Wednesday 22 March 2023
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#Life – The Job Fair: A Simple Gesture

striking development

A Simple Gesture

If with all the advantages I’ve had, I can’t make a living, I’m just no good, I guess.” – President Calvin Coolidge

I usually tell tales of my recruiting past or rage against the machine in my posts. They are good ways for me to purge my thoughts and not have to continually bandage my hand from punching the wall when I was younger. Sometimes, they are just the things that have made me think, smile, cry, or frankly – made me happy that I have chosen the path I have now. This is my #truestory of how my community came together and helped give one woman a little hope and regain faith in the recruiting world.

The Job Fair

Recruiters normally hate going to job fairs – sorry, for those who run them, but they do. It has been, for the most part, a perceived need for the HR community that we attend them. I have hired people at some job fairs and at others, I have stood there wondering what I was there for exactly. I was even named recruiter of the year for two years in a row, chosen by the attendees and I am not going to lie, that was pretty cool. Thanks,, I have always been impressed that you let job candidates make that choice and not you.

Sometimes, I am asked to speak at the event or do resume coaching etc. and I am always happy to help out, if I can. A few months ago, I was asked to speak on a panel outside Baltimore for a startup cleared job fair. Cleared means people with levels of clearance starting at Secret and going up to polygraph-level types within the community. The NSA was down the street and I was hoping, as everyone does in my space, that maybe a few would come down looking for their next opportunity.

The speaking event was a panel of four recruiters who were also attendees representing their companies. The panel session was free to the candidates that came to hear us dole out sage wisdom from senior recruiters that were supposed to help guide them through the treacherous waters of finding employment. I never thought I would be a Magellan type of person, yet there I sat. We all spoke about social media, calling friends to refer them, and come to our booth if you have said skill set – you know the typical boilerplate bullshit everyone expects to hear. It was, as I feared, us talking at them and not to them. We, as panelists, had no idea why these people were looking for jobs or what was driving them to find work. There was no moderator so I, being the senior of the panel, decided to go in a different direction. Half way through – seeing the glazed over looks on the attendees faces – I asked, “Do you have any questions; how can we help you?”

The Question Session

Hands were raised to the sky almost as though this was the whole reason they were sitting in hotel buffet chairs with generic upholstery and little to no padding. They wanted answers from the people behind the computer who never called, they wanted to know why they were being dismissed, what they were doing wrong to be so discharged. The questions were fast and furious with the room feeling somehow empowered that their voices were finally being heard. There was frustration, there was dismay, there was, simply put, sadness. Then came the question that stopped the panel and changed the dynamic. A woman rose her hand in the back of the room and was staring directly at me, intensely. She was African American, older, and was dressed for an interview. She introduced herself as Shamina and with a slightly shaking voice asked, simply, what am I supposed to do? Then she told us her story.

Her Story

The room was quiet and the panel was, for a lack of a better term, shaken. She spoke to us of how she had been out of work for months and had, at this point, lost everything. Other than clothes, the only possession she had was an old Chevrolet car to get her around. She was sleeping at friends’ houses, on couches, or in spare rooms – yet she felt horrible to sponge off others. She had thought she had finally gotten a job on a Government contract but her offer had been rescinded by the Government division because they decided to “change” the requirement for the role. She was devastated to have to start over again. The recruiter working with her told her that she was so sorry but it was out of her hands and there was nothing that she could do or say to change the hopeless situation she was now put in. She did not know what do and simply asked, “How do I hold on? How do I keep going?” I sat there staring at her and finding myself admiring this woman being strong and stoic, yet, behind her eyes I could see, not only her pain, but her terror. Again, as in many times in my life, I was face-to-face with a reality that seems to be lost on our politicians, as a whole. There is a perception that if people are not on unemployment then we, as a working society are doing just fine. Trust me, we are not. Numbers do not lie, they just don’t tell the whole story.

