Job Fair or County Fair?

Hula Hoops and Karaoke Greet Would-Be Na­tional Har­bor Re­sort Work­ers

The Washington Post - - Metro - By Ovetta Wig­gins

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.

BY NIKKI KAHN — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Michael Le­vick, an ac­tor, uses a mega­phone to greet ap­pli­cants at Gay­lord Na­tional Re­sort and Con­ven­tion Cen­ter’s job fair at Na­tional Har­bor.

BY NIKKI KAHN — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Tau­rean Green, 25, of the Dis­trict fills out an em­ploy­ment ap­pli­ca­tion at Gay­lord’s job fair, which runs through Satur­day.

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