As of January 2014, 2.6 million people were unemployed for 1 year or more, with an average unemployment period of 37 weeks. That’s a significant amount of time during which it is possible that skills can rust or become outdated, which is the first concern cited by hiring managers and recruiters for not hiring unemployed candidates.
Generally, companies don’t lay off their top people, so if someone is indeed unemployed for a length of time, does that signal performance issues? In times such as these, many companies are forced to let go of their top talent in order to save their bottom line. There are many scenarios that could lead to a long gap in job history. For example, if a top performer is laid off in a specialized field and is unable to relocate for a new opportunity, it may prove difficult to find a new position, resulting in long-term unemployment.
You’re Unemployed Because You’re Unemployed
Interestingly, some job postings openly state, “Must be currently employed.” This seems to outwardly discriminate against those who have been on the sidelines for any length of time at all. President Obama has asked that companies remove this verbiage from their postings in order to level out the playing field—at least in terms of job postings. That doesn’t mean that there still isn’t some discrimination behind the scenes, intentional or not. As of July 2013, 9 states have passed legislation to prevent discrimination against those who have been unemployed for over 1 year (the long-term unemployed).
With no question that discrimination takes place, many people are left wondering what they can do to overcome these circumstances. There’s no doubt that there are passionate, and available candidates searching for jobs. The questions that arise on the part of companies are primarily those of motivation and current skill set. Often, those unemployed for long stretches lose the fire and passion they had earlier on in their job search. This means that professional networks are neglected and skills sit dormant at a time when they could be strengthened. Even if someone isn’t “working,” they still need to be “working.” As time goes by, it’s important to show that there is still a strong desire to be in the candidate’s chosen profession. Continuing on in a focused job search and building strong network connections while maintaining industry knowledge demonstrates just that.
Smart companies know that good employees know other good employees and, as a result, often rely on referrals and networking to find the best fit for their positions. Case in point, Zappos‘s recent move from traditional job postings to Zappos Insider-only networking – an internal recruiting program . Unfortunately, the longer someone is unemployed, the more discouraged they become, which may lead to them not keeping up with their network, missing out on ripe opportunities. In an already disadvantaged position, this can be the kiss of death when it comes to gaining re-employment.
There is Hope
A recent study showed that people who have been unemployed for over 6 months get 45% fewer interview calls than those who have been out of work for only 1 month. In January 2014, CEOs from 300 different businesses including such heavy hitters as Apple, Disney, and eBay signed a pledge not to deny interviews to candidates simply because they haven’t been employed long-term. Companies like Xerox claim to already be giving strong consideration to the long-term unemployed before signing the pledge themselves. However, there are many more companies who, intentionally or not, are still holding the long-term unemployed candidates back from interviewing. This leads to some of the more tenacious job seekers to look for creative ways to hide their length of unemployment. One of the most popular methods is the years-only format for resume work history. Recruiters know this tactic well and this format is usually a red flag that something is being hidden. Others, more wisely, call out their volunteer experience and professional development to demonstrate their passion for their industry and desire to keep their skills fresh. This is certainly the better tactic of the two.
The effects of long-term unemployment on the individual are serious. People who are unemployed are much more likely to struggle with anxiety and depression. Sadly, aside from these emotional effects, there are also some very tangible consequences – lower re-employment wages and a perceived or real loss of skills. This means that, in an already downtrodden emotional state, the long-term unemployed need to work even harder to prove that they are a viable applicant for a position.
Despite the negativity surrounding long-term employment, it’s imperative that those in such a position remember that, like every rough patch, the situation is temporary and they must press forward, maintain their network, and find ways to keep their skills relevant through volunteer work and professional development. It’s easy to slip off into other pursuits and become accustomed to unemployment, which means that those who show strong initiative are going to be that much more attractive to employers.
Tell me your unemployment story, and maybe I can help give you some advice in the comment section below!