It’s long been HR’s dirty little secret: the unemployed don’t always get a fair shake at the interview table. This notion was explored on NPR’s Talk of the Nation program in a segment titled The Hard Truth: Companies Don’t Hire Unemployed. It’s something human resources professionals would not care to admit but it exists: there’s a negative bias towards the unemployed job applicant.
The “secret” has been brought right into the light of day. Now, some companies are broadcasting their bias overtly: if you’re unemployed, don’t bother sending a resume. As if being unemployed wasn’t bad enough, out-of-work people can add “discrimination” to their list of woes. And so far, it’s perfectly legal.
According to the EEOC, there is a trend in publicly advertised job postings: some employers and staffing agencies now specifically state that “only employed candidates need apply.” So far, the only state that outlaws this practice is New Jersey. The EEOC is investigating the trend to determine not only its scope, but its legality. For now, it’s perfectly legal for prospective employers to screen via a person’s employment status.
It’s this kind of candidate selection practice that gives Scott Adams fuel for Catbert the Evil HR Manager. To my way of thinking, it may be legal to screen via a candidate’s employment status, but is it moral? Isn’t there any room left for the “human” in the human resources field? Is it truly necessary to kick a person when he’s down due to unemployment? We can all tell stories of perfectly competent people, who, through no fault of their own, are currently without a job.
Many will make the case that the longer a person is out of a job, the less “fresh” their job skills are. The NPR article cites professionals in the IT and Sales fields as two examples where evidently, people’s skills decay as quickly as last week’s lettuce.
I don’t buy that line of thinking. While it’s true that technology changes rapidly, people can learn rapidly too. Furthermore, people have many skills that never get old—strong work ethic, creativity, teamwork—to name a few. To screen out a candidate before she even has a chance to articulate what’s she’s been doing during her unemployed status is ridiculous. It robs the employer of a potentially qualified candidate—one that is likely to be grateful to have a job and ready to give her all.
The only thing that screening for employment will do is decrease (by a fraction) the number of resumes on a recruiter’s or HR manager’s desk. In itself, unemployment is not necessarily a predictor of successful future employment. In order to determine how good a fit the applicant’s skills will be, someone needs to first talk with him or her. This conversation can’t happen if job seekers are banned from applying in the first place.
What do you think—is the practice of screening for unemployment truly a trend on the rise? Or, is it just a blip in the recruiting landscape that’s being driven by high unemployment?
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