WATERVILLE — Those in attendance at a job fair preparation workshop Wednesday at the Waterville Public Library could all agree on one thing: The job market, and securing their place in it, has changed significantly since they first entered the workforce.

“Twenty years ago we had factories where any Tom, Dick or Harry could go in there and be a laborer, but those positions are gone. Now it’s all customer service and technology,” said Marshall Cox, of Waterville. “The whole resume format from then to now is so different. It used to be just listing past jobs. (Building a resume) is going to be a chore. I’ve got a lot of homework to do.”

Helping Cox with that homework was the purpose of Wednesday’s presentation, and several other career resources offered by the library to area residents. The library is hosting a job fair next week featuring more than 30 businesses and organizations seeking employees.

Dana Hamilton, employment services coordinator for the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, led the presentation, which focused on what individuals seeking jobs should do to prepare for a job fair. Her points of preparation included resumes, how to dress and general conduct while at the fair.

Cox, 52, who previously worked in the mental health industry, has been out of work a year and has been searching actively for a new job. He is looking for jobs in the customer service industry, or perhaps manufacturing if he can find an open position. But he noted that it’s difficult to re-enter the workforce, now that the skills employers are looking for have changed.

“Leaving the workforce and coming back in, it’s so much harder,” Cox said. “Now customer service is on the phone, and your skill set is a positive mental attitude. You have to sell yourself.”

Hamilton said Cox is not alone. She said most people seeking career help recently have had more barriers to employment, including age, outdated skill sets and even minor disabilities. Hamilton said the key to success, and getting the most out of opportunities such as job fairs, is to be prepared.

“The problem is, most people don’t realize they need to prepare for a job fair,” she said. “If you haven’t had to look for a job in quite a while, it’s overwhelming.”

She encouraged job seekers to do their research before going to a job fair. She suggested they pick up to five of the employers that will be at the fair and find out what the company does and even how the industry it belongs to is changing or growing. Twenty years ago, she said, employers would not expect people to know some background on the company or even the position; but with the dawn of the “information age,” she said, it’s almost mandatory.

Hamilton also suggested taking the time to craft several different resumes geared toward specific employers after researching the company in order to match skill sets to what the potential employers are looking for.

A post-job fair tip that surprised the presentation attendees was that they should take the time to send a letter or email to any employers they talked to, thanking them for the opportunity and expressing their interest in employment with their company.

She said that “20 or 30 years ago, I would have never thought of sending a thank-you note. Now it is expected.”

Leslie Wright, 61, of Waterville, said when she began her job search within the last year, she had no idea how much time was required to find a job.

“You have to get out there and know what is going on,” Wright said. “You need to get into the mindset and really focus.”

Wright put her career as a software engineer aside after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, caused a slowdown in the financial sector, an industry that her company serviced primarily. She then began focusing solely on raising her son. Now, with his graduation from college next month, she is looking to get back into the job market. She is looking for an administrative job.

Next Wednesday’s job fair is scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m. The event is hosted by the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, the Maine Department of Labor’s Augusta CareerCenter, the Central Maine Growth Council and the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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