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Looking for a Job? Don't Tell Them You're Unemployed

Kylie Ora Lobell

As if being unemployed isn't hard enough.

  • According to research, hiring managers demonstrate prejudice against unemployed candidates.
  • Although unemployment can carry a stigma, it positively affects job seekers, motivating them to put more effort into job searches.
  • Laws in several states prevent discriminatory practices against the unemployed.
  • This article is for job seekers who want to know about unemployment bias and learn tips for finding a job.

As if being unemployed and finding a job weren't hard enough already, research shows that being out of work is the main reason unemployed people aren't getting hired.

Do companies hire unemployed people?

A UCLA study found that companies are less likely to hire unemployed people because personnel hold a bias against them. The prejudice against the unemployed doesn't just apply if someone has been out of work for a while; instead, it can come up even if someone recently quit or lost their job. 

If you are unemployed and looking for your next job, it may be much more complicated than you think to land a new position. 

What the unemployment bias study showed

"We found bias against the jobless among human-resource professionals as well as among the broader public, virtually from the outset of unemployment," said Geoffrey Ho, co-author of the study and a doctoral candidate at the UCLA Anderson School of Management at the time of the study.

The research also found that telling potential employers you were laid off doesn't lessen any bias.

"Those two words by themselves don't elicit any more sympathy than 'left voluntarily,'" Ho said. "What does allay people's bias is some explicit indication that losing your job was not your fault – for example, that the company went bankrupt or suffered some specific setbacks that made layoffs inevitable."

How HR professionals reacted

The findings came from several experimental studies, including one involving human resources professionals.

As a part of the experiment, nearly 50 HR professionals were asked to envision that their companies wanted to hire a marketing manager. Each was provided with resumes that were exactly the same, with one exception: Half of the resumes indicated that the candidate currently held their most recent job, and the other half of the resumes showed the applicant's last day of employment was a month earlier. 

Additionally, a brief profile above the resume stated the applicant's name and job status: employed or unemployed.

The study found that the human resources experts rated the employed candidates significantly higher on both confidence and hireability. 

"Here, we see candidates with strong resumes being substantially penalized for something that may not reflect at all on their ability to contribute to the company," Ho said. "At a time of high unemployment, [employers] would do well to reflect on whether the bias we have identified in this paper may be compromising company efforts to recruit the best people."

Key TakeawayFYI: Small businesses have unique HR issues. Small business HR challenges include finding and keeping the right employees, following compliance guidelines, and developing a competitive benefits package.

Bias not only in HR

Based on an experiment with the general public, the bias against the unemployed reaches much further than those charged with filling jobs.

"Unemployment stigma may be a robust phenomenon that affects people in their everyday interactions and not only when HR professionals are looking at resumes," Ho said.

Furthermore, the study showed that unemployed people must address gaps in their resumes. "Do whatever you can to fill in the gap since your last job with any relevant activities, whether it's continuing your education or doing pertinent volunteer work or anything else that may enhance your qualifications for the job in question," Ho advised.

Did you know?Did you know? When you're applying for a job, some of the personality traits that can get you hired include being a multitasker, a strategist, an independent thinker and a cautious person.

How do you get a job if you're unemployed?

The good news is that feeling the stigma of unemployment actually increases the chances of finding a new job, according to a 2019 study published in the Journal for Labour Market Research. Partly because of this stigma, many unemployed people put a lot of time and effort into finding a new job.

To find a job when you're unemployed, consider these pointers: 

  • Focus your job search. Don't apply broadly, even if you're stressed about unemployment. Search job boards for positions, and consider only the jobs that fit your qualifications and salary requirements. Some job boards are industry specific. 

  • Network with other job seekers. Expand your professional network by connecting with others on LinkedIn, and reach out to former colleagues to see if they know of any relevant openings. 

  • Use your time wisely. Use the unemployment period to take personal development courses, volunteer or get hired for temporary projects. Then, add all of this to your resume to show that you're interested in career development.

  • Check for resume mistakes. Some common resume mistakes can give the wrong impression, while others are dealbreakers. Proof your resume for inconsistencies, delete irrelevant work experience, trim the fluff, be specific about job dates, and make sure the proper items stand out.

TipTip: Some resume-writing tips are to keep it short and direct, use your own original resume template, and list your social media profiles.

How long does it take to find a job when you're unemployed?

The time it takes to find a new job during unemployment varies from person to person. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average length of unemployment is 22 weeks as of January 2020.

Numerous factors influence how quickly people find employment. The current job climate and economy impact the availability of open positions. These circumstances are beyond job seekers' control. However, being flexible with job location and salary ranges can help you secure a new position sooner.

Historically, companies prefer to hire job candidates who are already gainfully employed. Hiring managers may have a preconception that if you were terminated from your last job, you are at fault and thus not a good employee. 

For almost 10 years, there have been attempts to pass federal laws to stop discrimination against the unemployed. Several states have passed legislation to protect the unemployed from discriminatory practices by employers. New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., have laws prohibiting employers from discriminating against candidates based on current employment status.

Although obtaining a job when you're unemployed has challenges, you can secure a new position by putting in the time and effort.

Chad Brooks contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Kylie Ora Lobell
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Kylie Ora Lobell is a business and human resources writer who has written for LegalZoom, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), WeWork, Mastercard, and Visa. Additionally, she creates marketing content for law firms and covers personal finance topics. She has been published in New York Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.