Hire standards: Employers picky
About 10 people stroll into Finish Line at Mesa Mall every day searching for a job, according to General Manager Rickie Harris.
Some applicants walk into the store in ripped jeans and wrinkled shirts. Others wear suits and have earned salaries of $70,000-plus in other jobs. A few calculate how much they could make at the store and compare it to what they’re making on unemployment benefits.
The store is one of a few businesses hiring in Grand Junction and recently took on a 24-year-old Mesa State College student as an assistant manager. Harris said he’s had “anything from high-schoolers to people in their mid-40s” ask him about employment in the past couple months.
Two years ago, employers searching for an employee, any employee, sometimes settled for less or paid more to keep a business hopping. Now, fewer businesses are making room for new hires, and the local pool of unemployed job seekers has nearly tripled.
In March, 71,500 people were employed in Mesa County, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 9.9 percent, meaning 7,900 locals were out of work and searching for jobs.
It would appear to be to an employer’s advantage, but a stack of applications doesn’t guarantee a smooth hiring process.
“It’s still hard because we’re having people apply, but most aren’t qualified,” Harris said. “We’re getting people who aren’t passionate about helping people. They just want a job.”
Businesses are asking more of applicants these days, according to Nina Anderson, who owns the Express Employment Professionals franchise in Grand Junction. Common requests she hears from employers include a clean background, a valid driver’s license, a clean driving record for the past five to seven years and proficiency in computer programs the person would use at work.
“People in this area are looking for a stable, long-term person,” Anderson said. “We don’t want to send somebody that can fog a mirror.”
Anderson said the biggest change at Express Employment since the recession hit the Grand Valley is that fewer people who have jobs are contacting her. Instead of delaying interviews until after a person gets off work for the day, more applicants can get a call at 9 a.m. and be available for a job interview at 10 a.m., Anderson said.
“The people with jobs aren’t looking because they don’t want anyone to catch wind and lose their job,” she said.
In 2008, Express Employment conducted about 15 interviews a day with job hopefuls. Most days, the company had an equal number of businesses seeking employees.
Today, the ratio correlates with Mesa County Workforce Center figures of one job for every 40 health care applicants on the better end, and more than 200 applicants per construction job on the tougher end, Anderson said. As of March, the center had 65 applicants in its system for every job.
Anderson said employers have told her they’re surprised an increase in job-seekers hasn’t coincided with an increase in people meeting the skill set required. Anderson calls it “starving among the plenty.”
But having a rich vein of applicants in Grand Junction meant hiring gold for Bill Stockstill, manager of the new Cabella’s store at Mesa Mall. The store set aside 1,200 time slots for interviews earlier this year. Those filled in three days. Most stores need a week to fill those slots, and some never make the 1,200 mark, Stockstill said.
“The talent we had was unbelievable,” he said.
The nearly 200 new employees of the store, set to open May 20, came from a variety of backgrounds, and “80 to 90 percent” of the new hires came from Grand Junction, Stockstill said.
“We had some people that came from the oil fields. We saw a lot of people come from that and construction,” he said. “There’s a few college students, but not a lot.”
Finding a job while in college or soon after graduating can be tough in a packed market, said Jessica Bowser, who has a degree in civil engineering but recently obtained a job at Mesa Mall as an assistant manager in a retail store.
“It’s hard in Grand Junction to find a job, because the only way to get a job is if you know someone,” she said.
In a stack of faceless applicants, a typographical error, an application field left blank or poor handwriting can be enough to land someone in the “no” pile, according to Christy Whitney, president and chief executive officer of Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado.
“Those don’t get read when you have a lot” of applications from which to choose, Whitney said.
The pool of applicants for a registered nurse position with Hospice is the same as it would have been a few years ago, because it’s a specialized field that requires a specific degree, Whitney said. But when a clerical position opened recently, Whitney noticed that the 10 or 20 applications per month Hospice used to expect for such a position turned into 25 applications per week.
“I haven’t seen anyone with a Ph.D. apply for a clerk job, but I have seen a number of people applying for entry-level jobs,” Whitney said.
Like Hospice, School District 51 is looking for experience in the r&233;sum&233;s of its job applicants, according to Cindy Starr, human resources certified applicant specialist for School District 51.
Vacancies have been created because of an early-retirement program. Although support staff positions will be filled internally, the district is searching outside the district for replacement teachers. Applications have streamed in. Last year, 32 people applied for 23 available math teaching positions in the district, according to Starr. This year, 45 people applied for a single high school math teaching post, she said.
Starr said the volume of applications does not surprise her, given the recession and education cuts.
At teacher recruitment fairs, “We heard a lot of teachers saying they were part of reductions in their district,” Starr said.