Five Things to Keep In Mind When Evaluating (and Interviewing) Unemployed Candidates

We all know that many folks have lost jobs in recent years, and not all of them deserved this treatment. In many cases, they were victims of downsizing, right-sizing, or simple dollars and cents in a volatile market.

Yet bias against the unemployed runs strong. A 2012 study for the annual Academy of Management conference showed that prospective employers rated identical resumes better if the person was currently employed. And it did not make much difference if the candidate was fired, laid off or quit their last job — or how long they had been out of work.

On one level, it makes sense. It is natural to assume that even in a downsizing situation, the people let go will be the weaker employees. But if you dismiss unemployed candidates without a second look, you may be making a big mistake. Here are five things to keep in mind when evaluating and interviewing job candidates who are currently out of work:

1) At a time when unemployment, though falling, is still well above 7 percent, you can’t afford to ignore the unemployed. There are just too many of them. At the same time, the high unemployment rate is discouraging those who have jobs from looking around. So the best candidate for the job might just be someone who has been out of work two, three, six months or more.

2) Possible advantages to hiring someone who is not currently employed include the fact that they can usually start immediately, and that they have less leverage in negotiating salary as there will be no counter-offer from a current employer.

3) There is a big difference between the unemployed person who has spent the last six months on the sofa switching back and forth between Monster.com and “Lost” re-runs and the person who has used the time wisely to improve her job skills and gain experience, even in a volunteer capacity.

4) Know the law. While most states rejected a 2011 federal move to bar discrimination against the unemployed, some states have made moves to protect them. In New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia it is now illegal to post ads requiring job applicants to be employed, and New York State has gone further: a law passed this summer made unemployed status a protected class, similar to race, gender and religious affiliation. New York employers should consult local experts and be very careful what they ask in job interviews. On the flip side, you may find there are tax credits available for hiring those who have been out of work a while.

5) Someone who has been out of work for a while just might bring an element of contagious gratitude to the job if you, unlike others, are able to look past their current status and evaluate their abilities fairly.

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