HR Insights, HR News & Trends

Closing the Perception Gap: Why Hiring the Unemployed Makes Sense

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A recent CNNMoney.com article shed light on an unofficial practice among employers who won’t hire from the growing ranks of those who have been unemployed for an extended period of time.

According to the article, some job postings include restrictions such as “unemployed candidates will not be considered” or “must be currently employed.” Employers may be looking for shortcuts to whittle down the list of applicants, but shortcuts can be short sighted and, apart from risking running afoul of the EEOC, are also bad business.

Extended gaps in resumes have historically — and understandably — been viewed as “red flags,” an indication of a candidate’s lack of employability or even motivation. When unemployment is at low levels, this is an understandable position. Anyone who’s been unable to find work for extended periods in such a favorable market may be fairly viewed as a weak candidate.

However in today’s business climate, employers need to read between the gaps and consider that the labor marketplace teems with an almost unprecedented amount of qualified, out-of-work talent who at most any other time in the recent past would be employed. In short, what was not very long ago considered standard business practice no longer is.

A changing perspective

Today’s business realities require employers to recognize that it’s a perception gap, not a resume gap, when it comes to gauging the worthiness of unemployed candidates. Following are some of the (misguided) perspectives that often cloud judgment about the unemployed:

  • Companies that need to downsize let their poorest performers go first. In turn, prospective employers would, of course, want to avoid these candidates. The truth is that the prolonged nature of the current recession has forced many employers to make deep cuts. Unlike previous dips in the economy, many of the unemployed are talented and committed — they are not necessarily the more junior, last-in, first-out segment of the workforce.
  • The unemployed will take any job, even if they are overqualified and underpaid, and will jump ship as soon as possible. Many capable people are unemployed and eager to work, even at “discount” rates, as they are willing to prove their value over time in anticipation of being rewarded down the road with compensation commensurate with their capabilities once the economy turns.

Those unemployed for an extended period of time will appreciate a steady paycheck (even if it’s for a lesser amount than what they were used to), secure employment, and a “home” where they can contribute and move up the ladder. In short, they are more likely to have a sense of loyalty and appreciation for an employer who is willing to provide them with an opportunity.

In addition, hiring someone “overqualified” (also known as underemployed) these days doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be seeking better offers, but it does increase the new employer’s “bench strength” and expand their succession plans.

As the economy improves, surveys indicate that many of the gainfully employed will seek out new job opportunities. As such, hiring “overqualified” candidates can provide employers with an opportunity to promote the underemployed to fill positions left vacant by their employees who pursue job opportunities elsewhere.

Reading between the gaps

Assumptions aside, employers are still faced with the challenge of vetting the ranks of the unemployed to find the most qualified candidates. Indeed, having a greatly expanded labor pool actually makes the talent acquisition process more onerous.

Human Resources is under additional pressure to go beyond conventional processes. For example, asking candidates to key in information from their resumes offers little insight (i.e., those lapses between employment dates) and little in the way of two-way communication — not to mention that it is anything but an engaging process for candidates.

Employers need a meaningful process that will provide a 360-degree snapshot of the candidate’s experience, skills, capabilities, and — perhaps most important — key indicators, such as culture fit, that can determine how willing a candidate is to invest in the position. The good news is that such talent acquisition solutions exist and use integrated assessments that guide the “screening in” process by gleaning candidate personality and other relevant data.

Behavioral assessments, for instance, have been shown to be predictive of job performance, job satisfaction, commitment, turnover, career satisfaction, and career success across a wide variety of positions, organizations, industries, and countries. Embedded behavioral assessment tools address attitudes, competencies, and skills, revealing both whether a candidate can do the job and how well that person will perform within a particular environment.

No losers, only winners

A change in perspective — i.e., unemployed does not equate with unemployable — provides employers with a unique opportunity to tap into a rich and talented labor pool. Organizations can then facilitate the process of identifying the very best from this pool with comprehensive assessments that assimilate an individual’s experience, skill set, and behavioral characteristics, providing a solid indicator of potential performance and success.

Business agility — the ability to adapt quickly to changing trends — is highly regarded as the key to success, and it’s no different when it comes to adapting hiring strategies to current market realities. With the proper tools, reading between the gaps in a candidate’s resume can — and most certainly will — yield great dividends without placing undue strain on resources.

There are scores of qualified and motivated candidates among the unemployed looking for an opportunity to contribute — and who will go above and beyond in their desire to show you’ve made the right decision.

Ron Selewach is the founder and CEO of the Human Resource Management Center, Inc. (HRMC, a pioneer solutions provider of cutting-edge talent acquisition technology. He is also a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Contact him at RSelewach@hrmc.com.
  • Paul

    This is good and important and not just opinion.  Behavioral and other assessments will tell employers, reliably, if someone will be a good hire. Past experience and whether unemployed or not do not give that information. It’s just uninformed to prejudice the unemployed or the employed, either. I sometimes wonder how anyone of real capability can stay in a job and not cause problems. The types that keep their head down, don’t make waves or anything else are often the ones least often fired. Use science to determine who fits and who doesn’t.  Scientific evidence does not, absolutely not, suggest that the unemployed are worse hires.

  • Larry

    Great thinking should be automated and Ron has figured it out.  
    Give all candidates a chance to put their best
    foot forward – screens in, not out.  Differentiating those with a  slick resume from those that truly can contribute. 

  • Jerry Bires

    As a recruiter, I’ve seen hiring managers and even HR personnel direct me to NOT vet candidates who are unemployed, despite the apparent EEOC violation potential. As Mr. Selewach points out, layoffs have cut into the “wood” of the real talent pool at many companies, and top line people are available for the first time in years. So there should be no stigma to being unemployed. Moreover, as we deal with an increasingly unmanageable flow of applicants, there’s a lot on the line in terms of a company’s employer branding. Prospective employees, especially those of the caliber you now or will want to hire, will be doubly impressed if they’re well treated in this economic climate. That will foster loyalty and ameliorate the fear that these people will bolt at the first alternative. Word gets around and you want to do your utmost to make that word be positive. On the subject of assessments, they can add great value to the hiring company, as well as make the application process so much more interesting to the jobseeker. Too many of the online applications that candidates must complete today are onerous, time wasting bores.