Employment discrimination or job market reality?

On June 16, 2010, CNN Money published this article online – Looking for work? unemployed need not apply. The gist of the article is increasingly recruiters and companies are dismissing blankly any applicant who is currently unemployed.  Some companies openly say this in their job postings and many do not but do this as a practice in their screening process.

Is this employment discrimination? According to the article, legally no, although many companies removed this part in their job postings when reporters began to call to ask them to comment.  Unfortunately, I think this is the reality of today’s job market.  There are still too many applicants sending in resumes for one job opening – anywhere from 3 to 30+ people usually compete for one job.  This is a swift way to narrow down their top candidates.  Logically, it makes sense since if someone is employed, some other company already vouches that this person is employable and is valuable to another company.  There are two types of unemployed – those with performance issues and those who are top notch but was caught by the bad market.  Unfortunately, it is very hard in a resume or interviews to distinguish the two.   I believe recruiters and companies will increasingly use this factor in screening candidates.  Do you think this is unfair?

What can you do if you are currently out of work? This trend really does suck for the currently unemployed.  You can try to fight it legally, but that would be a waste of effort, I think.  You can choose to get more depressed about your job prospects – also unhelpful and demotivating.  Or you can accept the reality and start to strategize how to make it easy for recruiters/ companies to distinguish you as the top notch segment of the unemployed.   Here are a few tips.

  • Explain your job gaps in resume and/or cover letter – many have asked me whether they should explain job gaps in their resume or cover letter.  Given this article, I would say definitely yes, but you need to test what kind of explanation works and how to best phrase it.   Get feedback from friends and recruiters.   If you quit your last job, I would probably state that and explain why.  If you have done something meaningful while being unemployed – Volunteered for a non-profit, traveled/lived in foreign countries,  started and failed in a new start-up – that could be interesting.
  • Work for free in your field for a company – It’s a way to entice companies to try you out as well as a way to learn new skills or keep existing skills fresh.  When you are free, it offsets some of the risks of them hiring the wrong person and they may just give you a shot.  Think of this as a longer term interview process or a way to show future companies you spent your unemployed time on building more skills.    See my post on Radical Ways to Find a Job for details.
  • Find job openings through personal connections – Network, network, network.  If you are top notch, unemployed, and your friend referred you to a job opening, then his or her referral could counter the effects of you being currently unemployed and the recruiter can take their word that you are worth interviewing.  Be aware though that whoever is referring you is putting their reputation on the line for you, so be considerate.  If someone is not okay doing it, don’t push and don’t get mad.  It’s a big favor to ask and you need to be gracious in accepting their decision either way.  For more about networking, see my other posts on how to network
  • Apply for lower-level jobs – If you haven’t started broaden your search already, I would start – look for areas you have skills in but may not be your first choice or look for lower level job.  You cannot go too low since employers would be worried about you leaving or the fact why you are competing with college grads when you have 6 years of experience.  But looking for jobs that require 3-5 years of experience is reasonable in this example.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to be creative in the job search process and stand out.  Hope these tips can help.  Good luck out there!

– Lei

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