309 vie for chance to say 'Shhhh!'

An ad for a single library assistant's job in Tacoma led to 309 applicants taking a test Monday at American Veterans Hall in South Tacoma.
An ad for a single library assistant's job in Tacoma led to 309 applicants taking a test Monday at American Veterans Hall in South Tacoma. The Olympian

Wanted for hire: Library assistant.

Qualifications: High school graduate or equivalent.

Pay range: $15.81 to $19.23 per hour.

Posted for only a week, an entry-level opening for a librarian’s assistant drew 309 job seekers to a crowded meeting hall Monday in South Tacoma, all vying to land a coveted city job with benefits during a difficult economy.

Among their ranks was a laid-off Weyerhaeuser information technology professional, an out-of-work paralegal and a struggling single mother of three in the midst of a career change.

“I’m one step closer,” said Lori Warren of Tacoma, a former HVAC service technician who is struggling to keep her family afloat on a part-time Wal-Mart salary with no benefits. “Maybe one of us here today will finally get a job.”

In all, more than 548 candidates applied when the City of Tacoma posted the job from July 20 to 26, said city human resources analyst Teresa Dent.

“That’s a huge number of applicants,” Dent said.

Of those, all but eight qualified to move on in the hiring process, receiving invitations to take an 89-question exam Monday at the American Veterans Hall. A total of 309 people actually showed up to take the test. At least one position – and as many as four – will be filled, Dent said.

Fostered by the dour economy, the turnout also likely was augmented by the city’s efforts in recent years to make its hiring process far more accessible via online application submissions, Dent said.

The applicant pool was so big, the city pulled the job announcement after just one week – typically they’re left up for two or three weeks, Dent said.

“I just had an inclination that we were going to get a big response,” she said.

Not quite as big as the 1,400 applicants for a single city meter-reader job that drew more than 800 test-takers to the Tacoma Dome last year. But that job – which drew wide media attention – was posted longer than the current opening, Dent noted.

“If we would’ve left (the library assistant position) open that long, we probably would’ve have reached at least that many applicants,” Dent said.

Rebecca Richards, an unemployed wife and mother who took the exam Monday, said she’s been looking for regular work since being laid off from a dentist’s office about a year ago.

“It’s discouraging,” Richards said. “You try to stay positive, but I’m up against people with master’s degrees, pilots, even lawyers for this job.”

Julie Rubenzer of Lakewood – laid off since KeyBank shut down its local customer service center in December – holds a paralegal degree, some medical training and years of work experience. She’s far more qualified than the librarian’s assistant position requires, but she’ll gladly take the work.

“A job is a job,” she said. “In this economy right now, with all the competition out here, I don’t think you can box yourself in.”

Within the next three weeks, city human resources officials will score the tests and rank candidates. Applicants in the top three ranks – which could include multiple people per ranking – will be brought back for a second round of clerical testing and interviews, Dent said.

“It’s hard,” Dent said. “We’d like to give them all a job, if we could.”