When Kristina Garcia stepped inside the Hotel Eleganté Conference and Event Center, she knew it was a big moment. For the past seven years, she was a stay-at-home mom taking care of her son who has autism.
So, naturally, she felt some jitters when she attended Tuesday's job fair, where more than 1,300 job seekers - including many veterans - arrived hoping to talk to more than 140 employers for 3,000-plus positions.
Garcia managed to get through the event with the help of her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Salvador Garcia. He has worked at job fairs before as a Army recruiter and knows that the interaction between job seeker and recruiter can be nerve-wracking for both.
"I'm trying not to go for anything I'm not qualified for," said Kristina Garcia, who worked as an accountant for a field supply company in Texas before she became a stay-at-home mom. "But I also try to put myself out there as much as possible."
There were plenty of opportunities to do just that at the fair hosted by Pikes Peak Workforce Center. To help job applicants prepare for Wednesday, the center since January has conducted more than 90 workshops and information sessions with an additional 110 events at regional libraries, high schools, colleges, trade schools and military installations, among other venues.
The center's training facilitator, Erin Hutchinson, said the workshops helped job seekers prepare a strategy for Tuesday's job fair and develop other techniques, including how to follow-up with employers.
Organizers gave veterans and their spouses special preference, including allowing them to enter the job fair 90 minutes before the general public.
And it wasn't hard for the Workforce Center to get employers - from the tech and health industries to law enforcement and staffing agencies - to participate in the job fair. In a statement, the center's interim executive director, Dennis Hisey, said the event reached employer capacity in "record time."
On Tuesday, employers were engaging with job seekers, spending more than a few minutes talking to possible candidates about their past experiences and going over their resume in person. A strong economy has forced employers to fill positions from a smaller talent pool, Hisey said.
That's why employers are finding more direct and personal way to attract the best employees, said Gary Mustian, director of technical of Add Staff Inc., an employment agency in Colorado Springs. He met a Marine veteran with recruiting experience and said that the veteran could get a job with the agency as soon as this week.
"If I can make an emotional connection with a candidate, I have a better chance to retain that candidate and I won't lose them to the person down the street," he said. "Corporations have to do the same thing. They say, 'Can we bring back social events to connect someone emotionally to the job that they're in?' "
The next events in the spring job fair series will take place in Teller County - 1 to 4 p.m. April 25 at the Woodland Park Ute Cultural Center and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 26 at the Cripple Creek Aspen Mine Center.