Is Unemployment Discrimination Skewing Your Hiring Process? A Closer Look at the Stigma of the Unemployed

I have always prided myself on being open-minded and trying to take into account all possible sides of a situation before coming to a conclusion. To my horror, after reading Arthur Delaney’s article “Unemployed Face Discrimination Just One Month After Losing Their Jobs,” in the Huffington Post I found I was part of the problem. It is never an easy pill to swallow when you realize you are the problem.

Delaney’s article outlines the stigma that unemployment carries, with the revelation that unemployment discrimination begins within the first month of unemployment:

In one study…47 experienced HR Professionals [were asked] to review resumes that were identical except for one detail: Half said the candidate was currently employed, and half said the person had been out of work for a month. The ‘currently employed’ candidate received better marks for competence and hirability.

Though these two sets of resumes were identical in every other regard, the simple fact that a candidate had lost his or her job a month ago made hiring the candidate less desirable. I highly doubt that four weeks without work impairs any unemployed candidate’s skill set, yet the stigma is evident in the results. And then there was this:

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In another experiment, researchers asked a group of students to review resumes from ‘employed’ and ‘unemployed’ job candidates, with the latter group divided between people who’d left their jobs voluntarily and people who had been let go. The ‘laid off’ crowd faired no better than the quitters.

In economically booming times, I can appreciate a slight hesitation in hiring someone who is laid off (let me reiterate slight), but according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Jobless Rate is up in 27 states as of mid-July. Many exceptional employees are without work, and applying to your job postings.

Coming from agency recruiting, I cannot even count the number of times a hiring manager would tell me that they would only look at candidates who were employed. In this economy, by having such tunnel vision, you are really limiting yourself and your pool of talent. Sure, if someone has not worked in over a year maybe then start to ask questions, but a few months unemployed? Are you really not going to read that resume?

I am shocked at my own occasional dismissiveness of unemployed candidates, as I myself was unemployed for a month-and-a-half this past winter. Reading the results of the experiments that Delaney reports, I found myself enraged that hiring managers and HR professionals were discriminating against the recently unemployed. That is until I had the “a-ha” moment that I was, too.

Having gained some perspective on this rampant problem, I feel confident saying that the recently unemployed should be examined under the same lens as the employed (with exceptions for the individuals who were fired for say, embezzlement or something of the sort). This is especially true in start-up and expansion-stage companies. The emphasis for employers at such young companies should be on getting qualified, competent individuals who will fit the culture of the company. Taking off my unemployment blinders is something I am going to work on going forward, and I urge my readers to do the same.

photo by: jronaldlee

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Comments: 1

  • This is why HR is the ennemy of any unemployed person.

    The goal is to try to find the contact information of your future boss (or bosses’ boss) and skip HR altogether. They do not understand technical qualifications, so why should they get to filter out your CV based on using a wrong letterhead/buzzword.

    This being said, I got my current job because I met an HR director, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.

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