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It’s easier to get a new job when you already have a job. We all intuitively know this to be true, but why is that the case?

If you ask recruiters and hiring managers why they don’t hire individuals who are unemployed when they apply for a role, it’s usually because they’re basing their decision on some preconceived notions and biases:

  • If you’ve been fired from one job, there must be something wrong with you.
  • If you quit without a new job lined up, you must not be a dedicated employee.
  • If you stayed at home with your kids, you’ll always be running out the door early.
  • If you were out for health reasons, you’ll get sick again.

In reality, most of these reasons are excuses for hiring managers to avoid critically evaluating all applicants and opting instead for the easy route. Ultimately, hiring managers prefer to recruit and hire employed versus unemployed candidates simply because they assume someone else already evaluated them, hired them and values their work enough to keep them.

But this is not a good reason to overlook the currently unemployed. This mentality can cause you to miss out on a great employee who could be unemployed for a number of completely valid and understandable reasons. Sure, some people lose their jobs because they’re bad workers, but more often than not it’s layoffs, medical problems or the need for child care that can cause someone to lose or leave their job.

Three Ways to Get More Open-Minded About How You Hire

What can you do to make sure your unconscious biases don’t keep you from hiring the best person for the job, even if he or she is currently unemployed?

1) Seek—Don’t Avoid—the Unemployed   

It’s a tight labor market right now with a relatively low unemployment rate. This is great for the economy, but tough for recruiters. Try adding a note to your job description that says, “People who are currently unemployed are encouraged to apply,” so you can reach people who were nervous about filling out the application. Then, if an unemployed individual applies, interview them! Don’t focus on why they are unemployed — but do ask. Chances are you’ll learn that their current situation is a result of an unfortunate circumstance or a personal choice, rather than previously poor job performance.

2) Consider the Value of Personal Experience

You may be tempted to exclude a stay-at-home-mom or dad for a job because they’ve been out of the workforce for ten years, but this is a missed opportunity. Rather than dwelling on skills they’ll need to catch up on or learn, ask instead about their strengths and what they’ve learned about themselves over the years. Someone with the right attitude and history of success will get up to speed quickly and could bring a passion or desire to learn that you might not find in a worker who hasn’t had any time away from a nine to five.

3) Have Some Compassion

You could be the next person to get laid off. Your mother could break her hip and not recover well, and you’ll need to take two years off to take care of her. You could have a baby and want to stay home. And someday, in each of these scenarios, you may want to return to work. Look at the candidate as a whole— not just the past few years.

Hiring is hard, but excluding a large group of qualified people because they are currently unemployed makes it even harder. Beat out your competitors by looking for the best candidate— not only the most obvious one.

Image: Creative Commons