- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009

ASHBURN, Va.

After waiting in line all day at the federal job fair here Thursday, a weary Nick Bearce was sitting cross-legged in a hallway whistling “God Bless America.” Asked how his job search was going, his tune quickly turned to “taps.”

“I’ve been here all day,” said Mr. Bearce, 44, of Stanley, Va., his forehead beaded with sweat.

The electrical engineer, husband, and father of twin girls was laid off from Reston technology contractor SI International nearly a year ago - six months after moving from Maine and one day after buying his new house in Virginia.

Aside from his house in Maine and a few remaining investments, he has nothing left.

“My savings are all gone. I’ve got six bucks in my pocket, that’s it,” he said. “When that’s gone, it’s gone.”

Mr. Bearce was among about 3,500 people overwhelming the Loudoun County School Board offices, many of them desperate to catch on with one of the 76 government agencies and private companies exhibiting there.

Some waited for hours in a line that snaked through the large parking lot, and many got drenched in a spring torrent before the sun emerged in the afternoon. A few had arrived near dawn.

The fair, organized by Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, was scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but was extended for an hour as the congressmen’s staff sought to accommodate everyone.

“Get ‘em in, get ‘em in, both doors, come on,” urged Mr. Wolf’s chief of staff Dan Scandling as the clock showed 2:15 and job seekers still crowded the hall.

Many were frustrated and exhausted by the wait, and by the fact that when they finally got to a prospective employer’s booth, they were told simply to post their resumes on usajobs.gov.

Mr. Wolf’s office had struggled to find a venue large enough to accommodate the throng.

“We went to a hotel and they wanted to charge us $20,000,” Mr. Scandling said. “We can’t spend that much taxpayer money and because of ethics rules we can’t take things for free.”

But a larger building wouldn’t have meant more face time for applicants with employers.

“The problem is the number of people out of work,” he said. “[The employers] can only spend so much time with people as it is.”

Still, the job applicants felt their time at the fair was a good investment.

“It’s the first job fair I’ve been to probably since 1983, and it was good,” said sales engineer Larry Hendershot, 51, of Haymarket, Va.

Mr. Hendershot, married and the father of two, was laid off six weeks ago after 19 years in his field, most of it with optical networking equipment maker MRV Communications.

“A lot of companies say there’s only a one- or two-week period in which they are accepting resumes, then they close the window,” he said. “Once they get 100 resumes for one position, that’s enough.”

Carol Allen of Manassas, laid off as a data analyst from EDS in January, waited 90 minutes to get inside the building, even after arriving at 8:45 a.m.

“Some of the people I spoke to were very encouraging,” she said. “A couple of them gave me tips on how to word your resume.”

That was helpful for a private-sector employee now looking for work with the federal government. She came armed with two resumes - a two-page version for private employers and a six-page one for federal ones.

The federal site usajobs.com allows applicants to describe each position they’ve held with up to 3,000 words, she said.

“They want a lot more specifics,” she said. “With the federal government, you’re allowed to be more wordy.”

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