An apprehensive Trina Strohman slowly walked up the steps yesterday toward the College Job Fair of Central Maryland at Towson State University.
"Is it bad in there?" she asked a passer-by who was leaving the Towson Center. Mrs. Strohman soon will have an accounting certificate from Catonsville Community College and is looking for an entry-level position.
She refused to give her age but said she has been out of the work force for 15 years while raising a family. "People don't really want to hire older people," she said. "They are the ones losing their jobs."
With that pronouncement, she mustered up her courage, clutched her resumes a little tighter and headed through the doors.
The job fair drew recent graduates, students and a few job seekers old enough to be their parents. After two hours, more than 1,000 job seekers had filed through the doors.
By the time eight hours had passed, at least 2,380 people had come to queue up in front of booths set up by 94 employers, including American Airlines, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Provident Bank of Maryland. Last year, during somewhat brighter economic times, 121 employers were represented and 1,869 students sought jobs.
Yesterday, determined optimists and somber pragmatists all were searching for a job in times made gloomy by a lingering recession.
A woman waited patiently in the long lines to hand out resumes for her son. "He's in Bermuda and he didn't know that this was going to be today until recently," Susan Rosak said. "He called me and begged, 'Ma, please, please go and drop off as many resumes as you can.' "
So she went and told employers she was representing her son Michael, a 21-year-old management accounting major at the University of Baltimore.
The others had to make their own case to prospective employers.
"It doesn't look very good," Theresa Messina, 21, said. The Loyola College accounting major, who will graduate in the spring, has mailed 25 resumes. "So far, no luck," she said.
Ms. Messina said knowing that others also are having a tough time helps keep her spirits up. "A lot of our friends are in the same position," she said.
"I'm meeting a lot of people, and they keep referring me to other people," said Sterling Tilley Jr., 22, a mass media major at Hampton University in Virginia. "Hopefully, I will get a job or get an internship that will lead to a job."
Among the employers who drew long lines were AT&T, Alexander & Alexander, an insurance brokerage and management consultant firm hiring accountants, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the government's central personnel office.
Gary W. Carpenter, the agency manager for John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., said the job fair draws good candidates. "We were here last year and are pleased to be here now."
Early in the day, an investment firm with offices on Wall Street, once a dream employer for young graduates, did not attract as many applicants as other employers. "We're definitely expanding," said David J. Reese, an account executive for F. N. Wolf & Co. Inc. "We're doing real well." The field of investment banking has pulled itself out of a recession, Mr. Reese said.
"We are hiring, and a lot of firms are hiring," he said.
The company is looking for account executives-stockbrokers for entry-level positions that are paid by commission. Mr. Reese said the jobs offer the opportunity for advancement into management positions.
Kimberly Harris, 21, a Towson State University senior majoring in business administration and finance, said a commission-only job would be her last resort.
"It's pretty scary," she said of the job market. "I just want to get a foot in the door."
Ms. Harris is searching for a salaried, entry-level job in a company's finance department that would lead to a financial analyst position. "It's hard. I have to compete with a lot of people who have already been in the job market," she said.
Bob Malbrough, 43, was one of the older job seekers at the fair. He graduated in 1981 from Towson State with a degree in psychology.
"I've been through a plant closing, I've worked in cable TV, now I'm driving a cab," said the father of two grown children. About a year ago, Mr. Malbrough returned to school to learn computer graphics but has had no luck finding a job in that field either.
He stood in line to interview for a federal government job as a computer specialist trainee. "It's an employer's market out here."