A new study shows that the unemployed are discriminated against in the job market. Here is what you should do now

By Jack J. Kelly 

As an Executive Recruiter for over 20 years, I’ve noticed an obvious pattern of discrimination against job seekers who don’t currently have a job.

Like most people, when you notice something, you file it away in your mind and continue on with your life. We don’t conduct surveys, immediately call the authorities, or devote our lives to proving these theories (especially if you’re like me and constantly have a new conspiracy or off-the-wall theory at least five times a day).

In this case, a recent survey was conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Columbia Business School which found that unemployed job hunters are at a significant disadvantage compared to their peers who are already holding a job.

The research concluded that people who are currently employed received job offers with wages 48% higher on average than the offers extended to unemployed workers. Additionally, 63% of the offers received by unemployed individuals come without any benefits versus just 40% for employed workers.

The data reflects the bias of companies against unemployed job seekers compared to their employed counterparts in the job hunt.  Since someone without a job is likely more motivated to accept a position, almost 50% of unemployed individuals accepted the offer they had received in the prior month. Employed people are able to wait for the best offer and accepted 29.6% of the time. With respect to negotiations, about 40% of employed workers said their job offers involved bargaining, while only approximately 25% of unemployed negotiated.

This may have been news to the Federal Reserve Bank and Columbia Business School in their ivory towers. In the real world, I’ve seen this on a daily basis.  While there have been great strides forward to protect certain classes of people from prejudices, the unemployed have been largely ignored.

Like all types of discrimination, people rarely admit to their biases. They use code words or excuses. With the unemployed, particularly among the long-term unemployed, the discrimination is blatant and out in the open. Hiring managers feel that if a person has been out of work for a certain amount of time, there has to be a problem. “Why didn’t someone pick this guy up by now?” they actually say. It is a similar mindset in dating. If you meet an eligible single person in their late 30’s or 40’s who have not been married and still single, your friends and family become concerned and start asking questions. The guy is very good looking, polite and nice, so what’s wrong with him? Is he a psycho ax-murderer? This holds true with the unemployed. Hiring managers ask if there is some sort of issue surrounding the candidate. Since nobody else hired the person, they will surmise that surely there must be a problem.  The guy has to be a mess or did something wrong. Thank you, but no thank you; I don’t want to take the risk.

Interestingly, also similar to dating, you tend to want what someone else has. If he has a girlfriend, then he must be special. If he is single, what’s wrong? So it goes with hiring. If she is working at a good firm, then she is desirable. If she is unemployed for a length of time, we are not interested.

With this in mind, it makes sense why offers will be lower when given to the unemployed. First, the company feels that they will minimize their possible risk by paying a smaller salary. Secondly, if the candidate is not working, the company does not have to offer a premium because they don’t need to worry about a counter-offer from their current firm.

When it comes to negotiations, an employed person is coming from a place of strength. They currently have a job; maybe they’re not in love with it, but the boss is not kicking them out the door. Therefore, they have the luxury of turning down an offer that isn’t exciting and enticing. An unemployed person senses the prejudice, is likely eating into their savings, worrying about the prospect of procuring a job, and will jump at the offer to lock-in something. They won’t negotiate as hard on the salary and benefits since they don’t want to do anything to jeopardize getting the job. Conversely, an employed person will negotiate because they know they still have a job to fall back on if this offer doesn’t work out.

Since the study confirms what I’ve always surmised, let’s plan what to do for the unemployed. There are ways to help deal with and combat this problem.

  • Do something, anything, to show that you have been actively engaged during the time off. Go back to school, write a book, do charity work, travel; something that fills the gap in employment and reflects that you are still viable.
  • Ensure your social media profiles reflect that you are still relevant, vital, respected by your peers, and engaged in activities.
  • Continue networking, so that you are not forgotten by your colleagues and associates.
  • Actively engage on LinkedIn.
  • Continue sending out resumes.
  • Open your vistas to other types of jobs that your skill set may crossover to.
  • Meet recruiters face-to-face, so that they view you as a real person.
  • Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed about your situation. This happens to more people than you realize.
  • Feel comfortable sharing the reasons why you are not working.
  • Update yours skills, particularly in the technology and social media space.
  • Volunteer in your community.
  • Consider a different career path.
  • Go to the gym.
  • Learn to let go of the anger and resentment.
  • Obtain new credentials.
  • Practice your interviewing skills, so that you don’t come across desperate.
  • Make sure that you have plenty of references that will counter any prejudices against your unemployed status.
  • Return to school.
  • Don’t give up!

 I will not pretend that doing the above is easy or will open-up all the doors. It is more about building a successful mindset. In addition to this small list, you will need to do everything in your power to keep mentally, physically, and emotionally fit. You should also fill-up your day to keep a routine and have interesting items for your resume. Most importantly, you need to network your butt off and keep pushing and striving until you are back up and running with a great, new job.

The ultimate goal should be that you can look back on this time period and say, “It was the best thing that happened to me because look where I am now!”



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