KAILUA-KONA — Fresh out of college, Kahanu Villafania walked among the tables at Friday’s American Job Center Hawaii job fair, exploring what opportunities might be awaiting him.
Villafania, 20, just graduated from Hawaii Community College-Palamanui with an associate’s degree in applied science in hospitality and tourism, and said he was looking to see what front desk and front-of-house positions the industry had to offer.
“It’s going really well,” he said. “They’re very friendly and they’d really love to have me work for them. And they’re very helpful getting me through the application process.”
The state of Hawaii has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. At just 2.8% this past April, Hawaii is in a four-way tie for fifth with Idaho, South Dakota and Wisconsin, according to federal data.
Of the state’s counties, Hawaii County has the highest unemployment rate at 3.8%, compared to the range of 2.6-2.9% in the other counties.
Friday’s job fair at Old Kona Airport Park’s Makaeo Pavilion brought out about 50 employers from sectors throughout the region, giving those looking for a new job or career change a range of opportunities to consider as well as a chance to meet recruiters face-to-face.
“It’s always better to go face-to-face,” said Duane Hosaka, assistant housing administrator at the Office of Housing and Community Development, an American Job Center Hawaii partner. Hosaka estimated that in total between 50 and 60 job seekers came out for the event.
In a world where so much of the recruiting and hiring process takes place over the Internet, job fairs like this still offer some advantages to employers and job seekers.
“You can see the person,” said Hosaka. “You can talk to them and if you think they’re good, you can hire them right there, right on the spot.”
Getting that face time with potential recruits is particularly important for employers like Roberts Hawaii, whose job openings included school bus drivers, who are out in the community on a near-daily basis.
“So we like to see the drivers face-to-face versus over an email or how some people do online,” said Margo Harumi Mau Bunnell, Roberts Hawaii’s Hawaii Island general manager. “We really don’t offer or hire people until we really see them and then to talk to them, because you get to see how they interact.”
While an applicant can appear to be a great candidate on paper, she said, they might not necessarily fit the mold of a school bus driver.
That also rings true, she added, for the company’s tour drivers. Because tourists are such a big economic driver on the island, Bunnell said the company wants to ensure drivers are able to read, administer CPR and can learn about the tours the company runs.
Villafania said he felt like the job fair was a lot better than job hunting online.
“It’s actually a lot better when you get to see them in person,” he said. “You really get to see their reaction and ask them really personal questions one-on-one. So it’s nice.”
He said he learned in his hospitality program that showing face can give job seekers an advantage.
Krystle De Los Santos, HR generalist at HPM Building Supply, said the in-person interaction helps applications.
“It puts a face to a name and a name to an application,” she said.
And what can really make a big difference is following up with that interaction promptly.
“If I have someone that comes up to me, they give me their resume and they show that they’re interested in a position, I express to them, ‘Go online, apply.’ If they apply within 24 to 48 hours, I know how serious they are,” she said. “If it takes you two weeks to apply for a position that may have been filled already since the time that I met you, I don’t feel that you are as interested in working as I thought you were.”
De Los Santos also said she appreciates have the opportunity to talk with potential hires and find out their interests.
“And then at the same time, it gives job seekers an opportunity to ask me why I like my company or what got me into HPM,” she said. “Like I didn’t realize that I would get quizzed so much, but when you start talking about what you do and why you love what you do, it’s not just selling. It’s just showing how you feel about your company.”