Recently a former colleague of mine worked on recruiting assignments for two different companies. After submitting a pool of candidates for each assignment he quickly noticed similarities between two rejected candidates, one from each assignment, applying for two entirely different roles with two entirely different companies. Each candidate had been unemployed for six months or more and not only that, but both had done little to find a new job. Instead they chose to work on personal projects or hold out for the specific job they truly desired. I see nothing wrong with that personally. If I’m hiring someone I want them to be truly passionate about the job and not just interested in a paycheck. Here’s the problem though. They were both rejected for being unemployed.
Of course unemployment was not the only reason given but when my colleague received emails from the hiring managers for why these two candidates would not be pursued, their lack of recent employment was at the top of the list.
Here are the responses he received from the clients regarding these candidates.
“There were a few yellow flags with two being borderline red. His lack of work for >2 years is one.”
The above rejection was presented in the very first sentence. Bam, right off the bat this hiring manager is saying that he’s essentially worried about hiring anyone who has been out of work for so long a time, regardless of the candidate’s skills which were spot on.
Here’s the response my colleague received from a hiring manager in regards to a candidate for an entirely different role:
“He has not been looking for work since they let him go in 12/2012. We want someone that needs to work and is aggressive.”
A recent study out of Northeastern University showed that employers were far less likely to call back a job candidate with industry experience who had been out of work six months or more than a candidate with no industry experience who had been out of work for only a short time. In other words if you have a lot of experience but haven’t been working in over six months, the guy or gal with no industry experience who has only been unemployed for six weeks is likely to get called before you.
So far no data exists that suggests hiring a long term unemployed worker is bad for business so we can only speculate as to the origins of this bias. Perhaps a belief exists that if a candidate has been unemployed for six months or more that something must be wrong with them. Hiring managers and recruiters are inundated with resumes and spend little time, only six seconds according to some studies, reviewing them. They may abruptly filter out the long term unemployed assuming that if other employers have already passed on them, then why should they too waste their time?
Whatever the reasons, fair or unfair, the bias exists and very little is being done about it. The moral of the story may very well be that even if you hate your job, you’d better keep it. Perhaps this is why, according to Gallup’s most recent state of the American workplace report, only 30% of U.S. workers are actively engaged at work.