The Bias Against The Unemployed

The Bias Against The Unemployed | No BS Job Search Advice

By Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Jack Kelly wrote an article for Forbes. He points out there is a bias against the unemployed—especially long-term unemployed. 

He continues, “The unemployed person is at a disadvantage. The longer time drags on, the more worried and desperate they get. The family is going through their savings. The person goes into the interview not feeling confident. Conversely, a candidate who is currently employed has leverage. They can demand a large premium to switch jobs. Their logic is that it would be nice to get this role and more money, but if the company can’t meet their demands, they have their current role to fall back on. 

When you compare the unemployed person relative to a person who is happy at their job, but seeking a better opportunity, it would seem logical that the company would choose the out-of-work person. They’d be thrilled to get the offer and most likely work very hard to show their appreciation. “

How can people who are in-between roles overcome this bias?


Erin Kennedy wrote, “Long-term unemployed DO feel like they are being punished. I think doing something in the interim makes the person feel less vulnerable and like they have more control. Start that side gig, work p/t somewhere, job search in between.”

Kenneth Lang added, “My suspicion is that many hiring managers don’t want to take a chance on someone who’s out of work, because they think hiring someone who’s working has a better chance of sticking with a company. Wrong on many levels.”

Tara Orchard contributed, “Job seekers need a plan to be and appear professionally engaged during their unemployment. And not advertise they have been fully focused on “looking” for work during the period of unemployment. Indicating their focus was on something positive, professional or personal development, and they have recently identified the job the want to target next can the job seeker sound in control of their careers and job search journey.”

I added:

Having worked as long as I did in recruiting, a person (or a recruiter) has to get past the question, “What’s wrong with this person,” to get the interview. When you have a multi-year gap without explanation, it leaves hiring managers (and HR professionals) to their own imaginations for why the person has been out of work for so long. I want to claim some of the blame for the passive vs active candidate issue also mentioned.

Back in The Stone Ages when the Sunday NY Times was the ad medium of choice, I couldn’t afford to do Sunday advertising at $15 per column line, minimum 3 lines, so I came up with a marketing idea. I would tell firms, “I don’t find a refer the best person who reads the Sunday Times. I find the best person, the one who is too busy doing their job and too well thought of to be out looking. I reach out to these people.” In the early 70’s, it worked like a charm.

Now, I can laugh about it because it is a myth of biblical proportions. After all, if Ed Han is referred to someone by an employee and Jack Kelly or someone in his firm finds them on a job board or because they applied to an ad they posted, is this person an employee referral (good) or an active applicant (bad)?

If this person leaves a position because they are working 90 hours a week (bad) and hasn’t seen their newborn for 6 months (good), what are they?

Explanations are the difference between good and bad people for firms to evaluate, coupled with how they project sincerity and congruence once they start interviewing.

Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2022 



Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with over 2400 episodes.

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