Bob Loudermilk is the king of matchmakers in Wichita.
He owns Quantum Expositions International, which has put on most of the job fairs in Wichita since 1996.
Loudermilk had run a couple of small businesses in the mid-1990s when his brother-in-law approached him about starting their own job fair. He made a profit on the first one and was hooked.
His next job fair will be on Jan. 17 at the Wichita Marriott Corporate Hills.
How many job fairs do you put on?
“We now do four in Wichita, one every quarter. The one in January is a professional job fair, and then our spring and fall fairs are general career expos. We team with the Urban League of Kansas for the diversity job fair in the summer.”
Can you just have a job fair anywhere at anytime?
“You can do it, but you want to research the market carefully. People ask me all the time, ‘Why don’t you do one here?’ Well, how many job fairs are there already – the competition – and how many jobs are there?”
Is Wichita the smallest market for you?
“It’s really our frame of reference. What we found is the huge cities, Denver and Kansas City, have so many job fairs that it’s hard to break in. We like going with smaller markets, Wichita or Columbia, S.C., a couple of markets in Georgia. Milwaukee and Cleveland were the largest markets we’ve been to.”
Are there other companies putting on job fairs in Wichita?
“There are. We‘re local, and we’re happy to say there are no others local. There are always college job fairs, which are a different animal. But there are two or three national companies that have tried to come in. We are very blessed to be what we call the biggest and the best.”
How do you set yourself apart?
“All of our events are laid out very professionally: decorations, great signage, the promotion and adverting that we do. ... Beyond the booths, we make it a place of resources. We team with professionals in the community where job seekers can get some help with their resume. We have free seminars and workshops, interviewing skills, how to present yourself, how to present the right attitude, all types of topics.”
Do job fairs really pay off for the exhibitors and the job seekers?
“We have people say, ‘We don’t know if it’s going to work or not,’ and I show them our track record. We have exhibitors coming to every event. They’re not going to keep coming if it’s not working.”
Any advice for job seekers?
“Figure out what you really want to do. Figure out what your gifts and talents are and be authentic to that. Really, get clear on what you want.
“I’ll ask job seekers ‘What are you looking for today?’ and they’ll say, ‘At this point, just anything.’ You’re not going make a good impression if you are looking for just anything because it tells the employers you are not focused, that you don’t know what you want.”
But if you’ve been out of work for a year, you’d be justified in taking about anything, wouldn’t you?
“You get desperate, but you don’t want to say that. You want it to come across that you’ve got a talent and you know what the talent is and you know what you’re looking for. Of course, it can be adapted from company to company. It’s wise to have more than one resume because you may be looking at three different areas.”
Are job fairs obsolete in the age of the Internet and social media?
“People still come to jobs fairs. Employers like them because they still want that face-to-face interaction, regardless of the technology. There is nothing like a face-to-face interaction because they will know within two minutes if this is not the person, or they may put them in the hot stack and say this is someone I want to follow up with.
“The physical on-site job fair saves time and money. ... Otherwise, you have to schedule the interview, spend time with the person to make a decision.”
How were the last two years?
“We had two tough years. A lot of job fair companies went out of business in 2001 and again a couple years ago.
“I see things coming back. ... In the summer we were back up to 60-65 exhibitors. ...With so many job seekers out there, people say, ‘I bet your business is booming.’ Where we thrive is when the market gets tight. The lower the unemployment rate goes the more we thrive because companies are competing for employees.”
How do you see 2012?
“We’re in hopes that it continues to improve. But we are having to reinvent ourselves like many small companies.
“We’re looking at virtual jobs fairs so exhibitors can have a booth where job seekers come online, submit their resume and have instant chat with the interviewer. We’re also looking at regional expansion. We have clients wanting to go to Kansas City, Tulsa.”