Money and Main Street

Overqualified and underpaid workers

Workers are downgrading their job prospects, but employers get to cherry pick the best talent for less pay.

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By Jessica Dickler, staff writer

Brian Rushton Phillips has lowered his expectations substantially since starting his job search in February.
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NEW YORK ( -- These days finding a job requires sacrifice -- something employers are taking full advantage of.

Because of the tough job market, most job seekers are willing to accept positions they're overqualified for even if it means taking a paycut and a demotion.

Sixty-four percent of workers who were laid off over the last 12 months said they have applied for positions that were below the job level they had held previously, according to a survey by Career Builder.

And the vast majority of employers said they would consider experienced candidates who apply for jobs for which they're overqualified, Career Builder said.

Brian Rushton Phillips has 13 years of experience as a creative director in the publishing industry, but since he was laid off in February, Phillips, 37, has been applying for senior and even intermediate designer positions that are one or two levels down from his last job.

"The positions I have been applying for are typically $20,000-$30,000 less than I was making before the downturn," he said.

"I was looking for jobs at my level but there weren't many available," he said. "There are mainly junior positions available."

Still, Phillips has struggled to even get an interview and believes if an opportunity does come up, it will likely be a downgrade from his previous experience. "I am prepared to take whatever I can get."

But the tough climate often works out to the employer's advantage, because companies can hire more experienced and capable candidates, like Phillips, at a lower cost.

A bargain hire

According to Steve Williams, director of research at The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), new hire compensation is much lower than in previous months, which indicates that employers are in a position now where they don't have to increase their pay levels to bring in the best talent.

Signing bonuses are also off the table in today's economy, he noted, as employers not only scale back salaries, but also benefits and perks.

"It's great for them," Kathy Fahrman, vice president of Résumés by Professionals in Tampa, Fla., said of how the current job market benefits businesses.

"Companies are always looking to save money any way they can and that's a perfect way," she said. "These days, companies need people that are multifunctional and people who can fill multiple roles will be an asset."

Talkback: Are you overqualified and underpaid?

Employers have even increased the requirements for specific positions and lowered the corresponding salary in response to the current climate, noted Jo Prabhu, who runs placement firm 1-800-Jobquest in Long Beach, Calif.

"Companies realize they no longer have to pay high salaries and they are able to get high level employees at a lower salary and even title," she said.

Prabhu says she sees additional duties added to job descriptions with lowered titles and pay, and still no shortage of demand.

With more than 14 million people out of work, competition among even entry-level jobs is stiff.

"Graduates are no longer in need unless they come on as unpaid interns," she said. "CEOs are trying to get sales jobs."

Even her own business has benefited, Prabhu admits. Last year the recruiters she employs earned commission plus a base salary, but now "I hire recruiters for our organization on commission only."

"There are a lot more recruiters willing to work for just anything," she said. "We are taking advantage of the fact that we no longer have to pay anyone a salary."

"It has saved a lot of our overhead cost."

Talkback: Are you overqualified and underpaid?  To top of page

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