21st Century Alchemy: Long-term unemployed and what they have to offer

“If it says it in my CV, it must be true”
July 24th, 2016 7:00 am| by David Parkins
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I’ve recently been coffee’ing it up with some HR folk from different companies and I’m shocked at the persistent discrimination against hiring people who are unemployed (which means you have to lie or exaggerate on your resumes to even be considered).

Several surveys have highlighted this fact. One by Rand Ghayed and William Dickens showed that employers call back applicants with no relevant experience before skilled candidates who’ve been unemployed for six months or longer. In other words, employers consider the duration of unemployment more than the duration of employment or the relevant experience. If it’s too long, they ditch the resume. This is just idiotic.

Three common mistakes
First, it’s cruel to punish an applicant for being unemployed. As Suzanne Lucas of Inc.com observed, hiring managers are put off if they think candidates need the job, leaving the applicant “in the weird position of having to pretend that they are fabulously wealthy and just want to get a job to get them out of the house for a bit”. It should be okay to need a job, since that’s the reality many, possibly most, jobseekers (including the employed) find themselves attempting to hide.

Second, lay-offs happen and people leave or are let go from their former jobs for various reasons. Prospective employers need to accept that. Unemployed candidates – even those who’ve been fired or have been job-hunting for a long time – aren’t necessarily damaged goods.

Third, a company’s ability to predict the success of any new hire is negligible to low at best. The employer reasons: if the unemployed candidate was any good, someone would have already hired them, right? If you’re concerned, giving new hires an extended tryout is the best way to know if it will work out.

So, if you’ve been unemployed for a while, what specific benefits do you provide a future employer (hint: write these in your cover letter).

You want to work – people who have been out of work really appreciate their job. This makes them work harder with more enthusiasm.

You’re loyal – someone who has wanted to work, but has been unemployed for a long time, is unshakably loyal to the company that took a chance. According to a 2014 White House survey, enterprises that hired the long-term unemployed experienced higher retention rates and reaped the rewards of a more loyal talent base.

You’re motivated – it can be devastating to lose your job, and if you’ve been unemployed for a long time, the fact that you’re still relentlessly searching proves that you’re highly motivated.

You’re resilient – you’ve survived the torture of long-term unemployment, which has meant that you are more than able to meet and beat on-the-job challenges and setbacks.

You’re industrious – this time away from work has not been free! You’ve been developing your career and ideas (maybe even your own company). This proves that you’re both a doer and a self-starter.

You have a fresh network – the dedicated jobseeker has been working hard to strengthen their contact list and a future employer can reap the benefits from all those networking coffees.

You’re a positive influence – because you’re so grateful to be employed again, this positive energy has a direct effect on workplace morale.

You’ve had time to improve skills – some employers fear that the jobless are stale. In some fast-moving industries, this may be true. But resourceful and focused jobseekers have used their time to sharpen current skills or learn new ones and expand their knowledge base.

You have energy and fresh perspectives – instead of being burned out from a crap job that you had to keep, you’re ready and enthusiastic about getting back to work. While away, you’ve had a chance to think about your long-term strategy and how this will positively impact a potential employer.

You’re open-minded and flexible – longtime jobseekers are willing to try anything including a trial period since they’re not risking job security. This means that as an employer, you can sample the goods before buying the product.

You can start immediately – with unemployed candidates there’s no delay in starting as they have no notice periods. In fact, unless relocation is involved, they can usually start the following day.

Questions & Answers


Interview Question
What’s your dream job?

Why they’re asking – when an interviewer asks you about your dream job, most people are inclined to respond with either 1) this job [bullshit and you probably won’t be hired] or 2) another job that is either unrealistic or unrelated to the position you’re applying for. But what they’re trying to uncover is whether this position is really in line with your long-term career direction.
How do you answer – while star athlete, professional dancer, and good worker are either funny or obvious, a better bet is to focus on your growth goals and ambitions and how this opportunity moves you in that direction. Emphasise the type of work environment you are looking for rather than any specific roles or tasks. Take the question seriously and take your time. Be specific and concrete with your examples.

Workplace Question
Our company’s had a really tough time and there has been a lot of lay-offs. My boss worked hard to rehire as many as he could into our sales department. I suggested we send him a card and chip in for a decent gift, but no-one was interested because he has a history of being unkind. So I went out alone, buying him a six-pack of his favourite beer. He never even acknowledged it and my co-workers said: “Told you not to do it” or “You shouldn’t have expected a ‘thank you’.” Why wouldn’t he say thank you? Should I ask him about the items? He hurt my feelings.

An old woman finds a snake half frozen, nurses it back to health and gets bitten for her trouble. “Why?” she asks. “You knew what I was when you picked me up,” says the snake. How much sharper is a thankless boss than a snake’s teeth! If even basic kindness is out of character for him, why would you expect otherwise? In his defence, I too am very uncomfortable with compliments and gifts and never know how to respond when I feel like I’m just doing what anyone else would do. I’m not saying his behaviour is justified or what you did was wrong but a simple note – “I appreciate what you did” – would have left you less invested in getting a response.