the Tucson Citizen.

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