Scary…but true. Job seekers tell me they have been told that being unemployed was a reason for being eliminated from the process. And within the last year, a job ad got a lot of press for specifying that “…the unemployed need not apply.” Ahhh!! In a good economy, there is an assumption that those who are out of work were not good performers. However, it is hard to understand why this bias remains true in a tough economy when so many top performers are out on the street as well. So, I recently chatted with several local recruiters to ask about this bias and what can job seekers do about it.
Recruiters responded employers have a preference for the employed. Some companies feel that those who are employed “made the cut,” so they must be more valuable than those who were downsized. According to Rachel Evans, Managing Partner, AgentHR Recruiting Group, employers are also legitimately concerned that someone who is unemployed is a “flight risk.” They worry that a desperate job seeker may accept a position if they have been unemployed for quite some time, and accept a job since it is a “paycheck” to them. That is, the job will help with their current financial difficulties, but the job or company are not really a good fit, and the job seeker will flee when a better position comes along.
So, if you are not employed, how can you overcome such biases out there? One thing you can do is to demonstrate that you are not just sitting around unemployed by getting involved in some type of work or professional activity. See if you can obtain temporary work – especially if it is related to your field. You can also try to get involved in various professional activities – this can be taking courses, earning a relevant certification, or becoming involved in a professional association and contributing to their committees and needs. These efforts should be noted on the résumé and in your cover letter to demonstrate that you are currently involved.
In submitting your résumé, the most important thing you can do is to be sure your resume stands out and matches job-specific keywords, according to Lynn Parker, CPC and Director of Talent/CEO of Guy-Parker and Associates. Lynn says that most employers are relying on applicant tracking systems (ATS) that search for keywords most closely matching their job description. She recommends that candidates (1) select positions that are relevant and match your skills (2) ensure your résumé includes keywords that reflect your skills (3) tailor your résumé and cover letter to the keywords of the job ad or position description. Lynn also cautions that you check to be sure that your cover letter is addressing the position you are applying for and that all names are correctly addressed to the right person or company.
Another thing Rachel recommends for most unemployed candidates is not to go the route of 3rd party recruiters, except for contract assignments. They are better off targeting the in-house recruiters. If companies are to take the chance on someone unemployed, they certainly would be reluctant to pay an agency fee. In addition, sometimes accepting contract work, even with a lower salary and no benefits, could be a ticket into a permanent position within a company. If you are somewhat venturesome, you might want to consider some form of entrepreneurship–just be careful of scams out there (you can check via the BBB and sites like “ripoffreport.com.”)
In terms of your job search plan, Lynn advises that you avoid getting overwhelmed by setting priorities. Take some time to rethink your goals, identify companies that you want to work for, and do your networking to get to the right people. All agree that social media, like LinkedIn, provide excellent tools to support a job search with effective networking capabilities. Participating in discussions on LinkedIn groups, can give you exposure and demonstrate your knowledge…..so that eventually, employers and recruiters may start coming after you!