Durham job seekers hunt prospects under big top
Under a tent set up downtown on Wednesday, several hundred job applicants and recruiters networked while munching on popcorn or drinking a beer, with jugglers and acrobats performing nearby.
“It’s a different way of communicating with people,” said Chris Heivly, founder of the Tech Jobs Under the Big Top, of the “reverse,” technology job-focused job fair.
The event had planned for 11 company executives making pitches to applicants, instead of the other way around.
Heivly said he encourages recruiters to stand in front of their tables and applicants not to bring resumes or wear suits. It’s a fun way of holding a job fair, he said.
“Everyone’s smiling – it’s a tent,” he said.
Last year, Tech Jobs Under the Big Top held only one event in North Carolina, along with one in St. Louis, Mo., said Megan Carriker, an event spokeswoman. One reason they held off on holding a local event in the fall, Carriker said, was because it was a slower year for growth traction.
“Companies seem to be a little more apprehensive about hiring quickly, which is good and bad,” she said in an email. “Bad hires are expensive. It’s great that they’re taking the time and money to invest a bit more in their recruiting efforts like using Big Top to scout out several people and find that right fit.”
More than 400 had registered for the fair as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Carriker. A line of job seekers stretched along Corcoran Street downtown at the fair’s entrance before the fair started.
Dave Thompson was in line. He said he’s close to graduating from N.C. State University with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. There’s a “bunch” of technology jobs out there, he said, but also a lot of people looking.
“(It’s) very competitive out there,” said Rafael Cadavid, another applicant. Cadavid said he has more than 14 years of experience as a systems analyst and was recently laid off from an information technology firm.
He said he previously worked for a small company, and said he is attracted to the start-up environment, where he believes employees have more voice.
Ajay Krishnan is studying to get his master’s of engineering management degree at Duke University. He was with other students at the fair looking for an internship. He said he was attracted to start-ups because of the culture and lack of bureaucracy, but also said that for international students, sponsorships may be an issue at smaller companies.
Tammy Sofield said she’s been looking for jobs since she was laid off from IBM Corp. four years ago. She said she worked in project management and has experience in technical customer support. After she got out of college, she said, she fixed code written by other people on mainframe computers.
But she said the languages she learned then “are like the dinosaurs of today.” So she attended Durham Technical Community College for web and mobile app design.
“I’m determined not to give up, as hard as it’s been,” said Sofield, who said she’s exhausted her savings and 401(k) and other resources while she’s been out of work. “I say, give me a try, you never know.”
The job fair was the second that Russ Lombardo of Cary said he’d attended Wednesday. The N.C. Technology Association also hosted a technology company-focused job fair in Raleigh. The fair in Raleigh was estimated to have drawn about 300 job seekers and representatives from about 20 companies.
Lombardo said he believes the market is horrible, but moreso for older job seekers. He said he’s looking for sales-management jobs, and because he has a lot of experience he might be seen as over-qualified.
“The smaller companies are looking for more millennial-type candidates,” he added. “They don’t want to hire their father.”
Robbie Allen, the CEO of the Durham-based start-up Automated Insights, was in the line-up of executives scheduled to make pitches at the fair.
The company employs 25 people, and is behind new software used to automate the creation of sports stories, as well as stories about finance or real-estate trends, or to generate sales insights for businesses.
“Yes, we’re looking to hire, but, yes, we’re looking to be selective,” Allen said, adding that the company is “always” looking for good developers that know a certain programming language. “For certain types of positions, the unemployment rate is close to zero.”
For technology jobs statewide, daily average openings in February were down after reaching a two-year low in January, according to a N.C. Technology Association report prepared for the association by Henning Seip of the firm SkillProof.
The level of job postings shows how employers see their economic future, he said, adding that the payroll in the state should grow more slowly this year.
“If labor demand keeps shrinking, payroll may reach a point where it’s shrinking, too,” he said in an email. “Currently, that is not the case in (North Carolina). Instead we forecast that (North Carolina information technology) payroll will grow somewhat slower than last year.”