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Updated Oct 23, 2023

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

Hiring bias against unemployed people looking for work continues to exist. Here's how to get around it.

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
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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. Research into this hiring bias began in the late 2000s and early 2010s, and present-day studies reveal it’s still an obstacle. 

If you’re an unemployed job seeker, you may face unexpected challenges and complications. We’ll explore hiring bias and what you need to do to get the job, no matter your current employment circumstances. 

Did You Know?Did you know
It can also be challenging to get a job with no experience. Recent college graduates can get a job by highlighting their leadership roles, academic projects, internships and extracurricular activities.

Do companies hire unemployed people?

Two studies – one recent and one old – suggest that, historically, companies are less likely to hire unemployed people. Here are the fundamentals of these studies.

2011 UCLA study about looking for work while unemployed

An oft-cited 2011 UCLA study found that companies are less likely to hire unemployed people due to bias. The prejudice against the unemployed doesn’t just apply if someone has been out of work for a while; it can come up even if someone recently quit or lost their job.

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

These findings came from several experimental studies, including one involving HR professionals. As a part of the experiment, nearly 50 HR professionals were asked to envision their companies hiring 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, while the other half 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 HR experts rated the employed candidates significantly higher on both confidence and hireability.

The study also revealed that unemployed people must address resume gaps to be seriously considered for a position.

2021 Indeed study

The trends UCLA identified in 2011 continued 10 years later, according to the job search site Indeed. Indeed’s 2021 study examined 500 people looking for work and 599 employers. Results revealed there was bias against unemployed people looking for a job.

This bias starts with perception. Of the 500 people looking for work, 77% believed that work is easier to find when you already have it. Among employers, 83% felt the same. Additionally, 70% of people in hiring positions believed that an unemployed person would make a less productive employee.

That said, the hiring managers Indeed surveyed ultimately remained open to interviewing unemployed job candidates. Specifically, 74% of hiring managers said they’d hire unemployed candidates – but only if they briefly addressed their unemployment during their job interviews.

Indeed also found that, for most unemployed people, there was an end to their time without work. Among unemployed job seekers, 15% found new work within a month. Another 26% found work within one to three months, with 20% finding work within four to six months. Some 15% of people waited six to 12 months for new work, with 13% waiting over a year. 

However, all these groups were ultimately employed, even if their journey took time.

Did You Know?Did you know
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 more 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. Add all of this to your resume to show you’re interested in professional development.
  • Check your resume for mistakes. Some common resume mistakes can give the wrong impression, while others are dealbreakers. Age-proof your resume by deleting irrelevant work experience and highlighting recent jobs. Proof your resume for inconsistencies, trim the fluff, be specific about job dates, and ensure the proper items stand out.
  • Ensure your social media presence is professional. While job searching in the digital age, you’ll check out potential employers on sites like LinkedIn and Indeed. However, potential employers may also be conducting social media screenings to understand who you are. Ensure your social presence is professional and engaging.
  • Hone your interviewing skills. Make the most of any interviews by sharpening your interview skills. For example, clarify interview questions if you’re unsure, and be mindful of your presence and aware of your body language. 
TipTip
For the best results, keep your resume short and direct, use an original resume template, and list your social media profiles. See more tips for creating a great resume.

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 22.3 weeks as of June 2022.

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 many years, there have been attempts to pass federal laws to stop unemployment discrimination. 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.

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

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
Max Freedman has spent nearly a decade providing entrepreneurs and business operators with actionable advice they can use to launch and grow their businesses. Max has direct experience helping run a small business, performs hands-on reviews and has real-world experience with the categories he covers, such as accounting software and digital payroll solutions, as well as leading small business lenders and employee retirement providers. Max has written hundreds of articles for Business News Daily on a range of valuable topics, including small business funding, time and attendance, marketing and human resources.
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