The Unemployed Need Not Apply: How to Work Around a Hiring Bias


It’s an unfortunate fact but some hiring managers have what we call “hiring tendencies.” They might lean towards interviewing workers with at least three years of experience. Maybe they prefer candidates who are in their mid-30s. Or—and this is surprisingly prevalent—they might lean towards hiring candidates who are currently employed. In the minds of these managers, employees who currently have jobs are superior to those who don’t, presumably because:Expiration date

  1.  Someone seems to want them. Borrowing from the culture of Victorian era marriage proposals, if a person has other offers, they must be more valuable.
  2. A currently employed candidate is more comfortable interviewing, and therefore will be less likely to hide his weaknesses or overstate his credentials.

Of course, these managers are overlooking the fact that employed candidates may be more expensive (they have to be coaxed away from their current salaries), less flexible, less willing to accept new training, and less willing to compromise. As a result, managers with a “hiring bias” are overlooking a plethora of qualified, eager, enthusiastic (and yes, unemployed) candidates.

From a job seeker’s point of view, this can be frustrating. A silly presumption might be standing between you and a job you’re qualified for and really want. The question is, how do you work around this bias? How do you reach hiring managers and prove to them that you’re the right person for the job? And lastly, how do you accomplish all of this while overcoming any unfair unemployment stigmas?

Read on and find out.

Find a Way Around Unemployment Bias

Here are four ways to overcome a hiring manager who seems to think you’re “less talented” than candidates who currently have a job:

  1. Use a recruiter. Recruiters (and staffing firms) can win over hiring managers for you before you sit down and interview with them. These people have been hired by the company to source and screen an initial candidate pool and present the final contenders for consideration. They’ve already earned the company’s trust, so if they like you and think you’re a good match, an employer (even a biased employer) may be more open to the possibility.
  2. Play up the rarity of your skillsets. You’re good at the things you do, sure. But in this case, your proficiency level isn’t the strongest card you hold. No matter how great you are at a certain skill, there are always people around you who are better, and in this case, the manager is already concerned that you weren’t quite great enough to satisfy your last employer. So put proficiency to the side for now and focus on rarity. Play up the things you can do that nobody else can. You may be fluent with generic office software, but so is everyone else. So in this case, leave that skill alone and focus on your ability to sooth and win over angry customers.
  3. Focus on your credentials in progress. Instead of dwelling on the fact that you don’t have a full-time job, emphasize the courses you’re taking, the volunteer work you’re doing for a local non-profit group, the open source communities you contribute to, the publications you’ve recently completed, and all the things you’re learning from whatever you’re experiencing right now.
  4. Focus on your words and demeanor during your interview, and don’t confirm your interviewer’s negative expectations, whatever they may be. Keep your attitude positive, your backbone firm, and your explanations brief if you’re asked for details about your unemployed status. Whatever you say on this subject can and will be held against you, so don’t say much. Answer succinctly and then steer the conversation back toward your credentials, talents, and strengths.
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4 thoughts on “The Unemployed Need Not Apply: How to Work Around a Hiring Bias

  1. Pingback: The Unemployed Need Not Apply: How to Work Around a Hiring Bias « Career.BlogNotions - Thoughts from Industry Experts

  2. While I greatly appreciate you addressing this very important topic, I’m confused by this: “… your proficiency level isn’t the strongest card you hold. No matter how great you are at a certain skill, there are always people around you who are better, and in this case, the manager is already concerned that you weren’t quite great enough to satisfy your last employer.”
    Why would you or an employer/hiring manager question someone’s proficiency level and/or assume they weren’t able to satisfy their last employer just bc they’re unemployed when there’re all kinds of reasons – the #1 being the struggling economy – for someone to be unemployed? Thank you!

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    • You’re so right – there are lots of reasons for people to be unemployed, and being laid off puts you in good company, especially during this last recession. My experience has been that most people are extremely risk averse; that is, they prefer to follow the crowd rather than risk breaking new ground. I think that’s especially true in the case of HR managers, whose job it is to make correct judgments about humans they don’t know. The natural inclination is to wonder: “Why was she let go? (If there was a choice between two candidates to lay off, why her?) Why has no one else selected this candidate?” Fear of making the wrong decision sometimes makes managers hesitate.

      Like

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