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Show unemployed some love

Hiring managers’ bias against unemployed workers shrinks talent pool

By Todd Humber

Back in July 2010, I used this space to tell the story of a couple of employers in the United States who said — blatantly and openly in job postings — that unemployed workers need not apply.

At the time, Sony Ericsson, hiring for a new facility in Georgia, and Latro Consulting, a South Carolina-based recruiter looking for grocery store managers, told unemployed workers — at a time when the ranks of the unemployed were swelling as the recession rocked the global economy — not to bother handing in resumés.

The language quickly disappeared from the postings when reporters started calling, which is good. It’s simply not a good business practice to arbitrarily shrink your candidate pool, regardless of the economy.

While this overt form of discrimination has seemingly come to an end, a couple of new studies have shed light on a bias that exists among hiring managers — they prefer candidates who are currently employed. (For full coverage of those studies, look for the Nov. 19 issue of Canadian HR Reporter.)

To which I can only say, “guilty as charged.”

I’ll be honest: If I were hiring an editor, and two resumés landed on my desk with identical qualifications — but one was working and the other had been laid off — I’d be inclined to favour the employed candidate. I wouldn’t put it in a job posting, nor would I refuse an interview, but there’s no denying the bias exists.

Why? The logic is simple — the person who is still working must be more valuable. The candidate who lost her job must not be as good an editor, otherwise she would have kept her job, right?

Not necessarily. While favouring the employed worker is the knee-jerk reaction, it’s certainly not the right one — which is so often the case when it comes to knee-jerks. There are simply far too many variables in play.

One key question to answer is, “Why is the unemployed candidate out of work?”

It could be because she worked in a unionized setting, and was the last one hired before the business ran into financial trouble. She may have been the best worker in the building, but management’s hands were tied by the collective agreement when it came time to reduce staff.

Perhaps she quit because her former employer asked her to do something unethical. Or maybe she toiled under an abusive, abrasive manager and finally hit a breaking point and resigned? Or that same bad manager could have campaigned relentlessly to force a good worker out the door because of a personality conflict.

Maybe the worker was targeted by a bean counter in finance because her salary was out of line with her colleagues?

Performance is just one reason why a worker finds herself on the unemployment line, yet too often there’s an assumption that, when people lose their jobs, it’s their own fault — they didn’t perform, they weren’t up to the task, they’re simply “not a good worker.”

That’s a pretty huge conclusion to draw just by looking at a resumé that shows a gap in employment.

Hiring managers need to resist this bias and give all qualified candidates a fair shake, regardless of employment status. It’s the only way to know for sure you’ve hired the best person for the job.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

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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