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Taking the first job that comes along

Candidates may be better off holding out for a job in their field

By Brian Kreissl 

I read about an interesting study the other day that found unemployed workers might be better to hold out for a job in their field as opposed to taking the first job that comes along. Mid-level workers in particular may have a difficult time getting back into their fields after spending a certain amount of time in a lower-level job. 

Unemployed candidates who take a more junior-level job outside their field rather than remaining unemployed may have a more difficult time getting interviewed for jobs in their field, according to the study by Till Von Wachter of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Henry Farber of Princeton University and Dan Silverman of Arizona State University. 

The authors sent nearly 8,000 fake resumés from female applicants to about 2,400 vacancies. Ten per cent of the unemployed applicants received call-backs, compared with 8.5 per cent of those who took so-called “stop-gap” jobs. 

While the difference wasn’t huge, this goes against the prevailing wisdom that employers prefer candidates who are already working — even if they’re working in a completely unrelated job or at a much lower level than was previously the case. Some of this can be chalked up to recruiters not carefully reviewing resumés and quickly glancing at applicants’ most recent positions only or companies using applicant tracking software to screen them out. 

According to Von Wachter, this is less likely to happen to candidates for more senior-level vacancies because there is a tendency for recruiters to screen those candidates’ resumés in greater depth. While that would tend to suggest the problem relates more to candidates’ applications for more junior vacancies not being adequately scrutinized, I believe there may be other factors at play here as well. 

Employers being too picky 

While readers will no doubt recognize this as a recurring theme in my blog, I believe part of the problem is employers being too picky and screening people out for spurious reasons. Some employers these days appear to treat candidates as if all of their knowledge of a certain job or industry will be completely forgotten if they haven’t used it in the last six months or so. 

I have seen a situation where a candidate was only one year removed from a formal people management role (with a management title) and the hiring manager actually said to the candidate: “I’m not seeing much management here.” I’m not sure if that was purely because the candidate was working in a slightly different capacity, but I don’t think it helped either since there was no question the person had significant management experience. 

Similarly, it frustrated me as a recent graduate when I took lower-level jobs to pay the bills and stay employed, while others held out for many months or even years for something relevant. The truth is those folks ended up with better careers than I did — at least to begin with. 

I personally believe it is better for someone to take a more junior-level job to put food on the table and keep a roof over her head than to hold out too long for a job in her field and join the ranks of the long-term unemployed. I also believe there should be no shame in doing honest work — regardless of the level. 

However, I recognize it can be a tough call, and once someone has been working in another field for more than a year or two it’s very difficult to get back to her original field. This new research tends to suggest people should wait at least a while before taking just any job — or perhaps consider leaving short-term irrelevant employment off of one’s resumé. 

Season’s Greetings from Carswell 

My colleagues and I here at Carswell wish all of our readers and their families a happy, safe and enjoyable holiday season. All the best for 2016 and beyond.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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