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

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  • Hiring managers demonstrate prejudice against unemployed candidates.
  • Although unemployment can carry a stigma, it has a positive effect on job seekers: It motivates them to put more effort into their job searches.
  • Laws in several states prevent discriminatory practices against the unemployed.

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.

A 2018 study published in the journal  found strong evidence of hiring bias against the unemployed.

While it has long been argued that discrimination against the jobless occurs only after people have been out of work for a lengthy period, 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 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."

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

As a part of the experiment, nearly 50 human resources professionals were asked to envision that their companies wanted to hire a marketing manager. Each was provided with résumés that were exactly the same, with one exception: Half of the résumés indicated that the candidate currently held their most recent job, and the other half of the résumés 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 candidates significantly higher on both confidence and hirability. [10 Personality Types Most Likely to Get Hired]

"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 the experiment of the general public, the bias against the unemployed reaches much farther than those charged with filling jobs, Ho said.

"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.

In addition, the study showed that people who are unemployed must address gaps in their résumés, Ho said.

"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 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. Because of this stigma, many people who are unemployed place a very high value on regaining employment. As a result, they are motivated to put more time and effort into finding a new job.

To find a job when you're unemployed, you need to focus your job search on relevant opportunities. Don't apply broadly, even if you're stressed over not being employed. Search job boards and LinkedIn for positions, and consider only the jobs that fit your qualifications and salary requirements. Network with other job seekers to help find the right job for you.

The next step is to revamp your résumé. Filling in the gaps doesn't mean padding your résumé. Note meaningful experience to explain your period of unemployment. Use the unemployment period to take personal development courses, volunteer or get hired for temporary projects.

The length of 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 impacts the availability of open positions. These circumstances are beyond job seekers' control. However, being flexible with the 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 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 on the basis of current employment status.

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

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.