In Tight Labor Market, the Underemployed Are Ripe for Recruiting

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

The tightest labor market in recent memory is prompting employers to take a second look at hiring the underemployed, recruiters say.

With the strong economy pressuring employers to pay workers more, recruiters are tapping sectors of the labor market they might not usually focus on, such as those workers who do have jobs but not the kind they would ideally like.

Underemployment occurs when employees work fewer hours than they want or have been forced to take jobs outside their field of expertise. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics measures underemployment in a number of ways but primarily focuses on workers who work fewer hours than they want.

The BLS offers no fewer than six different figures for unemployment and underemployment. Based on these statistics, on average for the fourth quarter of 2016 through the third quarter of 2017, 4.4 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force consisted of “all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons,” compared to 4.5 percent who were unemployed.

At the same time there’s a push to recruit the underemployed, employers are being crunched to pay workers more. Bloomberg Law’s latest Wage Trend Indicator shows employers will be paying more to draw in and keep employees in the coming year.

That’s a significant-sized pool for recruiters to fish in, which they can broaden further by targeting people who have been forced to take jobs outside their chosen field. Recruiters often find attractive “someone who has been there” in a skilled, professional position, and is now working in a job he or she is overqualified for, Cheryl Hyatt of Hyatt-Fennell Executive Search told Bloomberg Law Nov. 27.

It’s not just professional positions that recruiters are desperate to fill. “There is a large gap in occupations such as internists, truck drivers, marketing managers, and web developers,” Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer of Chicago-based jobs website CareerBuilder, told Bloomberg Law in a Nov. 27 email.

Vigorous Outreach Needed

So how should recruiters match the underemployed to the skilled positions that need filling? “Instead of changing how they reach out, recruiters instead need to fundamentally shift who they are reaching out to,” Haefner said. “To fill a skills gap, recruiters should start looking for workers that have relevant skills and are open to learning a new position. Practice competency-based hiring, which helps employers understand if a candidate actually has the skills they need to succeed in the role, instead of requiring particular degrees or work background. “

Rob Wilson, president of Westmont, Ill.-based HR service company Employco USA, also recommended training for some who have been out of their original field for a while and may not have kept up. As to recruitment settings, he told Bloomberg Law Nov. 28 that Employco taps college and university alumni associations, job fairs, and state unemployment bureaus.

And even in today’s high-tech world, Hyatt said, “word of mouth” remains an important way of recruiting those whose careers have been languishing.

“It’s currently a competitive hiring environment, so regardless of what position you are recruiting for, prepare to present your top offer quickly and expect to negotiate,” Haefner said.

Now that they’re alert to the value of underemployed workers, recruiters are likely to find the underemployed attractive prospects. “Most of the underemployed are eager to work and get back to using the skills” they had in previous, better jobs, Wilson said.

However, sometimes such prospects need careful cultivation, he said, recalling one person he worked with who had found he enjoyed his job at Starbucks because he liked helping customers, and was only persuaded to return to his former field after much hesitation.

Some underemployed workers may have topped out in their fields. For example, there isn’t any further up the career ladder a former university president can go, so as such people near retirement, they tend to take positions they’re overqualified for, Cheryl Hyatt said. That could be a boon for head-hunters.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at, Tony Harris at

For More Information

The BLS web page on "Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization for States, Fourth Quarter of 2016 through Third Quarter of 2017 Averages" can be found at

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