Did you hear the one about the guy who couldn’t get a job because he was unemployed?
Except that it isn’t a joke for people who find themselves knocked back because an employer believes there is a whiff of failure about someone who isn’t already in work.
This belief, that it is better to hire someone who is already “taken”, has as much validity as the dating equivalent that you are not attractive to anyone until you turn up with a loving boyfriend or girlfriend. It happens, but it is rubbish.
And you would think that in this day and age, when so many good people have been turfed out of their jobs in fairly indiscriminate retrenchments, that everyone would know that your employment status has no bearing on whether you would be a valuable addition to staff.
However, a human resources chief in the UK, Kazim Ladimeji, says there is a widely held belief among employers that employed job applicants are a better proposition than unemployed job applicants.
In a blog for Recruiter.com, Ladimeji, director of The Career Cafe, says some employers have even gone so far as to state in their job advertisements that unemployed candidates will not be considered.
“And as the worrying results from a Bullhorn survey reported in Forbes have revealed, 44 per cent of recruiters questioned suggested that placing a candidate that had been unemployed for two years was the most difficult candidate to place – more difficult than a candidate with a criminal record, even,” he writes.
Among the supportive responses to his blog was one from a recruitment consultant in Germany, who says: “I am yet to make a good experience with an unemployed candidate.”
She says that people do develop skills during their time away from work, but in areas such as IT, it can be hard to keep up with the pace of change once you are out of the job. “I also have a general problem with seeing people who have not worked for longer than six months.”
She says people should put away their pride and plug gaps in their resumes with “some sort of job – even if it is tutoring college students as a part-time substitute”.
Luckily, in Australia, recruitment agency Slade Partners director Anita Ziemer says she has never come across a request to blacklist unemployed applicants.
However, it is still easier to get a job when you already have one, she says, and it could take twice as long for an unemployed person to land a new position.
“This is a difficult topic and I feel deeply for that group of job-seekers. We interview these middle and senior managers, many of whom have had stellar careers and who find themselves at 40-plus suiting up and putting on a positive face when you know behind the veneer they must be greatly burdened with a mortgage and family costs and going to bed each night wondering how long until they get another role,” Ziemer says.
“That said, we regularly see CVs of people who are currently employed, who had a two-year ‘consulting’ gig in the recent past, which is often a euphemism for ‘period out of work’.”
Ziemer says getting a job probably seems harder for unemployed people because the stakes are higher and the pressure builds over the months.
“To manage expectations, for any professional in or out of work, we say allow yourself nine months to get the next right role. Maybe it’s double that for those unemployed, but there’s enough movement in Australia for most people to recirculate – unlike Spain or Greece or parts of the US, where people have seemingly given up.
“On the plus side, being out of work allows you to treat job hunting like a full-time career, which it has to be.”
Some job-seekers who suddenly find themselves out of a formerly secure career have unrealistic expectations about what they are worth in the job market.
“A senior property manager came to see us after he’d taken a [retrenchment] package from a large national retailer. He was on a $700,000 package, which was totally out of kilter with the market, but because he had been with the same major employer for 10 years, his salary had built over time,” Ziemer says.
“He was a good candidate, but not an amazing talent.”
“We couldn’t tell him straight away that he wouldn’t get a role at his previous level, but told him that most of the roles he would be interviewed for would be paying half that salary. He more or less scoffed at that suggestion.
“Anyway . . . guess what? Seven months later he came back and asked what roles were available in the $300,000 to $400,000 range. Sometimes it just takes a person some time to understand the market.”
Kelly Services Australia managing director Karen Colfer says employers who refuse to hire unemployed people are not only acting illegally in their discrimination, but they are also shutting the door on a very talented pool of prospective candidates.
“There are many reasons that lead to a person being listed as unemployed,” she says.
“The person may choose to operate on a contract basis and be between contracts, they may have just been made redundant and decided to take a short sabbatical from the workplace to restore their work/life balance, they may have returned to full-time study to enhance their formal qualifications or they may have simply taken a career break to travel.
“There is absolutely no reason why any of these people should be removed from the list of considered candidates,” Colfer says.
The fact that unemployed people are immediately available to start can make them even more appealing, she says.
With so many people being shed in cost-cutting in recent years, the difference in talent levels between those who have jobs and those who don’t is closer than it has ever been, she says.
Workplace affairs writer Fiona Smith blogs on the HR and career issues that make Australian companies tick at BRW magazine. This article was first published on the BRW magazine website.