This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been to a job fair: The line at a federal job fair in Atlanta went around the block Thursday morning.

I've written about job fairs on my personal blog about being an unemployed dad, and I've been to a handful since being laid off back in June. But while I've waited in line for 30 minutes, I haven't been in a job fair line that snaked around the block.

According to a CNN story, there were 4,000 to 5,000 people at the job fair in Atlanta, lined up around the building with some of the area in triple lines. More than half of the people standing in line for more than four hours left disappointed or without getting in, the report said.

It took about six hours of waiting to get into the job fair, where many were told to apply for the jobs online.

That's one of the many problems with job fairs. With the national unemployment rate at 7.6%, people are desperate to find work. I think you could hold a job fair every day of the year on just about any block in America and people would line up to get in. It's like holding a "free beer" sign outside a baseball game -- people are going to line up.

I've found that if you can get inside a job fair, and don't want to continue standing in line at the various booths set up by employers, the best thing to do is grab a brochure from the companies you're interested in and go home and apply online. Or better, find out which companies will be there (they're usually listed on the event advertisement), and apply online before the job fair opens.

I've stood in a few of these lines myself over the past six months or so, and have discovered that when I get to the front, some nice person is willing to talk to me for a few minutes, but I usually find out that they don't have openings in the areas I'm qualified for.

For the most part, the job fairs I've been to have openings at the top and the bottom of the skill levels. Either it's a job as an entry-level worker at low pay, or a high-paying job that is highly technical, such as an engineer. I've seen engineers interviewed for jobs on the spot. And there also seems to be plenty of jobs for salespeople or in marketing. If you can sell something, you can probably find a job at one of these fairs.

There are also plenty of schools at these events to woo you back to college so you can upgrade your skills. Job search web sites and companies that can help you find a job are also popular, although I suspect they're more interested in bringing more hits to their website than in finding people jobs right there and then.

I drove about an hour to one of the first job fairs I went to, and quickly realized it was a waste of time. While I appreciated the fact that everyone was trying to be helpful, one woman at one of only a dozen booths asked a question that I thought was unbelievable. After a career on the editorial side of newspapers, I was curious about a sales job for ads. "Why would you want to make such a drastic, downward move in your career?" she asked.

I was dumbfounded and didn't have much of an answer because I didn't want to be rude. "Because I don't have a job," I said. She didn't get it that I was looking for a "job" and not a "career" at this "job fair."

Maybe that's why so many people attend these job fairs. It's a chance at finding something fast without having to do all of the work it takes to establish a career. It's a job that's needed now to pay the bills before the lenders start calling.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.AaronCrowe.net


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