Discrimination Against the Unemployed

A reader named Susan left an interesting comment on Never Hire an MBA. She doesn’t like the article, but what I found interesting was this part of her comment:

Are you familiar with discrimination laws, well although there is not currently a discrimination law that would protect individuals from potential employers from discriminating against individuals who are unemployed, I am proud to say that I am one of thousands who have signed a petition against little minded people who discriminate against the unemployed.

I hadn’t heard of this before, but after a little research I found that some employers are including requirements in their job postings that basically say, “we only consider job candidates who are currently employed.”  Some people are upset about this because they feel it discriminates against people who don’t have a job–which it obviously does.

Why would you do this?

So why would a company do this? Well if you were wanting to hire someone and knew that you’d get hundreds of applications, wouldn’t you want to restrict those applications to the pool of people who would statistically be best for the job? Lets say you have 1,000 workers who all have identical skill sets.  Half of them have a job and half were fired 9 months ago.  If you randomly choose someone from the first group and randomly choose someone from the second group who do you think has a better chance of being a good hire?  Lets say you repeat the experiment 100 times. Do you think you’d get a higher percentage of good hires from the employed group or the unemployed group?

Now regardless of what you think will happen, some HR departments think their chances would be a bit better with the employed group.   If you have 1,000 employees, an excellent employee appraisal system and suddenly needed to let half of them go, would the people you lay off be random?  Probably not. You’d try to let people go who are least tied to your ability to make profit.  That doesn’t mean that they are all bad workers. If Sue’s expertise is in project X and you are about to cancel X, you’d probably let her go before you let Bob go who works on Z where Z is your main money maker.  But you’d also let go people who aren’t as productive, who show up late, who are harder to work with, etc. Another reason employers might do this is because they realize that job skills can get out of date very quickly. Since a lot of people have been out of work for a long time, they may feel more comfortable concentrating on people who are currently employed.

So HR departments figure they would rather hire the workers that other employers can’t do with out–not because they think everyone in the unemployed pool is a bad worker, but just because they think that their chances of randomly getting a good worker from the employed pool are better. Is it fair to a particular individual? No. Is it completely irrational? Not as irrational as other decisions HR makes. Besides HR may be admitting that they have very little ability to do their jobs and find good job candidates. If they are going to select a job candidate at random, they better try to do it in a way that increases their odds.

What can you do about this?

If you are unemployed, what can you do about this?  Well you can do try to find some petition to sign, but there are more productive options.  Here is what I would do:

  1. Take any job – Find a job where you will learn something and take it as a learning experience. I’ve always wanted to work for McDonalds for a few weeks just to see how their systems are organized. It wouldn’t make any financial sense from a salary perspective, but from a learning perspective I think it would be fascinating. You could get a job selling cars or doing some form of direct customer service. The idea is to build your skills by doing something.  Now the problem with this approach is that unemployment seems to help people more if they wait for a high paying job.  It basically introduces an artificial element into the employment process that keep people from going out and getting any job just to stay working, but that is an issue best addressed in a different post.
  2. Volunteer – The next option would be to volunteer somewhere. Keep yourself on a schedule where you have to get up in the morning and go somewhere to do some type of work. If you are on unemployment, society is basically paying you a salary so do your best to contribute back while keeping yourself busy doing something. At the very least, volunteering will help make sure you are out meeting people and the best way to get a job is always going to be through someone you know.
  3. Contribute Online – This is similar to volunteering, but getting involved in online community projects can be another great option.  If you code, you can program for an open source project. You can help open source projects with their documentation, test for bugs, write up meeting notes, etc.
  4. Learn – Read the top 10 books in your field that you haven’t had a chance to read. Take an online class or work toward a certificate or citation program or get started on some type of masters degree in your field. Look for things that are quantifiable that you can put on your resume.
  5. Blog – Write about stuff in your field. You can review the top books about the area where you want to get a job. You can do interviews with people in your field and post them on your blog.

The point is, don’t be lazy. There are hundreds of things you could be doing to take advantage of the time you have when you get laid off–things that will significantly improve your chances in the job market.

Maybe the policy of not interviewing people who don’t currently have a job is a reaction to dealing with hundreds of applicants who have been unemployed for the last 6 months and have simply been sitting at home watching television. I bet there wouldn’t be anyone making policies like that if everyone followed those five steps mentioned above. If you want to stand out in a job interview, make sure you have been doing things that show you are motivated and not lazy–even when you aren’t employed.

Personal Development

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