They started streaming through the doors at 9 a.m. yesterday. Two hours later, more than 1,000 had gathered. By 5 p.m., twice that number had sought jobs at the 25th annual College Job Fair of Central Maryland, held at Towson State University.
Randi Lewbart, 21, said she was determined to be optimistic.
Mark Mulzoff, 22, said he was hopeful but realistic.
Bryan Casey, also 22, was frankly "stressed out."
The college seniors and recent graduates were taking time off from the gaiety of the holiday season to conduct the serious business of looking for work in tough economic times, as many experienced workers face layoffs.
Ms. Lewbart admitted the shaky economy made her "nervous," yet she had hope. "I recognize that I will be looking at entry-level positions," the Brandeis University psychology major said. "Those are the jobs that pay the least amount of money, and they might be easier for me to get."
She may continue with her education if she can't find a job.
Mr. Mulzoff hopes the accounting degree he expects to get in May willbe his ticket to a job. "It's tough, but there are jobs out there," he said. "Although with the economy the way it is, it curtails the openings." He is a student at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg.
"It's not that I have a big head -- but an accounting degree should help," Mr. Mulzoff added.
Some of yesterday's job seekers were struggling a little harder to keep their attitudes positive.
"I am pretty stressed out. I need a job," said Mr. Casey, who expects to graduate this month from Towson with a degree in finance and economics. Mr. Casey is married, with a child. He said relocating would be impossible for him because his wife was in school. He said the employers he had talked to had been "very nice" but offered nothing definite. "If worse comes to worst, I will have to get a job that has absolutely nothing to do with my degree for little or no money," he said.
Employers representing banks, oil companies, advertising agenciesand accounting firms seemed the busiest among the 121 companies represented at the job fair. Insurance and retail companies had fewer applicants waiting in line.
Karl L. Campbell, a regional underwriting director for Maryland Casualty Co., said his company had "some" openings despite cutbacks in the insurance industry nationally.
"The recession is a concern. But at the same time, we are always looking for good people," Mr. Campbell said. He acknowledged that hisemployer needed fewer good people this year than last.
Thomas D. Rose Jr., a recruiter for Whitman, Requardt and Associates, a Baltimore engineering firm, also said openings were not plentiful.
"If you were to ask us, 'Are we looking for five civil engineers?' we would have to say no. But if you were to ask us, 'Would we go ahead and hire someone?' we would say yes."
That, however, would depend on having the right person with a certain "spark" come along, Mr. Rose said, explaining, "We are a people-oriented firm. We would hire someone who would fit into that kind of working atmosphere."
Some companies, noted one recruiter, benefit when a poor economy hits college job fairs. Jonathan Maule, a recruiter from K mart, said college graduates didn't typically think of positions with a retail business such as his.
"Retailing is a weird type of industry," Mr. Maule said. "Usually, we have trouble attracting students."
In bad economic times, highly qualified students having trouble finding other jobs may decide to seek out retail management programs, he said.
The fair was sponsored by local businesses, local universities and colleges, the Chesapeake Human Resource Association and the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce.
Now, the job seekers must wait while the employers sift through mounds of resumes -- and hope for a call back.