Why job fairs are worthless

I went to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Monday night to hear a talk about how to get a “green job.” There was also a job fair, and it was a madhouse.

Although I’ve been unemployed since June 2008, I’ve learned not to expect much out of job fairs because they often have long lines that lead to little information and rarely to a job interview, unless you’re supremely qualified for the few positions that are open. It’s a meat market. But I hoped that this “green” job fair would be better, with industries I’m interested in working for, and in a job that could have some impact.

I expected a crowd but nothing like this. The room where the panelists talked held about 250,  and another 100 or so were in the lobby waiting to get in. At least they had the job fair to keep them busy. If you want to get a few hundred people together, hold a “job fair” and they’ll come running. Like many job fairs I’ve been to before, this one only had about a dozen booths set up, with a dozen or more job applicants crowding around to get a minute with an HR person or some other employee. Alongwith  the maybe 10 companies hiring were some colleges looking to lure people to their MBA programs, and two free job search sites that specialize in environmental jobs.

I talked with a few recruiters, and while they said they don’t need writers or editors, they encouraged me to check back on their Web sites for job opening updates. They might need technical writers, they said, although that’s a job I’m not to sure I can do. The areas that were in demand were engineers and sales people. It seems that if you can sell or make stuff, you can find a job in this recession.

Another downfall of job fairs, and maybe it’s just the poor economy, is that entry level jobs are common. That’s understandable if you want to break into a new field, as I do, but the pay is discouraging. I’d like to think experience counts for something.

About the only good part in attending a job fair is it’s a chance to learn about new companies and find resources. Two “green job” resources stuck out for me: GreenBiz.com and Greenjobs.com. Both seemed intent on helping with specific job opportunities, something people at the job fair were hoping for. Other resources I found there were something called GreenCareerCentral.com, and GreenJobs.net. Looking through all of these could make your head spin, but it’s a start for a green job search.

Maybe that’s the problem with job fairs: The unemployed are looking for someone with a majic wand, and the title of a “job fair” sounds promising. What could be more fun than a “fair?” Finding a job could, but that’s unlikely at one of these. Hope is always around the corner, and these events offer the promise of it, even if you’re crowded around hundreds of others like you in the search for it.