Quirky Job Fairs and Other Unconventional Places to Find Work

The New Jersey Nets (now Brooklyn Nets), host annual job fairs at the IZOD Center.
The New Jersey Nets (now Brooklyn Nets), host annual job fairs at the IZOD Center.
Abbie Parr, Getty Images

Hunting for a job is rarely fun, but it can be especially miserable during an economic crisis. With the national unemployment rate jumping to 8.1 percent in February "“ the highest mark in a quarter century "“ prospective employees are turning to new ways and unlikely places to find work, or cope without a job. Employers, meanwhile, are taking unconventional measures to lure the growing number of job seekers. Here are eight such examples.

1. LaidOffCamp

Chris Hutchins founded LaidOffCamp, a free conference with presentations on a variety of topics geared toward people who are recently unemployed or struggling to find work as freelancers or entrepreneurs, after being laid off from his job as a global management consultant in January. More than 400 campers attended LaidOffCamp's first session in a San Francisco nightclub on March 3. The day-long gathering, which was open to anyone but attracted a large number of people from the Bay Area's tech industry, featured discussions on such topics as living on a budget, coping with emotional turbulence, finding your passion, and starting your own business. "Getting laid off is an opportunity to find what you're passionate about," Hutchins told a reporter from Wired. "And not only what you're passionate about, but how you can leverage that passion to sustain yourself." The second LaidOffCamp took place in Dallas on March 6 and subsequent gatherings have already been planned in more than 20 cities throughout the country.

2. Strip Clubs

foxy-lady.jpgWhile Rhode Island's unemployment rate broke and then hovered around the 10 percent barrier in January, revenue dipped 15 percent at the Foxy Lady strip club in Providence. What was club owner Thomas Tsoumas to do? Tsoumas cut drink prices in half and business began booming, so much so that roughly 30 new jobs opened up at the Foxy Lady and two of his other clubs in Massachusetts. (Insert stimulus joke here.) Nearly 200 people showed up to Tsoumas' highly publicized job fair last weekend in hopes of landing one of several positions, including dancer, manager, bouncer, waitress, and DJ. Interviews were conducted in the club's various rooms, including the Champagne VIP Lounge, the All-Nude Solid Gold Room and the Private Dance Cabana. The owner of Christie's Cabaret in Phoenix copied Tsoumas' idea and held a job fair of his own one day later.

3. YouTube

When Ben Gullett learned that his father, Mark, was in danger of being laid off as vice president of marketing for the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning, he produced a video that he hoped would help his dad find a new job. When Mark was ultimately laid off earlier this month, Ben, 14, posted his creation on YouTube. Since then, the video has attracted more than 95,000 hits and the father-son duo has appeared on Good Morning America and The Today Show. Most importantly, it has provided Mark three promising job leads. This guy, presumably, hasn't had as much success landing a job with Barack Obama.

4. The Australian Tourism Board

best-job.jpgTourism Queensland recently sponsored a contest to find a six-month caretaker for luxurious Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef. Applicants were required to submit a 1-minute video explaining why they deserved the job, which was dubbed "“ and this is tough to argue "“ "The Best Job in the World." Online voters helped whittle the pool of more than 34,000 applicants to 50 short-listed applicants. Tourism Queensland will select 10 people from the short list on April 2 to interview for the position along with one wild card applicant, who was selected via an online vote. The winner, who will keep a weekly blog and provide photo and video updates throughout his or her stay on the island, will be announced on May 6. Oh, and if you're wondering, this isn't an unpaid internship with benefits; the winner will receive a salary of $150,000 AUD (approximately $100,000 U.S.).

5. Virtual Job Fairs

sl-jobs.jpg

There's no need to worry about making a good first impression with a firm handshake at these increasingly popular events that help employers and prospective employees alike cut costs. Virtual job fairs also enable employers to target qualified candidates all over the world without ever leaving the office. Typically, interested candidates log on to a Web site and interact with a representative from a prospective employer via a personal chat room or instant messenger application. Some companies host job fairs and conduct interviews with personalized avatars in the Internet virtual world Second Life. Interviewing for a job while wearing pajamas sounds great, but you'll probably have to fight the urge to use emoticons and IM shorthand during the interview. Otherwise, you just might leave the employer on the other end of the conversation ROFL "“ and not in a good way. [Photo courtesy of Simone Brunozzi.]

6. Equine Job Fair

trotting.jpgLegendary thoroughbred Seabiscuit captured Americans' hearts during his unlikely rise to fame in the midst of the Great Depression. Might a similar equine hero emerge from the world of harness racing? Might you be along for the ride? The U.S. Trotting Association is sponsoring an equine job fair on April 29 at the Harness Racing Museum. Representatives from about 20 potential employers, including representatives from local breeders, are expected to attend the event. "The USTA recognizes this is a very labor-intensive industry; horses need skilled care every day of the year," USTA Executive Vice President Mike Tanner said in a press release. "We're pleased to join forces with the Museum to put together those who need help at their farms and stables with those who want to work in the horse industry."

7. Sports

Earlier this season, the NBA's New Jersey Nets offered 1,500 free tickets to unemployed fans who submitted resumes to the team. The Nets will also hold their fifth annual career fair on April 1 at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J. Registration for the fair includes a discounted lower level ticket for a Nets game later that night. Team-sponsored sports job fairs in the major and minor leagues have become increasingly popular, but the sports industry is hardly recession proof. Just ask Mark Gullett.

8. Prison

prison.jpgIn 1983, the nonprofit agency Offender Aid and Restoration sponsored a job fair at Philadelphia's House of Correction. Shadeed A. Jaleel, the former prisoner who came up with the idea, addressed a room of 200 inmates and encouraged them to start thinking about the possibilities that awaited them upon their release. "This has never been done in any jail in America," Jaleel said. "Take notes, come prepared to ask questions. We must begin to think big." Jaleel told a reporter that he didn't expect every inmate to get a job through OAR's program, but that he thought those with initiative could thrive as free men and women. Some of the inmates, Jaleel said, already boasted marketable skills. "If you can go before a judge and say you're not guilty when you really are, then you can probably sell insurance," he said. Similar job fairs for prisoners who are nearing their release date are now common, but this isn't a recommendation to commit a crime to find a job.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.