MIAMI — When Lisa Purtill was laid off from a human resources job last May, she was positive she'd be able to find another position within weeks. • Nine months later, after sending out more applications than she can remember, she's still looking. So last month, she was more than willing to try a more unconventional job search method: a "speed-dating" session with a dozen hiring employers.
Purtill, a Plantation resident, joined about 250 job hunters from Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
The setup mirrored a traditional speed-dating event for those seeking companionship — but instead of love, the participants were looking for a livelihood. Each job seeker spent two minutes chatting with a company rep before trading contact information and moving on to the next.
Marcel Goldstein, who, like Purtill, was laid off last spring, has spent the last 10 months monitoring online job boards. He viewed the event as a way to get face-to-face time with employers who are actually hiring.
"I've sent out a lot of resumes," said Goldstein, a former warehouse manager, as he waited to meet with a potential employer. "Too many people are looking for the same job. I've been interviewing — but so far no luck. This is supposed to be different."
Violet Lowrey, owner of A Plus Professional Resumes, which co-hosted the event, said it was an opportunity for people to get away from ineffective traditional search methods and be proactive about networking their way back into employment.
"I want to help people get back to work, and I'm tired of hearing about the recession," she told the crowd before the speed-dating session began.
The event also gave hiring companies a chance to meet with a mass of eager and well-credentialed job seekers.
Don Senerath, general manager at International Computing, said because his company recently relocated to South Florida from New York, the speed-dating event was a good way for him to interact with the region's information technology professionals. The Miami Beach IT company has "a couple" of openings, he said, and he picked up a few resumes at the event.
"We're looking for practice managers, project managers and people who have experience in this industry," he said. "You want people who you have some rapport with, people you can work with. This event is much more about personality."
Purtill had no trouble getting her personality across during the 120-second interviews, even though there were few human resource jobs advertised during the event.
She spoke to multiple employers across a broad spectrum of industries, hoping that the brief conversations would lead to a job or to information about an opening at another company. She said she has become more flexible during her unemployment, signing up for a string of temp gigs in a range of industries, and at locations from Miami to Boca Raton.
She's expecting to begin a brief temporary job as a census worker in a few weeks.
"After a few months of not working, you do go stark crazy," she said.
Because only about a dozen company reps were present, many job seekers found themselves in the same position as Purtill — speaking to employers in industries they would never have considered before the economy tanked. One line of people waiting to speak to an employer had job seekers from at least seven different industries.
"I'm hearing from a lot of people who are open to career changes," said Sal Cucciuffo, a circulation specialist for the South Florida Business Journal. "There's a lot of quality, which makes it hard to choose, but there's a lot of quantity, which makes it easier to find someone."
The publication was looking to hire a sales representative, but Cucciuffo said he had interviewed people with backgrounds in law, hospitality and publishing.
Job hunters, who wore blue name tags indicating their area of expertise, included unemployed lawyers, government workers, finance professionals, consultants and a large number of IT specialists.
Representatives from MetLife, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, the University of Phoenix and a few local IT firms were among the attendees wearing red name tags, which indicated status as a hiring company.
Carlos Gil, who owns JobsDirectUSA.com, which co-hosted the speed-dating session, has held similar events in Atlanta, Jacksonville, Virginia Beach, Va., and elsewhere, but said the South Florida events are always well attended.
"The recession really affected South Florida more than other places in the country," he said. "It's really a sign of the times."