Looking for a job? Now there’s even more competition — from people who already have one

In this March 30, 2016, file photo, a sign designed to attract employment seekers stands next to a job recruiter’s booth at a job fair in Pittsburgh.
In this March 30, 2016, file photo, a sign designed to attract employment seekers stands next to a job recruiter’s booth at a job fair in Pittsburgh. AP

Kate was in her car Wednesday when she heard an ad on the radio for the latest career fair, in Miami Lakes, by Job News USA, a job-seeker services website.

“I was like OK, this is for me, I have to go,” said the 30-year-old, who admitted she is unhappy with her current employer, a painting company. She asked that her last name not be used for fear of upsetting the company.

Her present job, which involves client relations, does not fit with her background in international trade. Also a bad fit, she said: her current salary, which she said was less than $25 an hour — her new compensation goal.

“I’m looking for something more in my career,” she said.

Kate was among the attendees at the July 11 fair who are dissatisfied with their current jobs — and doing something about it. Although U.S. unemployment, at 3.9 percent, and Miami-Dade unemployment, at 4 percent, is at near-record lows, last week’s fair drew about 1,300 job seekers of all ages, organizer Tiffany Cordeschi said — many more than the approximately 900 that came to Job News’ April fair. Companies in attendance at Miami Lakes included the Miami Heat, Northwestern Mutual, Sears, and City Furniture, offering positions in sales, customer service, operations, and technical support. More than 2,000 openings were advertised. The Miami Herald was a sponsor.

Despite record-low unemployment, job seekers came out in droves to a job fair in Miami Lakes on July 11. Miami Herald

One possible reason for the surging attendance: As employers offer more perks, including higher wages, to lure talent, they are picking up workers already holding down jobs, but looking for something better. And that could make it even harder for those without jobs, or stuck in low-wage ones, to compete.

“Because of the unemployment rate being so low, a lot of companies are offering additional benefits or employee benefits they haven’t offered before to try to drive people to apply to their companies,” Cordeschi said. “That brings out people who already have positions but who might be looking for something better, or more benefits.”

Norwegian Cruise Line was also looking for candidates Wednesday. Liz Ramon, training and development specialist for Norwegian’s outbound sales, said the majority of attendees she saw were “currently employed but looking for a career change and an opportunity to break into the cruise business.”

“We were quite pleased with the caliber of candidates we met with at yesterday’s job fair,” she said Thursday. “They were professional and well-qualified for the positions we are looking to fill.”

Adeline Gaaliche, a France native with a background in finance, moved with her husband to Miami a few months ago. She said she has been told she is overqualified for the junior-level positions she has been applying for. She is now looking at the cruise industry, where she believes she’ll be able to put her three languages to use.

“It’s a little bit tricky to find out which level you can apply to with this level of experience,” she said.

Ana Herrera said she quit her $10-an-hour retail job in March and has refused to take a new one that pays less than $15 an hour. But she has found that employers are focused on hiring individuals who already have a strong background in their given field.

“If you’re not super experienced, they’re not going to hire you,” she said.

That jibes with the experience of Joseph Flores, a sales manager for Ehrlich, a pest control company with offices in Fort Lauderdale. He said he had received between 20 and 30 résumés at the fair for the two outside-sales positions he currently has open. “We’re able to track down the best” candidate, he said.

Russell Neal, senior human resources generalist with Anda, a Weston-based pharmaceutical distributor, said he was surprised at the number of résumés he received Wednesday: About 60, he estimated, for 26 openings.

“Companies right now, I think they can almost be a little picky — there are a lot of people that need jobs,” Neal said. “So you can definitely go after the best candidate, or wait.”

Finding strong candidates remains the top concern among South Florida companies, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce found recently. Cordeschi said the Miami Lakes fair was 100 percent booked by companies looking to find good workers.

And pay is going up as these companies try to attract them: In Miami-Dade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wages were up 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017 compared with the same quarter a year ago. In Leisure and Hospitality, pay increased 10 percent, the agency said.

Yet the ongoing competition among applicants is leaving some to settle for starting salaries. Elvira Donoghue has been looking for a general administration job since March. She said her last job was only on a contract basis, so on Wednesday she was looking for something more permanent. Her target salary is $30,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage in Miami is $46,760 — higher than Miami-Dade’s median household income of about $44,000 thanks to high executive salaries that pull wage data upwards.

“I think there are a lot of opportunities — but you have to show [who you are], and when you don’t have a referral ... that is hard,” she said.

One South Florida company is building a business around the growing pool of job seekers who already have jobs. Fort Lauderdale-based GoGig now has 159 companies around the country signed up for its service that lets job applicants already with positions discreetly look for new work. They are in the process of closing a $5 million investment round.

“Statistically, our company does better the closer a market is to full employment,” founder and CEO Chris Hodges said.

Companies are finding an increasing need to connect with passive job seekers who already have jobs, he said. GoGig allows users to create anonymous profiles that allow them to be discovered by hiring professionals.

“So small- to medium-size markets skewing higher in employment, like Portland, Austin, Indianapolis, Charlotte, and Miami, are markets we do very very well in, compared to that of a Los Angeles or a New York City,” he said.