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Job seekers pack Hagerstown job fair

August 20, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Half an hour into Thursday's job fair at the Washington County One-Stop Job Center at 14 N. Potomac St., the downtown building was packed with job seekers studiously filling out applications.

They spread out over every available surface, sitting three and four to a table, perching in stairwells, even standing, scrawling on applications pressed against walls.

Unfortunately, prospective employers were not as abundant, Western Maryland Labor Exchange Administrator Suzette Snyder said.

Nine employers signed up to participate in Thursday's fair, compared to as many as 19 in better times, Snyder said.

"Employers tend to be more hesitant in hiring, not knowing what's around the corner," she said.

Washington County's unemployment rate was 10.5 percent in June, the most recent month for which state labor department figures were available.

Those companies that did participate said they saw more interested applicants than they could possibly hire.

Melissa Zimmerman, account manager for the staffing company Staffmark, said she had about 50 positions to fill at various companies in Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland and Franklin County in Pennsylvania. She handed out 50 applications within the first half-hour of the three-hour fair.

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With so much competition, meeting a job's qualifications and making a good impression are critical, employers said.

"In my business, first impression is everything," said Patrick Matthyssens, who was seeking about five people to staff a Bath Fitter kiosk at Valley Mall. If someone smiles and seems outgoing and professional when they approach him at a job fair, he said, he can tell they will be good for the company.

"Some of these folks walk in with a T-shirt with stuff written on it," Matthyssens said. "I'm like, 'I know it's a job fair, but you're going to talk to your future employers.'"

Other job-fair pitfalls include bringing children, saying negative things about previous jobs and not bringing enough résumés, Snyder said.

Job seekers should know something about the company where they are applying to work and indicate interest in specific positions, instead of writing that they are interested in "anything," she said.

Many of the job seekers at Thursday's fair said they had been trying to find work for so long that "anything" was a pretty good description of what they were looking for.

"Believe me, it's hard," said Gary Bloom, 58, of Hagerstown, who had been seeking work for more than a year. "I work day in and day out trying to find a job."

Bloom said he has had some work for the past two weeks, but was seeking something more reliable that would provide insurance.

Robert Baugher, 18, of Waynesboro, Pa., said he thought rising competition for jobs had allowed employers to be more particular about how much experience they want employees to have. He said if he didn't find work soon, he might enlist in the military to gain some experience.

"The United States Army is always hiring," he said. "That's the best way for me to go right now."

Filling out an application for a warehousing job, Jason Ellis, 28, of Martinsburg, W.Va., marveled at the irony of his situation. He said he had worked at a warehouse before, but decided he wanted to do something more with his life and spent three years and close to $100,000 to go to college for a bachelor's degree in communications.

Now, after about a year and a half of looking for a job at a broadcast or cable TV station, Ellis said he's heard more from his student loan lenders than potential employers.

So on Thursday, desperate for some source of income, Ellis turned back to warehousing.

"It makes you think, 'Why go to college if you're gonna go back to square one?'" he said.

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