Senior Event Planner Expects the Unexpected

A bilingual senior event planner for a national job fair series shares what he has learned on the job and how there are some things, like dealing with last-minute emergencies, that can’t be learned in a classroom.

What is your job title?
Senior Event Planner and Producer.

What do you do on a typical day?
I am constantly working on preparing for upcoming events. Everything from logistics, marketing, budgeting, and controlling. It keeps me on my toes. One must oversee many details daily and make sure everything is running on time. I have to pay attention to deadlines and any pending items. After this is covered, I spend time on administrating and adding content to one of our websites and planning ahead for future events and marketing opportunities.

What is your Ethnicity?
I am Hispanic. I am lucky enough to have grown up a third culture kid. So far, I have not suffered any experiences where my ethnicity has hurt me.

What languages do you speak? How has this helped?
I am fluent in English and Spanish. I’ve also been procrastinating on learning Portuguese, which nowadays I think is a must. I understand quite a bit, but I need to put time into it. Being fluent in English and Spanish has helped me immensely at work, giving me the opportunity to participate in media interviews in both languages. It has also helped me establish a closer bond with clients and job seekers at our hiring events.

What lesson did you learn the hard way?
Well, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected when it comes to events. When you work with many uncontrollable factors, something is bound to happen. I’ve learned to always have a backup plan to replace vendors, rearrange floor plans and last minute changes, and consider every possible alternative. Anything can happen that can affect the outcome of our events – weather changes, world events, and multiple external factors that we must be ready to work around.

What didn’t they teach you in school that would’ve been helpful?
Many things. The majority of processes with events are very practical, which you learn as the events evolve and you learn something new with every event that goes by. I think school gave a great foundation for preparations and things leading up to the events, such as marketing it and laying out the logistics, but as for the actual execution itself, it is very practical and no school will teach you that.

How did you get started? If you could go back, what would you change?
I started doing research and marketing support to advertise these events and after going to the first one I was involved in, I was given the opportunity to start working on them full time. Amongst other responsibilities, successful hiring events became my priority.

On a good day, when things go well, what is happening?
Well if it is during an event, we have great weather, plenty of candidates, good employer feedback, no fires to put out, and the event runs smoothly. That is a great event day. On the other hand, if we are under preparations for an upcoming event, a good day is one where plenty of registrations come in, we find good deals for advertising, and the logistics leading up to the event are more constant than volatile.

When everything goes wrong, what happens? What do you dislike?
Everything going wrong = bad event for us. Uncontrollable factors such as inclement weather and other events going on that negatively affect the outcome of our hiring events. So far, we have been lucky enough to not have encountered this to a large degree. We had lower candidate attendance in the past two years give fewer exhibitors, but we have still managed to connect job seekers with recruiters and maintain them profitable. I dislike not being 100 percent in control and not being able to prepare directly for uncontrollable factors. You can, however, prepare to react or work your way around them if they come up.

What is your favorite part of the job? What areas do you struggle or wish you could avoid?
My favorite part of the job is when I get feedback from a candidate or attendees that were able to find a job at our hiring events. It is very gratifying to see that your work, along with a team of dedicated professionals, can impact a person’s life positively and help them grow.

I wish I could avoid a lot of the administrative work because I feel I lose time with the basic paperwork and preparations. So if there’s something I wish I could avoid, its the administrative part.

How stressful is your job?
I find my job very stressful. Three months of work are virtually reflected in a five-hour hiring event. Everything comes down to those results, and it is my responsibility to make it a success. As mentioned above, I not only have the basics to worry about but also have to prepare to react to on-site problems as well as external factors and put out fires here and there. My stress level builds up more and more as we approach the event, but I’m also very confident in our experience and the great team we have. On the actual day of our events, my stress level and work do not end until I am on a plane back home; I kick back, take off my shoes, and reflect on what happened during our event, where we can improve, and how to do things better.

Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
Absolutely. We have a great work-life balance at the office and the entire team is very conscious about this essential equilibrium.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
Rough salary range is 45 to 80k. Your entire compensation is not only the salary; other factors are important such as work-life balance, telecommuting, office environment, and much more.

Whats the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done, what are you most proud of?
My most rewarding moment is a testimonial I got from a job fair we had in Washington DC a couple of years ago. A candidate sent a thank you email stating that we had changed his life because he attended, found a job, and was now able to maintain his family again. That was very meaningful to me.

