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A longstanding belief in HR and recruitment is the stigma of unemployed candidates. This has got to end. Because someone is unemployed does not make them a less qualified candidate. My experience has taught me that the employment status at the time of recruitment has very little to do with how qualified a candidate may be.  

I started in management recruitment back in the ’90s, and it was all about the chase and the rush of headhunting currently employed talent. Recruiters were taught from the start of their training that passive candidates (candidates not looking for a job) were better than active candidates (candidates who were looking for a job). It never occurred to us to review the facts as to whether or not this is true. The recruiter who could successfully source and recruit passive candidates was the recruitment agency’s stars and highly rewarded for their efforts.  


After quite a few years in Executive Search, I moved on to a senior-level role in an Employment Services firm where our goal was the opposite: find the unemployed and incent Employers to hire them. What did I find? Some highly competent workers had been unemployed even for long stretches that are still adding value to the companies we placed them to this day. Their value had nothing to do with their employment status. 

Research shows that companies and recruiters tend to downgrade candidates because they are out of work for the long term. This creates a vicious cycle for the unemployed, and employers miss out on a highly skilled pool of candidates who may be out of work for many reasons. 

Research consistently shows that even if they had the same qualifications and competencies as employed applicants, the unemployed, and especially the long-term unemployed, have significantly lower chances of getting hired. 

Gerhard Krug 

Studies have also found that job seekers who are self-conscious of the stigma of unemployment during their job search have a detrimental effect on their well-being and health. Although empirical evidence seems to be divided on this issue, it would seem that the greater the stigma, the greater the difficulty for the worker to remain motivated to find employment. This is a vicious cycle. 


So how do we combat this destructive stigma? 

HR Leaders: Educate your Recruiters:  

HR Leaders must have recruiters and hiring authorities to unlearn the stigma that an employed candidate is fundamentally better than the unemployed candidate. Here are two points that will help convince front-line recruiters and hiring managers. 

Unemployed does not equal less qualified: 

Do not correlate employment status with skills, abilities, and the value a person can add to your company. There are many viable reasons why a highly qualified active candidate may be out of work, even for a long duration. This does not mean they are less competent than a passive candidate. Recruiters have long romanticized the passive candidate as ideal since they are currently employed and must be inherently better than unemployed candidates. There is no evidence that this is true, but it is baked into many recruiters’ formative training. The stigma, however, goes deeper than the recruiting desk. Many hiring authorities will ask recruiters servicing their needs, ‘if he or she is so good, why are they out of work?’ Hiring authorities also need to be educated and set straight; because a candidate is unemployed doesn’t mean they are less qualified.  

An unemployed candidate will appreciate the job more: 

Studies have also shown that candidates who have had to endure being unemployed tend to have higher retention rates. In essence, they appreciate the job more. So, the ideal candidate maybe someone who has all the qualifications you are looking for and has the experience of unemployment. They will not only do the job just as well; they are likely to stay around longer. Recruiters need to understand this paradigm. 


Job Seekers: Be transparent and confident: 

Your job search may be long, tedious, and downright soul-crushing. Unemployment stigma, particularly long-term, is a difficult battle for you to overcome. Here are two key ingredients to help you navigate these tricky waters: 

Transparency: Be ready and prepared to explain why you have been unemployed. Being transparent about it is the best policy. If you come across in an interview as if you are trying to hide or sugarcoat the reason you are unemployed, regardless of how long, that may raise questions in a potential employer’s mind as to whether or not there is more to the story. 

 Be Confident: While many interviewers may focus on gaps in your resume, aside from being as transparent as you can be, you need to get them to refocus on your value and skillset. The energy and enthusiasm you bring to the table should be palpable. Exude Confidence and be ready to talk up your success stories. 

The more educated both employers and job seekers are on the unfounded notion that unemployed candidates are inherently weaker than employed candidates, the more likely this bias will be reduced. I have seen an improvement in the industry over the last few years, but I don’t believe we are there yet. Employers who have this attitude are hurting themselves because they miss out on an excellent pool of candidates; turning their approach around will likely improve the employer’s bottom line. For job seekers, keep the faith, you are no less worthy than an employed candidate, and you need to express this attitude at each interview you secure. 

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