Tanger job fair brings out best -- and worst -- applicants

Memo from the job fair: Dude, get with the program.

My observation at Thursday's Tanger Outlets Job Fair on Hilton Head Island is that many young men are drifting about in a world of their own where they apparently think they set the rules. They made a first impression by their appearance and preparation, but it wasn't always a good one.

But going by the numbers, it doesn't matter. Many more people showed up to apply for work than there are jobs available in the rebuilt, $50 million Tanger Outlet 1 set to reopen in Bluffton on March 31.

Of the 40 stores and three restaurants to do business there, about 25 had booths at the job fair in a ballroom at the oceanfront Westin Hilton Head Resort & Spa. The mall plans to offer 350 jobs in retail sales and management.

I'd guess that well more than 1,000 people made the rounds through the congested room. The doors were to open at 10 a.m., but the line formed at 8:30 a.m. An adjoining room was opened, where 50 people at a time filled out applications.

People of all ages came, hoping to get noticed in a sea of humanity. An unemployed 31-year-old veteran was driven down from the small town of Tillman by his father. I met a real estate agent with time on her hands, people who have lost their jobs, new graduates, middle-aged and older men dressed to the nines with leather notebook covers in hand, retired women looking for part-time work to help ends meet and to have something to do, and many young women. All were seeking precious face-time with corporate representatives who said a similar job fair in North Carolina last fall drew 4,000 applicants for 800 jobs.

All the women seemed to be dressed for success. So were many of the young men. But I wasn't the only one to notice that many young guys came in T-shirts, belts hanging loose, shirts untucked, with no pen and no rèsumè. One company representative told me she was stunned when a young man sitting at her table started texting on his cell phone.

Most of the jobs at stake are part-time, and many of those come with no benefits. I was told that the part-time sales jobs pay roughly $8.50 per hour, and the store manager jobs may be in the $30,000 to $50,000 range.

Employers were looking for smiles, signs of energy and a positive attitude. One said she saw a high caliber of applicant here: well-educated, personable and with customer-oriented experience in other fields that translates well to retail.

She said she wants to see strong communication skills and eye contact. She wants people who are friendly, with "open body language" -- willing to turn and face a customer, giving the customer full attention.

It's a program more young men could use, no matter what they do with their lives.