Most challenging moment? What would you prefer to forget?
No matter how much you prepare for events there is always something to fix and do at the last minute. Anything from on-site last minute changes in layout, finding a lost shipment, dealing with catering issues; there are always fires to put out. As for candidates, I have seen endless amounts of candidates with very impressive resumes that do their research, that seem very well prepared, but due to the economic situation, they are jobless. We do repeat cities every year, and I have seen candidates at some locations that been attending our job fairs for two to three years. As much as I like to see them and catch up, I’d rather see them working. I would prefer to forget long lines and the many, many qualified unemployed job seekers.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
I think a good marketing foundation is essential. Business administration and management have been very useful for me too as it is important to budget, minimize expenses without negatively affecting our results, and even maximize profits. As for skills, one has to be extremely organized, think logically, but also be able to think outside the box. One has to be a people person, have excellent relationships with all clients, and be very, very patient and accommodating. Creativity. Customer service oriented. Very, very confident in your team. Reliable.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
It’s very rewarding to see results. It’s a lot of work, but with the right tools, team, and motivation, it can get done. Take a breather at some point during the event and you will realize that you are seeing the results of great teamwork. You get to meet some great people along the way. It’s dynamic, so it will keep you on your toes. You learn something new with every event. Every location is different. Get ready to work seventeen to eighteen hour days during an event. And lastly, good luck with the unions!

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I take as much vacation as I can. Last year I took fourteen working days. I really enjoy traveling and visiting family. Yes, it is enough. In fact, we host monthly events except during the Christmas holidays and the summertime, and when that time comes, I can’t wait to jump back in the saddle and head over to our next job fair.

Are there any common myths you want to dispel about what you do?
Yes. Traveling is fun, especially at the beginning, but it can also wear you down and it is tiring. During a recent trip, I had someone come up to me and say that my job was not really difficult because I just had to show up—wrong! Like I said before, it takes us around three months to plan an event, from beginning to end. Plan it. Market it. Sell it. Advertise it. Execute it. And then follow up on it. There’s a lot that goes into it that people don’t see. It’s a lot more than planning an event; it’s making sure its the right experience with the right results for everyone involved—and keep it profitable.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you be doing in 5 years?
I’d like to expand our hiring events overseas. I’d love to do some events where I think we could be successful—Canada, Panama, and Brazil all seem interesting to me. I’d also like to have some educational seminar on our events, such as interviews or resume critiques.

I would work a lot during the week and on the weekends, and I would take flying lessons. That will always be at the very top of my list!

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  • I have definitely learned this lesson the hard way in my previous employment working front desk. You have to expect the unexpected and roll with the punches for the better of your company. I worked for a hotel that was brand new and had many construction issues. I mean headboards and pictures falling off during the night, a/c systems that didn’t work, door locks that had to be reprogrammed, and many other things. When you are working you are the only person on duty so I had to be prepared to handle anything that came my way and save face for our hotel that was just starting out. I just used my charm and excellent customer service skills and would hear out each guest and listen to their problem and then have them help me decide the best solution that they would leave happy with. One guest was shocked by a faulty electrical socket and was enraged and called down to the front desk threatening lawsuits and using a wide range of colorful words with me. I just listened and empathized the situation and offered her full refund and free stay anytime at our hotel no matter if we were full or not. I was able to calm her down and actually make her feel good about the situation and we ended up talking for about an hour. The next day I got a call from my general manager who called me in and personally thanked me for saving the hotel from what could of been potential closure. She awarded me with a promotion, employee of the quarter, and an awesome gift card!

  • *warning somewhat gruesome story but it’s the most vivid memory I have that i feel really relates to this*
    This is something that I go through everyday, no plan I make usually goes without a hitch. With two toddlers running around creating havoc it is hard to have things planned out and I must be ready to change our schedule at the flip of a dime. One incident though has remained with me for a long time. We lived about 10 miles outside of city limits where we had a dog named Bella.

    That morning I had asked my husband to check Bella’s food and water. As it turned out her food was covered in ants so he reached down to grab the plate to throw out the food when he felt something bite his finger. I had never heard my husband scream before so came out running like a mad women, I didn’t know what was going on. When he finally calmed down he told me what had happened. I grabbed the broom and threw over the plate to find a baby rattlesnake coiled under.

    I ran inside to find something to kill it with (as at the time I really didn’t think about how to keep it up alive but to avoid any other damage to someone or something else). I saw our dust pan, it had a long handle on it and a sharp edge. I grabbed it, ran outside, and hacked at it until i was able to kill it. I swept it into the dustpan and put it into a plastic bag to take with me. During all this chaos, I had given the phone to my husband to call 911, where they told him that he should just try to get himself to the hospital because we lived too far and he might die before they are able to get him to hospital.

    So we rush to the hospital, snake in tow. Most people don’t know this but baby rattlesnakes are more dangerous because they cannot control the amount to venom they inject (which at the time I thought the opposite because it was a baby until the nurse told us). The reason I took the snake? After watching so many ER and animal planet shows, I learned that some anti-venom’s don’t work the same with some snakes. So this way, they could easily identify what snake it was and give him the best anti-venom to counteract the rattlesnake bite. After about a week in the hospital and I don’t know how many vials of anti-venom, he didn’t require surgery and didn’t have extensive damage.

