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Times' 'Help Wanted' series brings results

A bid to play matchmaker between some of Tampa Bay's 150,000 jobless and potential employers has struck a chord.

More than 80 potential employers have contacted the St. Petersburg Times since the newspaper launched its "Help Wanted" series a week ago. Many of the 46 job seekers who were profiled said they've received a surge of contact from prospective employers; some are racking up job offers.

Amanda Morgan of St. Pete Beach, who formerly worked as a legal clerk, is weighing two offers from law firms, among other prospects. Janie Dawes of Indian Shores, a former senior management consultant for IBM, has been contacted by nine companies and is mulling over one offer as she slates interview lunches with other companies. Carol Hess of Palm Harbor said she was "thrilled" that the CEO of one local company called her directly and she's scheduled for an interview next week.

Randy Peterson of Lutz said he had put out dozens of calls and resumes trying to find something to replace his former $75,000-a-year sales management job, with no luck.

"Since the article, the phone hasn't stopped ringing," he said. He has two interviews lined up.

Peterson said he has received offers to do lower-paying commission-based sales jobs. Several others profiled said they've also received calls from companies pitching jobs that were based on 100 percent sales commissions.

And not all felt that the dose of media exposure has helped, at least not yet. Jesse Ziglar of Tampa, who is seeking to become a commercial pilot, said the attention has done little to move his job quest forward.

James "Jay" Pendleton of Safety Harbor echoed that sentiment: "I've, unfortunately, received no contacts from potential employers as yet," he said. "I continue to apply for jobs daily. This appears to be a very tough market."

Double-digit unemployment hangs like a storm cloud over the Tampa Bay area, threatening to forestall its recovery from the longest and deepest recession in decades.

As the Tampa Bay area battles a 12.3 percent unemployment rate, the Times is shining a spotlight on the jobs crisis this year through "Help Wanted." Stories throughout 2010 will examine how employers pick from a raft of qualified candidates, take readers inside support groups for those in a job hunt, and chronicle the impact of long-term unemployment on families.

The series began a week ago with a look at some of the faces and stories behind the numbers. The article prompted calls and e-mails from a broad spectrum of employers interested in learning more. Insurance agents, plumbers, car dealers and hotel owners all sought contact information.

Several employers who contacted the Times offered this piece of advice for job seekers: Widen your search. Although they may be experienced in certain fields, their skills might be applicable in another.

A few companies offered pro bono advice on interview skills, resume writing or one-on-one career counseling.

Many people profiled still don't have jobs, but said it was a pick-me-up just to have interested employers coming to them.

"It's great. Most activity I've had in months," said Don Gould of Wesley Chapel, a former senior sales manager and general manager who has been looking for work for more than a year. Gould said he was contacted by 10 companies; as of late last week, three interviews or introductory meetings were scheduled and two more were in the works.

John Krevens of New Port Richey, who worked in human resources, was pursuing five leads generated by the article. "I can honestly say it's more activity than I've seen in the last six months," he said, just prior to conducting a phone interview with Kanes Furniture.

Terri Parnell, former national sports manager at Tampa Bay & Co., said she has been contacted via e-mail or phone by 17 people.

"The whole experience has been very positive," Parnell said. "I have even had people I know that I have not connected with in some time contact me with some opportunities."

John Roth of Clearwater, who has a background as an information technology manager, said he was pursuing three leads from last week. He called the response better than any interest he could muster through online job sites.

Among those on the flip side, those still struggling to generate more job leads, several were clustered in one of the hardest-hit sectors of the recession: construction.

Rick Joudrey, a former vice president for community development and a Realtor, said he has had correspondence with one prospective employer but little else.

Jeff Pero of Palm Harbor, a former construction superintendent, recalls the old days fondly. "Go back a few years ago. My phone would ring every other day from recruiters asking me to come work for some other company."

Now, he said, companies can't get bank loans to build so they don't need construction workers.

"I, myself, have not got any response from the story but that is what has been going on for two years now," Pero said. "I send out resumes with a cover letter and get no return response. So it's just par for the course. I think its beyond your or my control."

Times staff writer Andy Boyle contributed to this report. Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8242.

Times' 'Help Wanted' series brings results 01/10/10 [Last modified: Sunday, January 10, 2010 10:47pm]
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