My Story

After what seemed to be an eternity of silence, I chose to speak up. I told her to never give up and to just keep fighting. I spoke of my life living out of my car, too afraid to tell friends and family that I was unable to pay rent while trying to make sense out of what I was going to do with my life and just falling into recruiting. I told her what I tell everyone who is willing to listen at a conference, that we ALL have had to look for a job and, as recruiters, we need to reflect on our own struggles and carry that with us, as well as help others looking for work. We, as recruiters, have to put on a heavy coat of armor when we start our day and cynicism becomes part of our daily ritual. We suffer constant attacks from managers, candidates, HR, and, at times, each other. I praised the recruiter who tried to help her and explained we don’t make the jobs, we just try and fill them. The room was silent, there were no more questions, just the unrequited angst, and concern they all had when they came in. I made my way to the lady in the back of the room and asked her to come with me to the booth I had in the banquet hall where the job fair was being presented. I not only needed to help this woman, I needed to give her some hope and man, it seems at time, that we are sure short on that these days.

job fair

The Introductions

Shamina walked with me to the booth and I asked her to take a seat, then asked for her resume. She pulled out a piece of paper and clutched it tightly. She said she only had a few and wanted to make sure that I would, at least, have something for her before giving up this golden ticket. “Honestly no, I don’t at the moment but I want to know more about you so that I can point you to the people who do”. Knowing almost half the room and what they did, I was confident that I could help direct her. After learning her skills I took her around the room introducing her to various recruiters I knew and some I did not. After a few meetings and conversations, she came back to find me and thank me. She was able to set up a few interviews and felt really confident about two of them already. Shamina thanked me over and over again for taking the time to help her and she asked if she could have a hug. I, of course, said yes and asked her for her email so that I could contact her if things came up that I hear about. I also wanted an electronic copy of her resume, as I am in a number of user groups online that share information on candidates looking in the region, if things did not pan out. We had one last smile, one last hug, and one last laugh before she left. In her eyes, I finally saw a sparkle of hope that it was going to be alright and the sun will rise again in the morning and she will work again.

In the end

Years ago I railed against ever helping other recruiters, I saw no value add for me. Why would I want to help my competition? They, being bad at their job, made my life easier, good on them for being morons. However, I have learned over the years that selfishness gets you nothing but loneliness. We are a tribe, a community unlike any other out there, have a shot at changing lives. We need to remember that these are people, some are struggling, and they need us to open our hands and just help. At the end of the fair, multiple recruiters stopped by to say hello and to thank me for introducing Shamina. I posted her skill set on a few private boards on Facebook in the area and offered to send her resume out. We in the community are really about helping, not only each other, but candidates we cannot help ourselves.

About two weeks later, I got an email from Shamina telling me that she had, after all this time, received not one, but two offers, and was beyond excited to begin her life again. I had to smile, I have no idea if she got the offers from someone at the job fair or on her own, it really did not matter. I will leave you with this poem by Walt Whitman, who uses words far more eloquent than anything I could ever write, yet reflects the power of the human spirit and states we all may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

O Me! O Life!

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects, mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest, me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.


What will your verse be?

What will it be? It is yours, you know.  You can be part of the solution or part of the problem, and it’s up to you; it really is. Not tomorrow but today, stand up and say something, write something, do something. The world cannot and will not change unless we contribute a positive verse and lift one another up. #truestory


Derek Zeller
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Derek Zeller draws from over 18 years in the recruiting industry. The last 13 years, he has been involved with federal government recruiting, specializing within the cleared Intel space under OFCCP compliance. He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines and technologies. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, military and college recruiting strategies. You can read his thoughts on or or his own site  Derek currently lives in the DC area. Follow Derek on Twitter @Derdiver or connect with him on LinkedIn.

2 thoughts on “#Life – The Job Fair: A Simple Gesture

  1. Rayanne Thorn


    Once again, I am blown away by your ability to tell a story of recruitment that chokes me up. Thank you — I too, remember a day when I didn’t think other recruiters could help me or that I should assist them. I had a managing director who would tell me before a conference to not speak to other recruiters.

    I am so glad to have survived that time and to be working in this one.
    And you need to keep telling your stories. #truestory


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