A year ago, the jobs might have seemed beneath them. But yesterday, with their paychecks gone and the bills still rolling in, once-affluent victims of the region's economic slowdown lined up in Reston looking for careers in hotel work.
At a huge job fair yesterday at the soon-to-be-opened Hyatt Regency Reston, people -- stung by layoffs in real estate, the stock market, construction, development, retail sales, architecture and defense -- sought out jobs as bellmen, concierges, front desk attendants, building engineers, waitresses and hostesses, some jobs paying little more than minimum wage.
In well-tailored suits and carrying leather briefcases, they came with re'sume's in hand, hoping for jobs in management but willing to take anything that would help them pay the bills for another month.
"A lot of them are not able to find anything else. You mention these jobs to them and it's a shock at first. These are people who were making $40,000 or $50,000 a year," said Samie Bazuzi, Hyatt's front office manager, who interviewed some of the 400 potential employees for the 515-room hotel.
About 1,500 people applied for work during the hotel's four-day job fair, which opened Wednesday, hotel officials said. "A lot of them have been out of a job two or three months," Bazuzi said. "When they are considering a job for $7 an hour, I guess they are getting at that stage, pretty desperate."
Robert Ackerman, 26, a graduate of Virginia Tech with a degree in engineering, had worked as a surveyor for three years at a survey and engineering firm in Fairfax.
He landed the job in 1987 right out of college with no problem. "Things were different back then," he said. "Things were booming."
In March, he saw the layoffs ahead in the small firm. By May, he was out of a job. Yesterday, he filled out an application to work at the Hyatt. He looked over a list of jobs the hotel offered: housekeepers, waiters, bartenders.
He decided he might be interested in a job as a bellman or a concierge or a "greeter" or a cafeteria attendant. He looked at the list and wondered aloud what an "Engineer I" does. Maybe he could use his expertise, he said. The building maintenance job paid $8.25 an hour.
"It's sort of a bummer," said Ackerman, who said he has been living on diminishing savings and has started eating the food "reserves" in his cupboards. "But it's definitely something that will pay the bills."
Bazuzi said he has seen architects with nothing to build, real estate agents without buyers and defense contractors without contracts. They attended the fair with the smiles and anxieties of being without work.
At first, he said, they ask for jobs in management, but when they realize their experience in real estate does not make for much in a hotel, they say they will settle for almost anything.
"These are highly educated, very articulate people. It's very hard to place someone who's been in real estate for so many years as a desk clerk. I didn't realize what situation the area was in. It doesn't hit home until they are sitting right in front of you."
Although such applicants have years of experience in their own fields, many are overqualified for service positions and not qualified enough for hotel management, and are unlikely to get jobs, Bazuzi said.
Robert Reid, 26, of Alexandria, said he had worked at a commercial leasing firm in Potomac until the industry went soft. He was applying for a job in marketing or customer relations. Actually, he wasn't sure what the hotel would offer.
"I'd rather do something like that," Reid said. "But when you've got to eat, you become more flexible."