Discrimination Against the Unemployed

A reader named Susan left an interesting comment on Never Hire an MBA. She doesn’t like the article, but what I found interesting was this part of her comment:

Are you familiar with discrimination laws, well although there is not currently a discrimination law that would protect individuals from potential employers from discriminating against individuals who are unemployed, I am proud to say that I am one of thousands who have signed a petition against little minded people who discriminate against the unemployed.

I hadn’t heard of this before, but after a little research I found that some employers are including requirements in their job postings that basically say, “we only consider job candidates who are currently employed.”  Some people are upset about this because they feel it discriminates against people who don’t have a job–which it obviously does.

Why would you do this?

So why would a company do this? Well if you were wanting to hire someone and knew that you’d get hundreds of applications, wouldn’t you want to restrict those applications to the pool of people who would statistically be best for the job? Lets say you have 1,000 workers who all have identical skill sets.  Half of them have a job and half were fired 9 months ago.  If you randomly choose someone from the first group and randomly choose someone from the second group who do you think has a better chance of being a good hire?  Lets say you repeat the experiment 100 times. Do you think you’d get a higher percentage of good hires from the employed group or the unemployed group?

Now regardless of what you think will happen, some HR departments think their chances would be a bit better with the employed group.   If you have 1,000 employees, an excellent employee appraisal system and suddenly needed to let half of them go, would the people you lay off be random?  Probably not. You’d try to let people go who are least tied to your ability to make profit.  That doesn’t mean that they are all bad workers. If Sue’s expertise is in project X and you are about to cancel X, you’d probably let her go before you let Bob go who works on Z where Z is your main money maker.  But you’d also let go people who aren’t as productive, who show up late, who are harder to work with, etc. Another reason employers might do this is because they realize that job skills can get out of date very quickly. Since a lot of people have been out of work for a long time, they may feel more comfortable concentrating on people who are currently employed.

So HR departments figure they would rather hire the workers that other employers can’t do with out–not because they think everyone in the unemployed pool is a bad worker, but just because they think that their chances of randomly getting a good worker from the employed pool are better. Is it fair to a particular individual? No. Is it completely irrational? Not as irrational as other decisions HR makes. Besides HR may be admitting that they have very little ability to do their jobs and find good job candidates. If they are going to select a job candidate at random, they better try to do it in a way that increases their odds.

What can you do about this?

If you are unemployed, what can you do about this?  Well you can do try to find some petition to sign, but there are more productive options.  Here is what I would do:

  1. Take any job – Find a job where you will learn something and take it as a learning experience. I’ve always wanted to work for McDonalds for a few weeks just to see how their systems are organized. It wouldn’t make any financial sense from a salary perspective, but from a learning perspective I think it would be fascinating. You could get a job selling cars or doing some form of direct customer service. The idea is to build your skills by doing something.  Now the problem with this approach is that unemployment seems to help people more if they wait for a high paying job.  It basically introduces an artificial element into the employment process that keep people from going out and getting any job just to stay working, but that is an issue best addressed in a different post.
  2. Volunteer – The next option would be to volunteer somewhere. Keep yourself on a schedule where you have to get up in the morning and go somewhere to do some type of work. If you are on unemployment, society is basically paying you a salary so do your best to contribute back while keeping yourself busy doing something. At the very least, volunteering will help make sure you are out meeting people and the best way to get a job is always going to be through someone you know.
  3. Contribute Online – This is similar to volunteering, but getting involved in online community projects can be another great option.  If you code, you can program for an open source project. You can help open source projects with their documentation, test for bugs, write up meeting notes, etc.
  4. Learn – Read the top 10 books in your field that you haven’t had a chance to read. Take an online class or work toward a certificate or citation program or get started on some type of masters degree in your field. Look for things that are quantifiable that you can put on your resume.
  5. Blog – Write about stuff in your field. You can review the top books about the area where you want to get a job. You can do interviews with people in your field and post them on your blog.
The point is, don’t be lazy. There are hundreds of things you could be doing to take advantage of the time you have when you get laid off–things that will significantly improve your chances in the job market.
Maybe the policy of not interviewing people who don’t currently have a job is a reaction to dealing with hundreds of applicants who have been unemployed for the last 6 months and have simply been sitting at home watching television. I bet there wouldn’t be anyone making policies like that if everyone followed those five steps mentioned above. If you want to stand out in a job interview, make sure you have been doing things that show you are motivated and not lazy–even when you aren’t employed.


