At the Bright House Networks booth, Molly McKinley was prepping nine people from her human resources division for the onslaught of job seekers.
"Does everyone see the clipboards down there? Are we ready, guys?"
A worker at the nearby Five-Hour Energy booth stopped by to pass out a half-dozen samples. They would soon need the caffeine jolt.
Within moments of the downtown St. Petersburg Coliseum doors opening at 10 a.m., the Bright House booth was slammed. All nine HR recruiters were talking with prospects — an ex-banker, a veteran, a lawyer with 30 years' experience, a recent University of South Florida graduate.
One lady in her mid 50s fretted that she was too old to get hired.
"Don't worry. I'm older than you," Bright House recruiter Kathy Painter consoled her.
Painter had just started working for Bright House's human resources division a couple of months ago: the payoff from a 13-month job search.
"I was at this very job fair this time last year," she said, "so I know what it's like to be on the other side."
There are roughly 145,000 unemployed workers in the Tampa Bay area and tens of thousands more working part-time jobs unable to find full-time work. Thousands of them flowed through Monday's job fair, which was sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times.
From the vantage point of one of the recruiters — Bright House — it appeared nearly all of the job seekers included the cable company's booth in their stops. Perhaps that's because Bright House had a wide ranging selection of jobs to fill, compared with the nearly 40 other companies and schools represented.
McKinley rattled off the diversity of available jobs: about a dozen positions in direct sales; 28 customer service reps at its St. Petersburg and Auburndale call centers; up to 15 service technicians; up to 30 IT workers from systems engineers to software development managers. And the list went on.
Statewide, Bright House has more than 400 open positions.
Barely 25 minutes into the five-hour event, Bright House had already run through two oversized boxes containing 100 blue tote bags apiece.
McKinley was prepared.
They had 20 boxes on hand — along with other corporate paraphernalia like envelope openers and blinking pins shaped like a Bright House house.
One of the most common complaints among job seekers is that companies at fairs steer them to apply online. That was the case at Bright House as well — with a twist. They took resumes to match up with online submissions later.
"If you apply online and say you were at the career fair, it will help us remember you," Bright House recruiter Dustin Green said.
A few minutes later Dustin Green met job candidate Ken Green, who was applying for an IT job.
"That'll be easy to remember," said Dustin Green.
Technology may rule the process, but job fairs still have their place, McKinley said. Even brief face-to-face time not only helps the employer know the candidate but helps the candidate better understand what a job entails.
"The job becomes more real this way," she said.
Nowhere is that fragment of face-to-face more precious for Bright House than in direct sales.
"This is one of the most difficult jobs, going door to door," said Lawrence Clermont, direct sales manager for the company's Tampa Bay division. "Here, you get to meet them, see them and interview them. … Ask them their goals. Online you're looking at a sheet of paper."
Clermont talked privately with each sales candidate for at least five minutes. Or semi-privately. Another company had snagged one of the sitting rooms Bright House thought it reserved, so instead Clermont chatted with each prospect in a less noisy area on the Coliseum floor behind the booths.
Bright House didn't have a final tally on how many hundreds of resumes had been collected. But spokesman Joe Durkin offered one barometer of the level of interest: More than 600 tote bags had been snatched up.
Jeff Harrington can be reached at (727) 893-8242 or firstname.lastname@example.org.