A good friend of mine recently asked for advice regarding a job offer. This individual took a big risk by leaving a stable position to join an exciting startup. The startup grew it’s headcount much more quickly than it grew revenue–which unfortunately resulted in them being RIF’ed. My friend was out of work for awhile, and expressed a bit of anxiety around how their unemployment period might impact their negotiating position. “Well, they know I’ve been unemployed for awhile, so. . .” Even so, my friend is one of the very fortunate ones; they received a great offer and are back in the workforce.
Long-term unemployment is a serious issue nationwide. Only 11% of the long-term unemployed in any given month are finding work a year later. While a limited supply of jobs is clearly part of the issue, so is discrimination against the long-term unemployed by hiring decision makers.
This issue is widespread enough (and has been for a number of years now) that President Obama has called upon major CEO’s of over 300 companies to pledge their companies will not discriminate against the long-term unemployed.
I’ve occasionally experienced this with hiring managers in the past few years. When presenting a candidate who has an extended period of unemployment, I’ve heard feedback that ranges from, “If they haven’t found a job in XX months, there has to be a reason” to “I’ll only consider them if they will take an offer substantially cheaper than the market rate.”
Is there any validity to these statements? To the former–maybe. But that’s what a thorough, competency-based evaluation and reference check process is for. You should be able to conclusively determine through your evaluation process whether the candidate is capable of performing your job–and has done so consistently for past employers.
As to the latter statement: It bothers me that some hiring managers assign less value to someone simply because they are not currently employed. There is a cachet of luring the passive candidate for some managers; clearly that person is doing exceptional work for another employer, so we must have them. But what if they aren’t? There are dangers in operating with this bias. What if they are miserable, but simply are so overworked that they don’t have time to be an active job seeker? (Been there.) What if they are underperforming but just haven’t been terminated yet?
Hiring managers are not the only ones to blame in this, either. Recruiters get caught up in the idea of sourcing only passive, fully employed talent and ignoring the people who actually applied for the job. It’s important to review ALL applicants equally, and to push back/appropriately challenge hiring manager bias appropriately when presenting a slate of candidates. If you think the candidate who has a period of unemployment is the right person for their job? Make your business case. It’s the right thing to do–both for your company and for the candidate.