  1. Susan says

    If anyone is interested in signing a petition to potentially change legislation and prevent major career resource websites (i.e. careerbuilder.com and monster.com) from allowing companies on their site who have posted job ads from discriminating against the unemployed, please feel free to check out the following website, I have included the direct link to the petition: http://act.truemajorityaction.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=242. Thank you.

  2. Mei says

    Lets face it guys, aren’t we all judged and discriminated every day of our lives?

    I agree with the author, I don’t see how productive we will be when we we cry “I am being discriminated”. I don’t see how far we are going to get with Petitioning to change legislation, and how can you prove it? Sure, JDs may sound discriminatory, and legislation would change that, but the selection criteria would not change.

    If the mindset on how candidates are selected do not change, then we are back to square one.

    I agree with the author, while out of work, do volunteering, and get back into some sort of habit while looking for a job. If it’s an employer’s market out there, then there isn’t much you can do about “being discriminated”.

  3. says

    @Mark – I agree with your post. Since I retired from my job – in January. I have been doing pretty much everything on your list. I have since decided that retirement is not for me. So, off back to the job market I went.

    I have seen what Susan is has commented on. I don’t believe I will be signing any petition. I have already filled my resume with a couple of volunteer items that I am currently doing. I have been getting contacted for interviews for positions that I have applied for. I look at those companies that are not willing to entertain the unemployed as many not places that I would want to work at. If their corporate culture of hiring practices are that way – since I am not that short sighted as they are – I will pass on them. Maybe it is the fact that I want to work on many of my terms now.. Maybe it is I have experienced a lot over my employment history. I want to work where I believe in the company’s mission, their products or services, I am passionate about the work and I can make a difference. I am not willing to compromise.

  4. Susan says

    Yes, Mark touched on many points that might enhance one’s chances and help set an individual apart, but if an employer will not hire you, because you have a gap in employment, then it really wouldn’t matter how impressive your resume was, lol. Which is why increasing awareness and signing petitions to prevent “discrimination” against unemployed individuals would be a more proactive approach. Although you might not be all for it, it is at least good to know that you have that option in you feel strongly about the subject.

    Personally, I resonate with the millions of hardworking and highly educated unemployed American citizens who have struggled for at least a year to finally land a job after doing literally everything that was referenced in this article, PLUS MORE. Apparently, having eight years of customer service and managerial experience, excellent professional and character references, a 4.0 in a graduate program, having volunteering experience, former athlete, etc. couldn’t set me apart from all of the other candidates. Granted, I am only 26 years old and I live in Las Vegas, Nevada, the highest unemployment (and foreclosure) capital in the nation. But, nevertheless, while I was unemployed I was trying to stay optimistic and sought for solutions to better enhance my chances of getting a job.

    If you are currently employed, that is wonderful, hopefully it stays that way. If you are unemployed best of luck, it will get better. I went from not getting any interviews in almost a year of actively searching for work, to landing six interviews in a week, and getting four job offers.

      • Susan Ziros says

        Yeah, I am 26. Eight years of customer service total, four years of which includes experience in management. I have a BA in psychology and I am currently in graduate school pursuing my MBA. I also am half way through a master of science in counseling with Chi Sigma Iota Honors; however, an MBA is a bigger payoff, which is why I am putting a hold on my master of science in counseling and actively pursuing an MBA.

  5. Louise says

    I’m coming late to the debate, but if I ran a company and discovered a job candidate signed such a petition, I would rule out the applicant for the job. Why? Because a person like this is litigious, with a victim mentality. Even if I was sympathetic to the unemployed, I would be foolish to hire a person who is always crying foul when reality bites. Not someone that me or my team would want to have around.

