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

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

As if finding a job isn't hard enough when unemployed, new research shows that simply being out of work — and not lack of skills or expertise — is the reason many aren't getting hired.

The study, which will be presented at next month's annual meeting of the Academy of Management, found strong evidence of bias against the unemployed from those who hire.

While it has long been argued that discrimination against the jobless occurs only after being out of work for a lengthy period of time, the research revealed that the prejudice starts almost immediately.

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

The study also found that saying they were laid off doesn't lessen the stigma for the unemployed.

"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."

The findings were the result of several experimental studies, including one involving human resource professionals.

As part of the experiment, nearly 50 human resource professionals were asked to envision that their companies wanted to hire a marketing manager. Each was provided with résumés exactly the same, except that half indicated the candidate's most recent job to the present, while the others showed the applicant's last day of employment was a month earlier. In addition, a brief profile above the résumé stated the applicant's name and job status — "employed" or "unemployed."

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

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"Here we see candidates with strong résumés 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, as at present, 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."

Based on their experiment of the general public, Ho said the bias against the unemployed reaches much further than just 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 résumés," Ho said.

The study shows the unemployed must be aware of résumé gaps, according to Ho.

"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," he said.

The study, “The Psychological Stigma of Unemployment: When Joblessness leads to Being Jobless," was co-authored by Margaret Shih and Daniel J. Walters of UCLA Anderson and Todd Lowell Pittinsky of Stony Brook University.

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Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.