Job postings found on Simplyhired.com today give statements such as these as qualifications necessary for consideration:
“Candidate will have a steady work history, be currently employed…”
“The ideal candidate will be currently employed…”
“Candidate will already be currently employed in a similar capacity…”
Starting about a year ago, I heard rumors of a disturbing practice going on amongst employers: the tendency to discriminate job applicants based on their employment status. This trend is occurring at the worst time: when so many of our labor force are out of work. The last thing any displaced worker wants to hear is, “unemployed candidates will not be considered.”
Thankfully, in my little corner of the world, I have not seen this happening in any large measure, but it does have many of my unemployed customers spooked. Many worry that their unemployed status has now become a barrier to getting back to work.
Except in New Jersey (where legislation was enacted in June of this year), it is not currently against the law for companies to exclude the unemployed when trying to fill positions, as the unemployed status is not considered a protected class. This trend, however, has attracted the attention of lawmakers; members of Congress have urged the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to explore the issue. Consequently, the EEOC held a forum on discrimination against unemployed job seekers earlier this year.
One thing that has stood out—although discriminating against the unemployed worker is currently not illegal, bias against job seekers on basis of race, age, sex, national origin, etc., are. Since African Americans, disabled and older workers have been particularly affected by the employment downturn, discriminating against unemployed people in these groups may violate the law.
It is for this reason that members of Congress have taken action. While President Obama enthusiastically tries to resuscitate his beleaguered American Jobs Act, members of Congress are also seeing if they can rescue selected parts of it. Representatives Richard Blumenthal and Rosa DeLauro have co-sponsored a bill that would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against the unemployed in hiring. Another bill, entitled the Fair Employment Act of 2011, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of unemployment status.
Critics of these bills argue that the practice of recruiting only the currently employed is not prevalent enough to be considered a problem worthy of such a radical step as passing a bill barring it. A New York Times article by Robert Pear says, “The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has received reports of such advertisements but has no data to show how common they are. If such ads were common, then such data would be readily available.”
Many of those ads no longer exist. Job seeking metasearch engine Indeed.com and online job boards CareerBuilder and Dice have enacted policies forbidding any verbiage indicating bias against the unemployed, and many companies posting ads, when questioned by the media, will pull those ads before risking getting bad press. That doesn’t mean the practice has ceased, however—it just means it’s not outwardly mentioned. Staffing recruiters such as Adecco report that many employers ask them to weed out those who are not currently working.
Will It Really Help?
Others say that a law barring any bias against long-term unemployed would actually worsen the unemployment situation, not help it. Employers, fearing lawsuits from disgruntled (and financially desperate) job seekers, might not hire at all or wait on hiring until the threat of lawsuits pass.
Some employers argue that there are good reasons for hiring people currently employed in a particular industry. Due to the current economy, employers are inundated with hundreds of applications, many being highly qualified for the positions they offer. Employers and recruiters need some basis on which to screen applicants, and employers can get concerned about how recent an applicant’s experience is, particularly in such rapidly-evolving fields as Information Technology.
But such thinking might still cause an employer to overlook their best candidates. The old stigma that the long-term unemployed may not be desirable job candidates still exists, despite the high unemployment figures and current economy. Moreover, those who have been out of work for a while might be enhancing their skills by going back to school.
How to Help Yourself
Obviously, for those are still employed but hear of possible layoffs coming, the best time to look for work is while you still have it. But for those are currently out of work, one of the best ways to mitigate the possibility of being overlooked by employers is by keeping busy.
Volunteering in areas relevant to a jobseeker’s work history helps keep their skills current, and looks good on a resume. Many of my jobseekers don’t think that putting volunteer experience on a resume is appropriate, but I tell them that working is working, whether they get a paycheck or not.
When they do apply for jobs, applicants—whether employed or not—need to remember to apply for those jobs whose required skill sets match their own qualifications. When employers post jobs, they are often looded with applicants, many of whom aren’t good matches for the position. Rather than wade through the tide of applicants, they target people who are currently employed in comparable positions.
Finding ways to stand out from the crowd can help as well. Creating and utilizing a strong personal brand can show an employer that a jobseeker has strong experience and relevant skills, and can calm an employer’s worries about an out-of-work applicant. Being armed with strong letters of recommendation from previous employers, finding inside contacts with the targeted company that can speak on the jobseeker’s behalf and being flexible on salary or job title can also help a jobseeker.
- Democrats: Don’t discriminate against unemployed (politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com)
- Momentum to end discrimination against unemployed jobseekers builds, but discriminatory ads continue (dailykos.com)
- Obama’s jobs proposal extends bias protection to unemployed workers (oregonlive.com)