Why Recruiters Can Lead the Charge Against the Unemployment Stigma

October 29, 2020

woman sitting at table with her computer smiling at the camera

The world of hiring has changed a ton over the last two decades. We have gone from paper resumes in file cabinets to LinkedIn profiles and applicant tracking systems. Newspaper ads to job boards and search engine optimization. Personnel files to HRIS systems. Major shifts in the areas of diversity, training, assessments, bias all have led our industry forward in very meaningful ways, although there is still a long way to go. Throw in a global epidemic the likes of which we have never seen and it’s safe to say a lot has changed – now and perhaps forever.

Most of the changes we’ve seen have come from new technologies and good intentions. The focus on being human and empathetic while adapting these technologies is a welcome and much needed change to an industry that for years had been criticized for a lack of empathy.

Yet here comes the record scratch: For all we have done, one thing has not changed: I’ve observed that many recruiters still have a deep-rooted preference for what we term “the passive candidate.” In recent years, this strong preference has gone from one of several sourcing strategies to the preferred sourcing strategy at most companies. From what I have seen, there seems to be a formula many recruiters use when screening candidates: 

  • Formula #1 – employed + not looking for a job = AWESOME
  • Formula #2 – not currently employed + looking for a job = not awesome
  • Formula #3 – currently employed + looking for a job = OK, but not as good as #1

The underlying theme is that if a candidate is actively looking and unemployed, they are less desirable than the candidate who is already employed. And job seekers are aware of this attitude – according to a new LinkedIn survey, 84% of Americans believe this is a negative stigma associated with unemployment and 67% believe this stigma is affecting their ability to get hired. 

As someone who has been in the TA space for some time (I had hair once and it was glorious), this is an incredibly frustrating and confusing thought process. I am fortunate to have worked with companies, including in my current role at EQRx, who see the ridiculousness of all of this. But the unfortunate truth is that the above formulas are still used by some. 

But even during COVID-19, when talent is more abundant and available due to no fault of their own in most situations, the automatic knee jerk reaction is to still have the preference for the formula of employed = good, not employed = not so good. Call me crazy, but what if instead of chasing the same people, we made the pool significantly deeper by giving people who are unemployed a fair shot?

For companies that consider hiring a high priority, why wouldn’t you want to expand your pool of talent available to you? Why wouldn’t you consider a candidate who is actively looking for a job? There is likely a good reason why someone might have left a job or been let go from a job – especially during a global pandemic. The thing we have failed as an industry to truly recognize is that talent, drive and skills are what truly matters. Every person has their own unique story, and that story is not limited by dates of tenure on a resume or how this person came to be known to your organization. Some of the best hires I have made over my career were not the coveted passive candidates but rather people most companies would have overlooked because of either not being currently employed or because they made the fatal mistake of applying for the job as opposed to being "sourced".

The good news is, it seems like the stigma against unemployed people is diminishing during the pandemic. According to the same LinkedIn survey mentioned above, 96% of hiring managers would hire a candidate who was laid off due to the pandemic. 

After all, the end game any company wants is a good pool of people to assess and choose from to find the best possible candidates for their roles and company. So it makes sense for recruiters and hiring managers to be open to people who truly want to work for them and don’t need to be “wooed” or lured by big comp increases? As recruiters we all need to do our fair share of “courting,” but to think of the candidates who find your company attractive and are actively interested in your openings as less than those who don’t is just about one of the silliest things ever.

I’ll be leading a LinkedIn Live discussion on this topic today, Oct. 29th at 11am PT | 2pm ET. I hope to see you there!

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