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Businesses, job seekers may need to fine-tune expectations

Sun., Sept. 18, 2011

Back in the halcyon days before the financial meltdown, the BBB regularly received calls from people expressing frustration over trying to get a return phone call from a business or have a provider show up to offer a bid.

At the same time, I joined many employers in crying on each others’ shoulders about the lack of qualified job applicants. Then September 2008 rolled around, and suddenly companies were looking for any jobs they could get. Unemployment was climbing.

Now, indicators tell us we are still not out of the woods. But we are receiving more calls about the difficulty people once again are experiencing getting bids or calls returned. Some companies tell potential new customers they are too busy to come and offer a quote.

The BBB has a request-a-quote feature online that allows buyers to connect with providers and ask for a quote through the BBB. Some of these emails have been sitting, ignored, for weeks. The economy must be a whole lot better than the experts realize. Maybe the businesses that survived are honestly so busy they cannot keep up.

Businesses report they spend way too much time working on proposals and bids for people who just try and beat them down on every item. Companies feel they do not have time for the penny pinchers and those who begin relationships with such a bad attitude. But that mindset hurts legitimate clients who just need a couple of bids to compare before making an intelligent buying decision. 

And now I am beginning to hear about the lack of qualified job applicants again. That seems really odd. I am also still receiving reports of candidates turning down jobs to remain on unemployment. Weirder yet, there are still a whole lot of people out there looking for work. I wonder if people are looking for jobs that may never come back, or are the skills of the job seekers not matching up with what employers need?

We get calls from job seekers about a local fast food chain that charges 25 cents to fill out an application. That enrages some applicants, but the company says they need to weed out those applying merely to satisfy the unemployment rules with no desire to work. The folks at the Washington State Unemployment Office tell us that charging a nominal fee to fill out a job application is not an illegal practice. Is it ethical?   

A job seeker brought up an interesting challenge in response to one of my employment columns. He is looking to make a change, leaving a company he has been with for several years. He has extensive experience but feels he is in a dead-end position. The advertisements for jobs in his career field seek applications from those with four to five years of experience, and then offer just over minimum wage. His question: “How the heck do they think this will attract anyone with experience? Who in their right mind or in this economy could leave a job and take a $5 to $6 per hour pay cut? No wonder they can’t find anyone.”

These two problems are different, but the solutions are related. If you are seeking work and the skills you have in your toolbox are not what the marketplace needs, you may have to step back, retrain or take a salary reduction to get the experience and training the new job market calls for. And if you’re going through a charade of seeking work – turning jobs down or applying for positions you can’t or won’t do – stop wasting everyone’s time. Remember that one day, when you really need to get back to work, there may not be so many choices.

If your company is so busy you cannot carve out time to do bids and grow your business, it might be time to start hiring again. Just be realistic about which skills you need and which wage will attract those skills. And don’t close the door on a great applicant with an excellent track record and work ethic just because they may be over-qualified or have experience in a totally different industry. These people can be some of the best additions to your team.

Jan Quintrall is president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau. She can be reached at

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