    So my point is, expect the unexpected. You really always have to be prepared for anything and everything, and even if you’re not prepared, you have to be on your toes and improvise, and act quickly to prevent “bad” outcomes.

  • “Expect the Unexpected”. That’s definitely something everyone should have in mind. We live our lives based on plans, while “unexpected” situations appear out of nowhere, without any plan.

    I definitely feel a lot of relation to this topic. I work as a Public Relations agent for a Company here at El Paso, where I live. My job consists most of all on organizing and administrating events of all types from charity to fashion runways. I always need to be having everything under control, and by this I mean having backup plans for almost everything. Sometimes you might think something just can go wrong, and you forget to have that backup plan. Well that happened to me.

    Last year I was organizing a charity fashion show for a local institution here at El Paso. I had been working on it for about a month and everything seemed to be going pretty well. I had backup plans for everything: if the flowers didn’t come at time, I had other centerpiece decorations for the tables; If the DJ wouldn’t appear, I had already spoken with a friend of mine who could help me out with the music in case of an emergency. I thought things like these would be the ones that could be probably messed up that night. But I was wrong.

    One day before that I had already received all the clothing that the models were going to wear for the runway. Models would be arriving at 6 pm to get ready for the show that started at 8:30. It was 7 pm and almost a half of the models weren’t there. Their bus was stuck in traffic on the freeway and they were calling me that they weren’t probably going to make it. I was panicking! I had half of the models I needed. After trying to organize the models to wear and model the double of their outfits and failing, I new there was only one last thing to do. I went to the audience chairs and quietly asked 6 of my best friends that were there supporting the event to go backstage with me. Last year my friends, including me, had modeled for 20 guests on party of a recently fashion designer graduate friend we had. I didn’t ask, I begged them to help me out with these situation. We were all nervous, had make up in two minutes, wore the outfit that more less fitted and lined up. I couldn’t believe that even I was going to model, instead of just managing that the event would be going well, as I usually did. So we did it. walking with a nervous smile through the runway we finally made this charity event happened. Models arrived half hour late and were surprised by the amazing job we did. Audience didn’t even note we were not professional models.

    So, expect the unexpected? Yes ! That was totally unexpected, couldn’t believe it was happening. Although we always should be prepared with backup plans, I believe that the most powerful tool in these situations is being able to act with effectiveness and creativity. Make the unexpected look as it always had been expected.

  • This is amazing! I have never met a Hispanic event planner with such an amazing story. “Expect the Unexpected” is a perspective everyone should have. I can relate to this saying because I lost my mother unexpectedly my senior year of high school. It was sudden, and my life changed drastically, however with the support of my high school counselors and my sister, I continued to pursue my dream of going to college. I have excelled in my studies, and love what I do. I’ve always wanted to be an event planner, and the motto he used “Expect the Unexpected” works perfectly within the business. Having a backup place is necessary, without one you can’t prove to your customer or yourself you can do it.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It’s amazing to hear the journey you’ve come across to get where you are!

  • This was very a very inspirational piece because I have considered doing something like this for my professional career and reading about the experience of an actual latino in the field gave me incredible insight. Even with my current major the theme of “expect the unexpected,” (like the previous person mentioned) because with my marine science major I don’t know where I’m going to go with it in terms of my career. I’d love to do field research, but there’s always the possibility that I will end up doing research (hopefully working with octopuses) or even something completely unrelated. In the end I hope to find a job that makes me as happy as this man’s job makes him. I read the other testimonials and even though many are happy with their jobs, some of them still face some forms of racism in the workplace which is surprising that it still exists.

  • I enjoyed this article very much. As a young student going into the feild it gave me a lot of insight to what im getting myself into. I loved the section about how you always have to expect the unexpected bacause it is so true and you always have to have a back up plan. This article just prepared me more for my future and confirmed what i expected it to be

  • It was a joy to read this; the author’s passion for his work clearly shines through. He details both sides of the industry, not just the good, which is nice and demonstrates his sincerity in wanting to share the reality of his line of work to the future event planners reading this.

  • This article grabbed my attention to a great extent because of the fact that I am considering taking on my career on Health Service Administration which in fact does relate in some aspects to Event Planning. As I read this article, it reminded me when volunteering at a Rehab Hospital.

    There will always be instances where a single plan can fail when least expected because of minor issues such as organization, sanitation, customer disagreements, or security. These are all pointers that I came across which I had to be ready to act upon.

    Many people don’t realize the responsibilities that come along with a career in which customer satisfaction is of upmost importance. If a mistake arises, failure is the last thought that should come across someones mind because it only lowers your strength to plan effectively. Positiveness and confidence make an extraordinary change in the career you wish to pursuit.

