Step Right Up (And Get Taken for a Ride)!!!

Having lived in several Southern states as a kid, I have very fond memories of my Dad taking my mother, brother, sister, and me to the local fair. Even now, as I type, my mind drifts back to living in Mobile, AL. My Dad dutifully parked where the police marshaled him. This usually resulted in a convenient location that was slightly less than a mile to where the fair was actually taking place.

We ultimately arrived at a line to get into the fair. It was usually at this point that you ran into characters that were more interesting than the food vendors, game barkers, and ride attendants inside the fair. There was the mother wearing her best house coat and waiting to find the nearest corn dog stand. She is usually encumbered by an 18 month old child drinking cola from a baby bottle. Next to them is the father who is apparently part squirrel as he is storing chewing tobacco for the winter. The line also includes the teenager with a permed afro 2 feet in diameter and wearing a t-shirt that states some CB radio jargon (it WAS the 70’s after all). All classes of people are represented down to the teenage girl who has attended every night of the fair and is proudly wearing the glow-in-the-dark necklace her date bought her the night before (which she wisely stored in the freezer so it would maintain its phosphorescent qualities that made it  such a great selling item).

Once inside the fair, after listening to my Dad repeat once again to stay within eyeshot of him, my senses were treated to a wide variety of sights and sounds. Along with the standard Ferris wheel and bumper cars, there were rides that took you upside down and sideways. Amusement stands were all around allowing anybody to try to knock over milk bottles, shoot moving duck targets, or dunk a clown all in an effort to win a stuffed animal that would have cost $10 less to purchase at a toy store than was spent trying to win it. Then, there were the vendors. These great salesmen provided one and all with the opportunity to buy anything from cotton candy, funnel cakes, peanuts (roasted or boiled), beverages, t-shirts, trinkets, and the aforementioned glow-in-the dark necklace.

Once the night was over, I would lie in bed exhausted and grinning from ear to ear. Anyone who saw me for the next week could tell I was happy as…well someone whose Dad had taken him to the fair. I had no idea the experience would prepare me for the carnival of the adult working world – the job fair. The job fair is very similar to the multiple fairs I attended as a kid. During an 8 month unemployment period I spent in GA, I walked out of many job fairs feeling as though I had been taken for a ride and the experience left me somewhat nauseous.

The job fair attracts people from all walks of life and some even travel from out of state to attend. Many, like me, were unemployed. Many others were looking to make a career change. Just like the fairs of my youth, the job fair allowed me to stand in line with a diverse cast of characters. Among the first to be noticed was the woman who spoke on her cell phone via wireless head set. She spoke at a volume that would have Metallica complaining that they couldn’t hear their amplifiers. Nonetheless, anyone who stared at her was quickly told to mind their own business. Also in attendance is the young man wearing jeans and a tank top. He is clearly not shaved in 4 days and apparently got into an argument with his barber and lost. This young man is prepared to apply for any CEO position that is currently open. Joining the ranks is the career professional armed with a glowing resume and more degrees than Fahrenheit. This cocky, conceited, career driven candidate views the aforementioned CEO applicant as his only true competition. Last, but certainly not least, is the gentlemen I refer to as Mr. Perk. Mr. Perk greets everyone he sees with the wide eyed, hyper-caffeinated enthusiasm of an infomercial salesman pushing the latest household cleaning product. Mr. Perk views jobs not from the standpoint of salary or career growth but more from the angle of benefits and incentives (in other words, the perks).

Once inside the entrance to the job fair, the senses are treated to booths (or rather tables) with vendors representing everything from direct sales agencies, colleges and universities, military and police recruiters, contract employment agencies, and a wide variety of other businesses. One can look to the left and see 30 people standing in line to apply at the local fast food restaurant that is on every corner in the city. A look to the right reveals an even longer line with a local business that is booming with all sorts of jobs in any possible field . I have experienced the privilege of standing in these long lines so I can finally greet the vendor with resume in hand. After the customary introductions, I explained to the vendor why I was the best fit for the company he (or she) represented. This usually resulted in the applicant being branded with the most dreaded occupational label: overqualified. I would then take a moment to shake off this emasculating experience then move to the next vendor and start all over again.

Along with all of this is the brilliant marketing tool almost every vendor utilizes: company swag. Company swag consists of the free items that vendors give away emblazoned with the company logo. Over 8 months of unemployment, I have acquired the following items plugging a variety of companies: pens, highlighters, rulers, post-it notes, letter openers, legal pads, Frisbees, key chains, coffee mugs (sometimes with a sealed bag of coffee), and one size fits all t-shirts. I have since relocated back to NY since this job fair experience. Still, to this day, I have a pen from a company at a GA job fair. The pen bore the company’s name, phone number, and email address. I followed up by trying to call and e-mail the company. The phone number was out of service and the e-mail was returned as undeliverable. Never could there have been an experience that better summed up the job fair experience.

After visiting many booths, shaking numerous hands, and presenting enough resumes to fill a Stephen King novel, I walked toward my car (the mile walk was good exercise). I always did my best to maintain hope. Nonetheless, I often left the job fair feeling dejected, defective, deflated, and discouraged. I didn’t have to look far to see I was not alone. The CEO applicant and the cocky, conceited career candidate have decided to go out for a round of drinks to anesthetize themselves from the letdown. The lady with the Bluetooth head set is screaming at her friend about how the local fast food chain has no good sense for turning her down. The only exception is Mr. Perk. He walks out with company swag from every vendor at the fair. He carries it all in a bag provided by a direct sales vendor selling women’s cosmetics.  I could not share Mr. Perk’s joyous outlook. I look back at this experience realizing I am clearly not that 10 year old grinning from ear to ear. Nonetheless, it was quite a ride.

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