Fast Company

The Longest Line in NYC: Women for Hire Job Fair

We interrupt this program for a report from the cold, hard pavement outside your window.

WATCH MOVIE if you can bear to ...

A jobseeking friend invited me to join her at a Women for Hire Career Fair at the Sheraton New York.

Thinking it might provide a palpable insight into the state of the nation for my FastCompany blog, I hastily printed out my resume as required (complete with a nice glaring typo - doh!) and jumped in a cab to make it by curtain call.

On arriving at 1.15pm - the cut off time for entry and 45 minutes before the advertised closing time - I saw a line longer than a queue for free immortality with front row tickets to U2 thrown in.

It started at the 7th Ave subway station and weaved around two sides of a very, very long block.

"GET IN LINE MOMMY, WE BEEN WAITIN' 2 HOURS," said a gal when I tried to politely askif "this really was the line expecting to get in by 2pm?"

"You can't line up anymore, most of these people ain't gettin' in," she said. Flashback to my Not Getting Into The Chanel Mobile Art Exhibition x 10000.

I fantasized for a moment about boldly cutting in front of her and instantly biff! pow! aaarrrgh! starring in my own manga comic.

Iwandered all the way to the back of the line - a long hike - gaping at what I saw: people bundled up in the sunny but freezing air, clutching resumes and portfolios for as far as the eye could see. The stipulation about "smart business attire, no jeans, sweats, sneakers" seemed moot.

"It's the first time they've allowed men in," said one man waving his resume. He looked at the envelope in my hand. "Now why wouldja want to fold your resume?"

I asked if I could film him. He suddenly turned steely. "No you cannot. I charge $400 an hour for that." There were teeth.

"Neverseen anything like this before, some peoplebeen waiting  since 6am," said a policeman, blowing into his hands.

He pointed to a guy in veryun-business like attire - unless you consider playing baseball a business - but at least the wind wasn't biting at his core. "No-one after that guy in the blue jacket is getting in."

I looked at the long, snaking trail of pure patience following the guy in the blue jacket.

"Why are they still standing there?"

"We told 'em, they're not listenin'."

Well,they say persistence pays off - my friend had been waiting since 11.15am and got in at 1.40pm - with frozen feet that still hadn't thawed by the time she got home to Jersey City that evening.  "My feet are still killing me," she said later on the phone.

After filming the line, I returned to the lobby and eavesdropped on conversations as people  left the fair.

"Did anyone think that was worth it?" said a women loudly as people spilled out of the elevator.

"Not worth a two-hour wait freezin' your titties off," replied another, out of earshot of the recruiters.

"Tiny room, everyone jammed together, company reps telling us to go check out the website ... what was the point?"

The organizers should have known that in this economy, the event would be utterly swamped, and held it at the Javitz Center or restricted entry - something. What about speed interviewing - like speed dating, allowing each of the thousands of people their 3 minutes? Do the math:

  • 3000 people x 3 minutes/60 = 150 hours of interviews
  • 150 hours/40 companies = 3.75 hours on average for the entire event, plus minus a couple of hours' leeway. 

Or, what about having employers bundle up and stroll down the line talking to prospectives, who would hold up a card with their company of choice? What about thinking laterally about this?

Better that than allow people already desperate for work to suffer such discomfort and indignity.

"No solicitation" was the order of the day, yet in this climate, vendors selling hot coffee and cookies down the line would have been welcome, entrepreneurial and entirely appropriate, as is the norm in third world countries. And looking at the length of this line, I could barely tell what country I was in ...

Now, we return you to your $450K job with bonuses.

Bike Friday Customer Evangelist the Galfromdownunder is currently employed but taking her pay late to help her colleagues with kids. 

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3 Comments

  • Chuck Craytor

    Thanks for posting this blog article and the link to your YouTube video. One of our teachers here at Kalapuya High School was able to use it in their history class today.

  • John Agno

    As both men and women fall victim to layoffs and downsizing, they're flocking to career fairs, causing long lines and exhausting hiring managers whose booths are overflowing with candidates.

    National Career Fairs, a Las Vegas-based company that organizes fairs for job site Monster.com throughout the country, says it has already had a 40.7% increase in attendees in 2008 over 2007, and that's sure to continue as the new year goes on. Job site CareerBuilder.com has seen a 33% increase in job fair attendance in 2008. Crowded venues and lines can frustrate attendees looking to get face time with recruiters.

    More senior executives are standing in line, even though the caliber of jobs and companies represented at the fairs often isn't appealing to this group. These unguided out-of-work executives don't have a clue how to go about landing on their feet by engineering the right job offer. Still, even senior-level career fair attendees are just hoping to make a connection in a marketplace crowded with more people just like them.

    After about six months of wandering through career fairs and uneducated personal networking, senior executives realize they have missed their opportunity to make a good first impression on potential employers...and then begin to implement career damage control by connecting with a career coach ( more at: www.JobCoachingTips.com).

  • Will Taylor

    I stopped by the Career Fair with my girlfriend and it was totally worth it. I'm employed and she isn't and it was a great opportunity to network. She made a ton of contacts and we met some great leads - both while waiting online and the companies inside. It was definitely worth it.