April 25, 2013

Maine job fair draws hirers and hundreds of seekers

Job seekers are determined and optimistic, while employers give mixed reviews to the talent pool.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Bon-Ton Stores Inc., the anchor department store that's set to arrive at the Maine Mall this year, and Maine hotels, restaurants and tourism businesses drew hundreds of job seekers to a hospitality and retail job fair Wednesday.

click image to enlarge

Ashley Dombrowik of Saco gives her application to Amanda Conley of The Inn on Peaks Island, as another applicant waits, at the job fair at the Maine Mall Wednesday. With Conley from the inn are Jayson Mathieu, left, and Andrew Hobin.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Barbara Gullbrand, left, and her daughter Bethany of Portland talk with Gail Cruikshank of Bon-Ton, which plans to open a department store at the mall in September.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

The job fair, held at the mall, featured businesses ranging from the Chebeague Island Inn to Cook's Lobster House and Portland Discovery Land & Sea Tours.

Lillian Cofferen of Saco filled out applications for every business at the job fair, and some for some retailers in the mall.

"I'm determined," said Cofferen, who's now self-employed as a housekeeper.

Cofferen said she has been looking for a full-time position since 2009. Ideally, she wants a job in which she can use her culinary school training.

"I'm looking for something in the kitchen – something to do with cooking," said Cofferen.

Melissa Winn of Portland said she's open to any job, since she has been out of work for almost three years since her last job, at the Salvation Army.

"Whatever pops up will be the best job ever," Winn said.

Employers had varied responses to the pool of talent at the job fair.

The Paper Store, which will open its first Maine location at the mall in the next few months, was looking for 10 part-time workers. It hired three people immediately from the job fair. The other positions are expected to be filled quickly.

"We love the people. We're meeting some great, happy-go-lucky Mainers," said Barbara Rifkin, a district manager with The Paper Store. "You can always learn the retail business. We're looking for people with great personalities -- customer service people."

Bon-Ton, which plans to open in September, reviewed and interviewed candidates for about nine management positions.

The department store will hire about 200 people overall and will hold a job fair for all positions in July.

Bon-Ton is renovating 120,000 square feet of retail space that was home to Filene's and Summit Adventures in recent years.

On Wednesday, about 75 potential applicants stopped by Bon-Ton's booth and asked about the store, which will be the chain's first in Maine.

"Retail experience helps, but it's not a prerequisite," said Alton Walker, a Bon-Ton vice president and regional store director. "We are looking for people who are committed to customer service, people who are energetic."

Other employers had a more tempered view of the job candidates at the fair.

"We're looking for people who are engaging, with good people skills. We're not necessarily seeing that today," said Nick Shumate, rooms division manager with the DoubleTree by Hilton in Portland.

The DoubleTree is looking for 10 people for jobs ranging from housekeeping to the front desk. About 20 people came to its booth seeking applications.

"A hotel background is always helpful, but you can learn that," Shumate said. "What you need are people skills. At the hotel, you're always on stage." 

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at jhall@pressherald.com


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