I’m staying with family in Arizona, and I saw a billboard for the fair, and I was too curious not to check it out. It was in the arena that the Arizona Cardinals play, a strange building that looks somewhat like a giant, grey tick. I figured a few thousand people would show up, when I arrived, the entire parking lot was full.
As I walked from the car to the entrance, I called a friend who knew I was going, “I don’t think I can do this.”
I was looking at all the people around me. “Because everyone here is wearing suits or fancy dresses, is this supposed to be like a giant interview?”
She laughed. “I just think they want to make a good impression, just go in, it’s not like you aren’t dressed decent.”
I looked okay. A little less like I was looking for a job, a little more like I was combing the beach on a weekend; perhaps it would give me a calm, casual look others would find appealing. I followed the crowd into the bowels of the tick.
We were shuffled along, and it’s no exaggeration to say it really did feel like we were being herded like cattle. They had laptops set up all along the wall, and people were yelling at us that we could not go in until we had registered first on the computers. For some reason shouting the same thing over and over, to sign up on the computer, to the same group of people who were actually waiting in line to use said computer, felt a little bit like what I always imagined boot camp to be like.
As I stood in line to use a computer, one woman actually walked up to me and said, “You HAVE to register on a computer BEFORE you go inside!”
I raised my eyebrows at her, smiled and said, “Ma’am, for what other purpose do you think we are all standing in line?”
She made a face and moved on.
After giving them my name and email (yay future spam), they stamped a star on my hand and I was herded into the arena with the rest of the jobless bovine. I may have let out a small moo.
The entire floor of the arena had been converted into a maze of booths. It was separated into specific sections; Financial, Healthcare, Retail, etc. I wandered for a bit. It was so crowded it was like shuffling through a concert crowd trying to get to the bathroom, the smell of cologne, body order and desperation was ripe. The number of women showing a lot of cleavage took me by surprise. I suppose I don’t understand how job hunting works, apparently one should use everything at their disposal, it appeared the gloves were off.
I was surprised how many of the companies weren’t really offering jobs, they seemed to be taking this opportunity to just advertise their business and hand out refrigerator magnets. There were many Universities and Colleges present, telling the masses of jobless that for just a few tens of thousands of dollars, they could go back to school and eventually have a real career. I left college with 8 majors under my belt, I wanted to ask them, was my unemployment due to my not going after that magical 9th diploma?
There were companies who were seeking very specific people, so if you weren’t an RN with 10 years experience or a truck driver with 15 types of license under your belt, they had nothing for you. Of course, there was also the obvious choices like McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wendy’s, who pretty much just told anyone interested to go online and apply when they got home – making you wonder why you (or they) bothered putting on shoes and coming here in the first place.
I saw one place that was advertising Marketing Opportunities, this peaked my interest, one of my degrees was in Marketing. I soon found out that their Marketing meant you stood next to a concierge at a fancy resort and tried to sell people on hot air balloon rides, spa packages and specific restaurants to eat at. “The real focus though,” he told me, “is to get them to sign up for the presentation that will show them the great time-shares we offer around the state.”
I told him that I actually had a degree in Marketing, and in fact, this was not Marketing…this was Sales.
He responded rather defensively, “I’ll have you know I’m the head of the Marketing Department.”
“Do you have a Degree in Marketing?”
I thanked him for his time and moved along, completely aware what a snob I am.
I called my friend back, “Can I leave? This is depressing.”
She said no. She said that I had to find one thing to apply for. “I can’t believe, with almost 400 companies there, you can’t find one thing you are mildly interested in.”
I told her that the three biggest lines here were at the cart selling hot dogs, the booths that let you spin a wheel for some shitty prize and the Starbucks booth, because they were passing out free coffee samples. I was ordered to stay and keep trucking on.
So for the next 20 minutes I took a serious look at being a cab driver, shelving potato chips at night or going back to school and becoming a Physical Therapist, for the low price of $40,000.
I filled out one application before I left. It was for a part-time summer job driving special needs kids home from school. I’d worked with the mentally handicapped a few years ago doing an art program, so it was something I knew I could do, and jobs like that always make crappy pay feel a little better. The woman said she’d let me know, but was concerned that I lived so far away from their facility. I told her, considering it was a driving job, driving had to be something I looked forward to, right? She didn’t seem to get my sarcasm.
I lasted, in total, one hour. I texted my friend: I AM TOO SAD HERE. I MUST GO.
Why did it make me sad? For a few reasons. One, it was sad how many people showed up. I know we still have massive unemployment, but to see so many gathered in one place, it was overwhelming. It was sad to see how many people were dressed up like they were going on an interview, when all that was really happening was they were being herded like cows in ties. It was sad to see how many companies seemed to be there out of kindness to the idea of a job fair, but at the end of the day, weren’t really looking to fill many positions, if any at all.
I didn’t really go there thinking I would leave with a job, but as I walked out, I wondered how I would feel if I really had come here with some desperation from months or even years of being out of work? I think it would have made me feel a little bit hopeless.
But I am not above saying that maybe because I wasn’t there in that capacity, perhaps, that is why it didn’t appeal to me. Perhaps when you are looking day after day, getting refused work interview after interview, maybe it is things like this that keep you positive in some way. Maybe seeing so many in your situation, makes you feel like you aren’t alone. Maybe seeing a big corporation taking the time to put something like this together, and so many companies willing to show up for such an event, gives you hope that there are people out there that do want to help you.
As I was leaving the arena and wondering if I would ever find my car, two things happened. The first was a woman on the loudspeaker, who said, “Many people have seemed to have lost their car keys, so if you find keys, please turn them in to our lost and found.”
I laughed and thought, how the hell did so many people lose their keys? That would probably be a good way to weed out those people you don’t want to hire, wait and see who isn’t able to drive home at the end of the day.
And then there was the other thing.
As I was leaving the main floor I saw a sign. It said Come In Here And Borrow Professional Clothes To Make A Nice Impression. Goodwill, who sponsored the event, had set up a store where they were letting people borrow dresses, suits or just a nice coat and tie. I don’t know what it was about that sign or seeing so many people looking through racks of clothes for something to wear, something they could not even afford at this point in their lives, but it brought tears to my eyes.
I wondered how many of these people, these tens of thousands of people, ever imagined they would be at this point in life when they were driving to a job fair, borrowing something to wear and hoping that maybe today they could go home and tell their wife and kids that daddy found a job. How many of them were hoping they could call their parents and announce that things might finally be turning around. Or maybe tomorrow morning, to be able to wake up and look in their bathroom mirror and see a person looking back who is able to take care of themselves, once again.
That’s when I realized it wasn’t the Job Fair that I found sad, but in fact, it was having it hit home that we even needed job fairs in this country. A country where so few people have so much, corporations and CEO’s are making record profits, and yet so many are going to bed just hoping tomorrow is a little brighter than yesterday.
I don’t know how to make our tomorrows brighter than our yesterdays, at the end of the day, I can only wish us all a bit of luck.
Vince is the author of Einstein’s Shutter and other works that can be found HERE.