Hiring a professional Featured

6:21am EDT May 17, 2006
In Tampa, it’s a seller’s market. And if you’re a qualified middle- to upper-level manager who may be looking for a new job, you’re a seller. If you’re a company with an opening at that level, you’re a buyer. My, how times have changed.

“The problem in Tampa right now is that unemployment is down to 1.8 percent,” says Brent Short, managing director for Spherion Professional Services Group. “Two years ago, you could place an ad on Monster.com and get 300 resumes in the first six hours. Now you get six resumes in the first three days.

“What that means is that companies have to change what they’ve been doing to attract people and change what they need to do to get those people in the door. They can’t wait three weeks any more.”

Smart Business talked with Short about the current labor shortage along Florida’s Gulf Coast and how corporate managers can cope with it.

Why is there such a demand for skilled or knowledgeable employees, given the economy?
The economy here is beginning to pick up again. One, we are seeing expansion. Two, we’re seeing companies invest in technology, which is huge. Three, we’re seeing companies refill positions that have been left vacant for a while. And four, some companies are even expanding the number of people they have.

We are probably going to see brisk hiring until around Thanksgiving. Overall, we’re in a 10-year cycle where we’re good to go.

Given the statistics, can companies still be particular and demanding in their quest for qualified employees?
Maybe 50 percent of the unemployed are unemployed because they simply don’t want to work. But the other thing is that candidates may not be exactly what organizations are looking for.

I’m encouraging companies to be a little more open-minded in their hiring practices. Sometimes it’s worth it to try and fit a square peg into a round hole, if maybe the edges are worn off a little. For instance, if you’re looking for a senior accountant and a prospect has done great staff-level work, you might be able to mold that person — if you invest in training.

Is temp-to-perm a viable alternative, even for jobs in middle and upper management?
I tell companies that if they’re looking for temp-to-perm hires, they’re only looking at 2 percent of the workforce. So I’m extremely cautious with temp-to-perm recommendations.

One company was having a hard time finding the ‘perfect person’ for its opening, so I was asked to find a temp to fill the shoes while the company continued to look for a permanent replacement. That temp is about to go permanent now. That’s a great thing, and I love it when it works out.

But none of this is easy. Unemployment is so low that there are more and more counter-offers coming from original employers that can throw a wrench into our plans. It’s almost getting to be a bidding war on good employees in this market.

How long can a company expect to take to find a viable candidate for a middle- to upper-level opening?
A three-round interview process just won’t work here in the Tampa area.

Finding a qualified employee on any level can take a long time, depending on the company’s HR process. In some cases, longer, drawn-out processes — whether they’re HR-driven or driven by the hiring manager — have started to muddy the waters. Why? Because the demand for qualified people is so high that some companies will actually offer a good candidate a job during the interview. Those are the companies that are successful in their hiring.

I think that companies should expect the placement firm to do the job you’re paying them for. The placement firm should be sending you qualified people to interview — and if they’re not, you should find another firm.

If unemployment levels in Tampa are so low, where are you finding candidates to place?
First of all, bringing people in from other geographical areas might be a great idea, but most companies here are not offering relocation packages. And if they are, the packages are not substantial enough to get the people to move here.

We are also not seeing people job hop. So we are actively sourcing individuals who are currently employed at other organizations.

We also emphasize on training up. Even though we don’t provide training at the degreed level, we do test to evaluate a candidate’s skills and find out where he or she would fit. What we’re seeing is a lot of candidates take the tests, then go out and get training on their own so they fit in better places. They come back, they retake the test.

A large part of our mission is to uncover all the things that could be obstacles to getting a job and help the candidates overcome those obstacles.

BRENT SHORT is managing director for Spherion Professional Services Group. Reach him at (813) 864-1111 or brentshort@spherion.com.