Experiences in hiring the long-term unemployed

If you’re even half as interested in employment statistics as I am, you’ve no doubt seen variations of the effects of long-term unemployment on one’s job search. None of the studies I’ve seen though were as clear cut as the conclusions drawn in this one. While discriminatory hiring practices are quite unfortunate and I’m sure some VERY qualified candidates are being looked over because of them, let me offer a differing perspective based on one of my hiring experiences.

At a previous firm I was promoted to Director of HR and placed in charge of hiring and firing. While this wasn’t a role I had specifcally sought out, I looked forward to the new responsibilities and challenges that came along with it. A couple of months later I had made two great hires, and things were running smoothly. One of my hires, as it turns out, was quite the superstar and was promoted quickly, prompting the need to replace him. Because we were in the midst of a recession and unemployment was unusally high, our firm decided to forgo the costs of using recruiters and to turn to the good ol’ job boards for our next team member. we-are-hiringAs you might expect, we were inundated with resumes and thus had many to choose from. As with any position there were the minimum requirements and the preferred skills, those things we’d love to see on a resume but could do without for the right candidate. After resumes had been screened and we started bringing people in, I soon realized there was no perfect candidate.

Everyone had something that gave us pause, and one of those things, surprisingly enough, was prolonged gaps between jobs. Here we were, specifically allowing anyone and everyone to apply and expecting there to be a plethora of qualified applicants who had been laid off through no fault of their own, yet if we weren’t completely comfortable with the answer to our first question we were ready to end the interview. Why? Because everyone wants to work with amazing people–people that other people also want. So despite the state of the economy, our very first question was, “Are you currently working?” If they weren’t we needed to know exactly why and for how long. Our thought process was, if they were such a great employee we wanted to know why they hadn’t been snatched up already. We also needed to know if their knowledge and skills were current or if they’d need longer than expected to get up to speed. That said, we eventually settled on a woman named Sarah* who had been out of work for over a year. Even though her skills were a bit rusty she was very well spoken and knowledgable, and seemed to be a good addition to our team.

Sigh. I’d like to say that Sarah was a diamond in the rough, but she was not. While the position we were hiring for was at the associate level, once she was on board she didn’t seem at all enthusiastic about it, something we’d never had a problem with with our previous hires. She turned out to be very argumentative and bordered on disrespectful–something that even people outside of her department noticed. Needless to say, she did not last long at our firm.

Please dont’ get me wrong–I’m not saying that one bad experience would keep me from hiring someone who has been unemployed for a long time in the future (especially considering that I myself took a prolonged break from corporate America at one point in my career). And I’m pretty sure that had we had the funds to use staffing firms we might have found higher quality candidates. All I’m saying is that those companies that do (subconciously or not), discriminate against the long-term unemployed might have had less-than-ideal experiences like we did that have made them overly cautious about future hires. After all, a few bad decisions like this one and they might find themselves on the other side of the desk.

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