    • Rikki says

      Louise, I don’t think signing one petition equals “always crying foul”.
      Frankly, based on this post, if I were an employee I wouldn’t want to work for you. You’ve made a very specific conclusion based on a very generalized behavior, with no real knowledge as to why the “applicant” signed the petition. I would sign the petition. I am not unemployed, and I have been in employment situations that lent themselves to lawsuits against the companies I worked for – yet I never sued anyone. Those situations include religious bias and harassment, yet I’d rather face either of those than deal with a “boss” who makes false assumptions based on incomplete information.

  6. Louise says

    To add, I’m unemployed and stand by my comments above. Also I’m the busiest “unemployed” person I know. I create my own opportunities, rather than waiting for “things to happen.” I’ve had excessively busy times in my life, with full-time work (50+ hrs), side projects (10 hrs) and weekly volunteer activities (8 hrs), and now I welcome the slower pace (at 40 years) to be more selective and creative. I’ve packed my resume and paid enough dues with various projects that now I don’t worry about how I appear on paper. Done that. After being interviewed 25+ times, I can sell myself, but I’m more interested in finding the best fit and will even recommend other candidates if the potential employer really needs something else — I respect the companies I’ve applied to. At this time in my life, I want to live and work more deliberately, and so that is what I’m doing now. This freedom of choice is a result of living below one’s means, something Gen Y might not have learned from their parents. Also, I don’t have a TV and that’s a huge time-saver. I wonder how many people looking for work could be creating their own opportunities if they spent more time priming the pump (the mind) instead of watching vapid TV. We rob ourselves of most of our opportunities. We sabotage ourselves with our spending and with our runaway consumption of entertainment, then we wonder why we can’t “find” opportunities, why we can’t problem solve and innovate ourselves out of this economic crisis. We’re dull-minded. We need to sharpen our minds.

  7. Susan says

    Everyone has different views. Though I respect your opinion Louise, if we all shared your ideology, democracy would not exist. If no one did anything in the past about fighting back against discrimination, whether it been about race, religion, gender, etc..the workforce in America would be much less diverse than it is today. And like millions of other Americans right now feeling that they are being treated unfairly by potential employers due to something out of their , control, each person has a voice and has the ability to change America for the better. You call people like me winey or whatever you would like but if I intend to fight for my rights as an American.

  8. says

    Another solution to this problem is implementing laws predicting which people companies must fire when they can’t afford to keep them. This is what Sweden have done, where you have to fire the last employed person first (the second last employed second and so forth). The workforce can be divided into different groups according to their type of work, so you can for example fire only people at the marketing department. This makes it so that unemployed people looking for new jobs is not necessarily those who other companies gladly fired.

    There are problems with this approach too, of course. In practice it seems like companies don’t always dare to hire new employees because they are afraid they can’t fire them if they need to.

  9. says

    Actually, I understand why they ‘only hire the currently employed’. It might not always be the best thing to do; after all they should be open to everyone who have the skills, but when someone is currently employed, there is a much higher chance that their work is high in quality so that people want to employ them. And when you haven’t worked in months, I think it’s undeniable tha you’ll need a couple of weeks to get back to you optimal productivity level.

    • Adele1 says

      Thats rubbish , I can remember how to do my last job as if I was still there

      What about women on maternity leave? They get their job back and no one says to them ‘oh can you remember how to do it’? LOL

  10. Derp says

    Former marketing guy here.

    Smart people are never “unemployed.” They know that being “unemployed” has a stigma attached to it. That is why all smart people have their own LLC and use it as a “Consulting” operation to plug all employment gaps.

    I have been fired / laid off before, but I have never been dumb enough to admit it. I am always consulting during those periods doing contract work.

    So my advice: Never be unemployed, ever. Start an LLC and hang on to it. This can cover some gaps but not all. At some point I plan on not having a job and just doing my own business so the LLC will come in handy.

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