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Thousands race to N.H. speedway for job fair

170 employers, groups turn out

By Holly Ramer
Associated Press / August 28, 2009

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LOUDON, N.H. - Job interviews as quick as a pit stop replaced the usual blur of race cars at New Hampshire Motor Speedway yesterday, when thousands of people turned out for a job fair.

Garages on the track’s infield were packed with representatives from more than 170 companies, agencies, and organizations. Some job seekers hunched over mechanics’ benches to fill out applications, while others used gas pumps outside as makeshift desks.

In the middle of the nearly 1.06-mile oval where NASCAR drivers regularly exceed 100 miles per hour, Rebecca Grey described the much longer, slower route she took to the track after being laid off from a machine operator job in March.

After selling everything she owned and driving to Texas to start a new life, she ended up back in New Hampshire and unemployed when her housing plans fell through. Though the crowds made it hard to spend much time at any one booth, Grey said she appreciated the face-to-face contact, because so many companies accept online applications only.

“Online you can’t display your personality,’’ said Grey, 36, of Hudson. “It makes you feel inadequate or invisible.’’

New Hampshire’s unemployment rate was 6.8 percent for July, lower than the national jobless rate of 9.4 percent.

In April, more than 10,000 job seekers overwhelmed a similar event in Manchester, forcing organizers to cut off admission after just two hours. But that was not a problem at the speedway, which has a crowd capacity of 100,000. Several thousand people had arrived by noon yesterday and were efficiently directed into multiple parking lots and delivered by shuttle buses to the infield.

With Miss New Hampshire strolling around in her tiara and vendors selling fried dough and other treats, the atmosphere at times was more county fair than job fair. But there were plenty of business suits and briefcases, as well.

Workshops were offered on interviewing skills, networking, and other topics. Workers from the job posting and live interview website InovaHire.com helped job applicants improve and upload their resumes. By midmorning, Eric Schifone of InovaHire said he had helped people from all kinds of industries, from accountants to welders.

The most common problem, he said, was a job seeker’s failure to highlight specific skills.

“How is an employer supposed to know if you don’t put it down?’’ he said.

Matt Williams and his wife, April, of Concord, were both looking for work. He was fired from a chemical company four months ago; she was laid off last week from her job as a residential counselor. Both said they are contemplating career switches.

“When your age catches up to you, it’s hard to find a job,’’ said Matt Williams, 47.

April Williams, 44, said she would like to get into a computer field. She said the job fair was a good idea, but a bit overwhelming.

“It’s rush-in, rush-out. Shake hands and go onto the next person,’’ she said.

But Janice Pease of Winnisquam said she felt that she had made progress. Also half of an unemployed couple, she has been out of work for six months since the used car company she worked for went out of business. Her husband was laid off from a car dealership.

Pease said she has been taking computer courses, recently earned an insurance license, and is looking for an inside sales or administrative assistant position. She and her husband were fortunate to have had good careers and savings to carry them through this time.

“There’s a lot of desperate people here,’’ she said.

The job fair was sponsored by WMUR-TV, the speedway, and the state.