  • I really a success story from someone who people may have not always believed in. This really sits with me because I have had a similar thing happen to me. I grew up in an all white community, maybe 6% were of some other race. But this did not stop me from wanting to get involved. As a child I did multiple cheer and dance programs and when I found out that my high school had a drill program I was more than excited to try out! My sophomore year I tried out and made the team. this was huge for me, but little did I know that in three years I would be calling myself Captain of that same team. the first two years were had, I was the only African American girl on the team and people were not afraid to point that out. I had people posting on my Facebook about how bad that suspected I would be, and how awkward it must be being the only black girl on the team. But I ignored it and pushed through. By the end of my first year I was voted most improved and at the end of my second year most dedicated. People were so shocked that I had accomplished anything like this! But drill was my life, the one thing that made me happy through out high school. So when I was named one of four captains my senior I made it my mission to build the best team that school had ever seen! In the end I could lots of praise from the same people who doubted me and i was voted Killer Driller, which is the ideal driller that everyone should strive to be and my name is now on a plague with 10 other amazing drillers before me for the who school to see, forever.

  • I’m actually majoring in Event Management and I’ve already started taking my first class. So much of what we learn is everything he mentions. You have to be organized, a team player, and a people person. I get so disgruntled when people say this is an easy job. It is anything but. I really appreciate this article, hopefully it’ll open some eyes.

  • I totally agree that being fluent in multiple languages is a
    must nowadays. I live in a border town where more then half of our business
    comes from the people coming over from Mexico. At any of the jobs I have
    worked, I can’t begin to tell you how much it has helped me being able to speak
    both English and Spanish. Some jobs even pay extra if you are bilingual! I
    remember being at a grocery store and the cashier was getting frustrated
    because the customer only spoke Spanish. I had to step in and translate. About
    80% of our city’s residents are Hispanic, so being fluent in both English and Spanish
    are a must in order to live here.

    I like that the interviewer asked “What didn’t they teach
    you in school that would have been helpful?” That’s a great question! I love
    his response on how he said that schooling is a great foundation but execution can’t
    be taught in schools. In any job, you can go through weeks of training but you
    still won’t know if you’re fully prepared until you do the work. I know there
    have been tons of instances where I thought I knew how to perform a task and I
    always learned something new every time I did it. But it all ties in to “expecting
    the unexpected.” You never really know if you’re prepared till the event!
    Great interview!!

  • I can relate to this story because I have also worked many events where the unexpected happens. You really have to be skillful and capable of making snap decisions in order to effectively move the event along. If you do not, things will spiral out of control and you will not only upset guests, but your employer. Event Planning is extremely taxing and anyone who does it deserves everything they get. Sadly, many do not receive enough credit for the hard work they put in.

  • I think learning to have a back up plan when events take a turn for the worst is key to a successful event. Sometimes people or uncontrollable entaties cause a frustration when things don’t go the way they were planed to be. So sometimes learning the hard way through failure is the best way to grow and learn to do better next time.

  • Being foreign never gave me any trouble;
    I always embraced my heritage and used it to the best advantage by being able
    to bring new flavor to different events or assignments. Like the Event Planner,
    I learned that the more you have to plan the more can go wrong. I’ve always
    been very anal about who, what, when, where, how, and why…every detail. I
    couldn’t even bear getting to Wednesday without knowing what I was doing each
    hour of that weekend. I’ve always kept a calendar to be able to plan for any
    upcoming events and prepare properly, and every year I’m that girl looking for
    a Halloween costume in the middle of spring. I learned to enjoy the little
    surprises that life has in store for us, how else would I have ended up an
    immigrant to the USA?! It’s the things that we don’t plan for that can
    sometimes contribute to making something even better, better than you could’ve

    I started working my junior year of high school, by my senior year I managed to
    pick up a job as a server in a very prestigious entertainment area of my
    world-class city of residence, it was tough to live up to such high
    expectations and at eighteen I was very nervous and a bit clumsy, which is NOT
    a good combination. Funny story, a lot of the people I waited on actually loved
    me for it; they enjoyed my candid and energetic personality, and even laughed
    off my little mistakes! I learned that my inexperience and youth could actually
    be used to my advantage, I provided professional service with my own fresh
    twist and my customers loved it.

  • This article grabbed my attention for relating to PR and in some cases relating to my major in Graphic Design. Her experiences with last minute changes, unavoidable obstacles and the amount of time invested in a project that will showcase in a short amount of time, all are parallel to my experience as a graphic designer. Clients with last minute changes to a layout, color scheme, logo design or even a demographic change all together, will put you in a tough situation. You always have to have your work backed up, in the event that your system crashes, memory is lost or the client wants to go back to square one.