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Over-qualified applicants search for any job

SEBRING - In today's employment market, college educated people and mid-level career professionals are taking jobs they are over-qualified for. "A lot of people are just happy to get a paycheck," said Roger Hood, president and CEO of Heartland Workforce One-Stop Career Center in Sebring. Heartland Workforce and the Highlands County Human Resources Department say they are seeing former managers and experienced professionals applying for entry-level positions. The trend of underemployment, over-qualified applicants applying for jobs that are under their skill level, poses a disadvantage to those with limited skills and experience.
But the county's human resources department is balancing this out by interviewing more applicants. John Minor, county human resource director, estimates that in 2007 his department interviewed about eight applicants, on average, for a position but that number has jumped to about 25. And they are not ruling out over-qualified applicants even though they may be swayed to take a better paying job when it comes along. "We are considering those applicants with experience ... It certainly wouldn't hurt us," Minor said. Applicants with limited experience, skills and education will have to work harder to stand out in their interviews. For those experienced professionals, taking a pay cut isn't always easy. The county had one applicant who drove up from Broward County for an interview and ended it after 10 minutes because the position didn't meet his salary expectations. This isn't uncommon Minor said. "When people apply for jobs they typically think of themselves as over-qualified ... and even if the job has listed specific salary expectations they think that the company will go above that figure for them," Minor said. His department has had people who were making $70,000 applying for jobs that pay $30,000. These applicants typically fall under three categories, said Minor. They desperately need a job, they relocated to care for an elderly parent or relative, or they are close to retirement and are seeking a less stressful lifestyle change. Two years ago the county averaged about 15 applicants for an open position. They are now receiving about 40 applications for an opening and on jobs that require less experience and education they have received over a hundred applications. "I wouldn't be surprised if we start receiving 200 applications," Minor said. Competition tough "Recently about 72 people applied for the county's opening for a firefighter-emergency medical technician. Two years ago we would've received a third of that, at best," Minor said. The numbers of applicants for openings are growing across the board. For a maintenance position, Minor's department interviewed 25 people just to level the playing field between over-qualified applicants and those who met the minimum requirements. Within the specialized field of survey party chief, many of the applicants exceeded the experience needed for the position. Minor said many of the applicants were promoted well beyond this position in their previous jobs but not all were willing to take a pay cut. They are also seeing more applicants applying for jobs outside of their field. "We've had people from the construction industry apply for clerical jobs," Minor said. Unemployment numbers In October, Highlands County's unemployment rate was 11.4 percent. But Hood, said, "That's not a true picture. It's much more." The unemployment percentage counts the number of people who are registered with a state agency or receiving unemployment. If they count those who are unemployed looking for work by other means and the underemployed, the number would be much greater, he said. In September, 4,699 people visited the One-stop Career Center for services versus 3,904 in 2008. That's 795 more people for that month compared to a year ago. "A dramatic change," Hood said. Although the holiday season has sparked some openings in the retail market those jobs are not paying enough for self sufficiency. The local living wage for self sufficiency, meaning the amount needed for a person to pay their basic needs including rent, food and utilities, is $11.85 an hour. Most of these retail and service jobs are not coming close. "Even though the recession is starting to rebound upward, not downward, it will be a while for jobs to catch up. How much longer would be anyone's guess," Hood said. LOOKING AT THE NUMBERS In September, 4,699 people visited the One-stop Career Center for services versus 3,904 in 2008.

Highlands Today reporter Aiyana Baida can be reached at 863-386-5855 or nbaida@highlandstoday.com