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Unemployed need not apply? Really?

By Todd Humber (todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com)

Call it something that looks good on paper. Or perhaps not a bad idea in theory. But whoever came up with the idea of stating, in job postings, that unemployed candidates need not apply deserves a first ballot induction into the HR Worst Practices Hall of Fame.

At least two firms in the United States did exactly that, using language such as “unemployed candidates will not be considered” or “must be currently employed,” according to CNNMoney.

The first was South Carolina recruiter Latro Consulting, which posted jobs for grocery store managers. The second was Sony Ericsson, a phone manufacturer that was hiring for a new facility in Georgia. In both cases, the offending language was pulled from the postings when reporters started phoning.

First, let’s get the upside out of the way because there is some logic behind the thinking. In the recession, many firms targeted the deadwood among employee populations. Have to cut 10 per cent of the workforce? Might as well cut the bottom performers.

Therefore, it stands to reason, a good chunk of the current crop of unemployed workers are among the worst performers. If your competitors didn’t think they were worth hanging on to, then why bother going through the motions of evaluating them?

But that bit of logic gets buried — quickly and deeply — by an onslaught of common sense. First, stereotyping all unemployed workers as deadwood is plain wrong. It’s a complete myth. While some firms targeted underperformers, others did it based solely on seniority. Some cut underperforming divisions and others targeted high-wage earners.

Because there wasn’t a blanket reaction by employers in cutting staff, it’s folly to take a similar stance in recruiting. Putting language like that in a job posting will undoubtedly discourage people from applying, and you might miss a star recruit.

Why, as an employer, would you handcuff yourself while searching for your most important asset? It’s worth taking the time to sort through some unqualified candidates to find that diamond in the rough.

There are also potential legal ramifications. For example, we know Aboriginals have a higher unemployment rate than Caucasians. A Canadian employer using such language could open itself up to a human rights complaint from an applicant who claims the job posting is discriminatory based on race.

Thankfully, it doesn’t appear any Canadian employers have adopted this tactic — at least not on paper. A search of job board Workopolis reveals no similar language in current postings.

That’s not to say Canadian recruiters don’t use the tactic. Someone who is employed will often be more appealing. But don’t put it in a job posting and don’t rule out a candidate simply because she’s unemployed. It’s the wrong thing to do, it will hurt your bottom line and your reputation as an employer may take a hit. It’s just not a practice worth emulating.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. For more information, visit www.hrreporter.com.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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