Job Fair or County Fair?
Hula Hoops and Karaoke Greet Would-Be National Harbor Resort Workers
It was early morning when Wayne Latimore boarded the shuttle bus yesterday that would take him to National Harbor and, he hoped, a new start for his stagnant career.
Out of work for two months, Latimore, 48, of Fort Washington, had heard about the mega-job fair that Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center was hosting, and he wanted to be among the 13,000 applicants — vying for 2,000 positions — to score a job.
So impressed was Latimore by the image of working at the glitzy resort on the banks of the Potomac River in southern Prince George’s County that he decided he would be willing to make less than he did in his previous job.
“I’ve been trying for a job with the federal government,” said Latimore, who has been living off a severance package from Verizon, his most recent employer. “But that hasn’t worked.”
So there he was, decked out in a sports jacket, dress pants and spiffy sweater vest, praying that this would be the day when he finally landed a job.
When he stepped off the bus that Gaylord had contracted to shuttle applicants to and from the hotel, Latimore and his competition were met by the most unusual of greetings.
A man shouting into a megaphone implored the job seekers to smile. Then they
were treated to a mini-karaoke concert and encouraged to sing Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” into a microphone. To put applicants at ease, there were hula hoops and a magician. For those who couldn’t sit still, Gaylord brought out Etch-A-Sketches and Slinkys.
This was not your typical job fair.
“Our goal is to make sure that when people leave here, they know we are a special place,” said Keith Salwoski, a Gaylord spokesman. “Job fairs aren’t fun, but we infuse the fun in it.”
The shuttles and the entertainment were part of Gaylord’s grand plan to lure prospective employees as the 2,000-room resort, the cornerstone of the National Harbor development, prepares to open. The fair, which lasts through Saturday, features mostly service jobs, such as massage therapists, housekeepers, maintenance workers and waiters. Gaylord expects to hire about 2,000 people by the end of the fair, which would make the company one of the top employers in the county.
Prince George’s officials said the hotel’s arrival will change the face of the Washington region. County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) said Gaylord, the largest hotel construction project on the East Coast, is expected to contribute $40 million to the county’s coffers each year. But the real story, he said, is the energy Gaylord invokes.
“It’s the spirit you feel here, the transformation that is taking place in the county,” said Johnson, who attended the fair. “I’m just so excited, I feel like a kid.”
The applicants might have felt that way, too, as they made their way to their interviews.
“I want to see big smiles,” Michael Levick shouted through the megaphone. “Show them that you are truly the stars. Come on, big smiles! Bigger! That’s the idea.”
Levick, an actor, was hired for the day to greet the applicants as they walked along the red carpet.
Amid the fun, there was seriousness. Job seekers had to register and watch a video about the culture of the resort. If an applicant did well in the interview process, he or she was asked to submit to a background check and drug test on the spot.
Many applicants arrived at the hotel via shuttle buses from Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill. Gaylord decided to offer the service after a job fair at its Orlando resort resulted in a massive traffic jam.
“We made some tweaks and adjustments,” Keith Salwoski, a spokesman for Gaylord, said of the Gaylord National job fair.
Sheldon Suga, senior vice president and general manager of the resort, said Gaylord has a culture that has not been replicated at any other hotel or resort.
“Our distinction is not just the buildings we build but the people we hire,” Suga said.
In the end, Suga said that probably one in 18 applicants would re- ceive a job offer.
“We have some sharp people here, but the competition is fierce,” he said. “There are a lot of talented individuals, but it’s also about the right fit.”
Gaylord thought Kelsey Mortimer of Springfield would fit right in. He was hired to be a waiter. “This whole process was easy,” Mortimer said. “Some places you’re just stressed the whole time. This was just relaxing.”
The first person to be offered a job yesterday was a woman from Annapolis who asked that her name not be used because her employer did not know she was interviewing for another job. She was hired as a housekeeper.
And how did Latimore fare? After eight weeks of searching, he has finally found a job. When the hotel opens in April, he will be working security.
“Based on the experience I had, if I hadn’t gotten a job today, I probably would have come back,” he said.
Michael Levick, an actor, uses a megaphone to greet applicants at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center’s job fair at National Harbor.
Taurean Green, 25, of the District fills out an employment application at Gaylord’s job fair, which runs through Saturday.