Bakersfield College sociology student Endea Hodges had never attended a job fair and wasn't sure what to expect when she arrived at Valley Plaza mall Thursday. But somehow she assumed there would be tables set up and stores would be hiring people on the spot.
It didn't quite work out that way, because the job fair was canceled at the last minute. But did 18-year-old Hodges give up? Not even close.
Like dozens of other job-seekers young and old who gave it their best despite the circumstances, she went from store to store filling out applications and trying to get an interview. College costs money, after all, and she's also on the lookout for a car to buy.
Two hours in, at around noon, she observed that some employers were more encouraging than others. She recalled losing a little confidence after speaking with a jewelry store manager, then quickly added, "but you never know."
That same can-do spirit filled the air inside Valley Plaza Thursday. As the annual holiday-hiring blitz kicked off in unofficial fashion, retailers handed out job applications to people with a diversity of employment backgrounds and one thing in common: a desire to fill just about any position that opens up for the holidays.
There was plenty of reason to be hopeful. At Old Navy, for example, Senior Merchandiser Kyle Davis said about 60 people remain to be hired to work through New Year's. Of those, 20 people would probably be asked to stay on for permanent, part-time employment.
"I don't think it'll be hard" to find that many workers, he said, adding that as many as 20 job applicants had already turned in a resume by about 11:20 a.m. Thursday.
Valley Plaza's management and Kern County's Department of Human Services blamed each other for Thursday's job fair cancellation. While the mall declined to be specific, a county spokeswoman said department officials had to back out because Valley Plaza officials presented them with a legal waiver document on Wednesday and there was no time to have it reviewed by lawyers in time for the event.
"Waiver and release of liability is a big deal," spokeswoman Heidi Carter-Escudero said, adding this was going to be the department's third job fair at the mall, and never had the county been asked to sign such a form. "We were surprised by (the document) and disheartened."
The cancellation hardly mattered to 24-year-old Robert Maestas. A father of two with a baby on the way, he was hoping to get a job that would allow his pregnant wife to spend less time at work.
His resume includes a stint at Target and time in local oilfields. After turning in several applications, he left the mall feeling pretty confident.
"I love working with people," he said. "I love communicating and a fast-pace environment."
The store manager at clothing store H&M, Eric Alcala, said he received a lot of resumes Thursday despite the event's cancellation. He expects to get even more applications when the store opens a hire-on-the-spot job application table in front of the store Thursday. He said he'll be looking for people with enthusiasm and motivation.
"That's usually enough to propel you forward," he said. Dressing nicely, having a resume on hand and being yourself wouldn't hurt applicants' chances either, he added.
Job-hunting was a family affair for one trio on hand Thursday. The Patino brothers — Matthew, 23; Jared, 20; and Jacob, 18 — had all applied for a job at Things Remembered. Dressed in ties and Sunday-best clothes, they recounted how the interview had gone.
Matthew sounded the most confident, having worked at JC Penney for almost two years. There he had gained confidence that no job was beyond him, whether it was working in the stock room, running a register or providing customer service.
Jared, having just finished his first interview, admitted being nervous but not defeated. "I feel like I could probably get a job," he said.
Jacob, the youngest, said he had been "very nervous" during the interview. But it was for him a victory and encouragement enough to keep looking for work until something came up.
"I finally gathered up some strength to go for it," he said.