FORT MONMOUTH, N.J. -- Job seekers braved cloudy skies and uncertain economic forecasts to recite their best sales pitches and hope their resumes might get a second look at the most recent job fair here.

The first of the day's 1,147 attendees began arriving at Gibbs Hall more than an hour before the main doors opened, biding their time in the lobby studying the employer list and floor map provided by Army Community Service, which hosted the event.

"I hope to make some good contacts or leads," said Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Seidel as he waited. A logistics specialist from Naval Weapons Station, Earle with 19 years in the Navy, Seidel intends to retire from military service and find work as a civilian.

"I'm a little nervous," added Seidel. "I've taken a lot of comfort and certainty being in the Navy and it seems to be hard to find a job around here."

Seidel went to the job fair at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in December where most of the recruiters told him to reapply when he got closer to his retirement in August.

"Most employers are taking resumes and saying that they'll hold on to it and to check back again with them later," Seidel said, referring to the typical non-commitment job seekers can face from recruiters. "It's nerve wracking to be in this situation."

Andrew Vargas, a student and combat medic with the New Jersey Army National Guard, arrived with hope of finding full-time work.

"I don't expect much, but I'd like to get a job in health care, if possible," Vargas said.
On the other side of the door, waiting for the job fair to begin, was Sondra E. Cannon from Brookdale Community College, location in Monmouth County, New Jersey.

"During my first job fair here, the expectations of the people were high," Cannon said. "Now, it's not desperation, but people are more realistic. As the fort gets closer to shutting down, there's a recognition that they have to make plans."

More than 60 organizations, including schools, government agencies and private companies, were represented at the event.

One of those collecting resumes and shaking hands on behalf of his company was Jose Mercado. A project manager with Mission Solutions Engineering, he has experienced the job-hunting process from both sides of the table.

"I actually participated as a job seeker during the last job fair here," Mercado said. Since then, he was hired by a company that wasn't at the fair. He persuaded his human resources department to reserve a table for this job fair after recognizing the opportunities to hire people with specialized talent that wanted to stay in New Jersey after the fort closes.

Mercado can also count himself as one of the fortunate few who have been hired in an economy that for months has seen high levels of unemployment.

According to data released by the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the current unemployment rate for New Jersey stands at 9.8 percent and the national rate is 9.7 percent.

"It was a good turnout today. There wasn't a lull through the whole day until now" said Cannon, as a dwindling number of job seekers milled about during the final hour of the job fair. "I noticed that the participants today had a more specialized set of job skills."

As the event wound down, the majority of job seekers walked away with a collection of business cards, pens, or other giveaways with company logos.

Similarly, employers walked away with stacks of resumes.

"We received roughly 50 resumes from quality candidates out of the hundreds we've collected," said Mercado as he and his colleagues packed up.