All Articles Leadership Unemployment bias is losing you great people

Unemployment bias is losing you great people

4 min read


Most employers dream about snagging an already employed candidate for their open positions. But are these passive candidates really right for the job? More importantly, in focusing on employed workers, are you missing a wide and motivated candidate pool? The unemployed get no love even though the bias against unemployed job seekers is just as hurtful to employers looking to hire the best.

Since the economic downturn, the ranks of the unemployed has grown to nearly 11 million Americans. This is a huge candidate pool employers may be ignoring just because of preconceived biases.

The bias against the unemployed has been confirmed thanks to research from the UCLA Anderson School of Management. A study using human resource professionals found most were likely to rate unemployed job seekers as less hireable and confident than their employed competition, even with identical credentials.

Unemployment bias is so prevalent that some states, including Washington D.C., Oregon, and New Jersey, have laws on the books to prevent employers from discriminating against unemployed job seekers.

Filling in the skills gap

Holding a bias against unemployed job seekers just doesn’t make sense. After all, there are 11 million unemployed candidates, and most of these are likely very good workers.

More pressing is the skills gap employers are continually trying to bridge. This gap between the skills employers need for open positions and the skills candidates possess reportedly keeps getting wider.

In fact, research by Georgetown University shows there will be a shortfall of 5 million skilled laborers by 2020. This means the war for talent when it comes to the highly skilled candidates you need is only going to become more brutal.

This problem is especially apparent when hiring for highly skilled jobs in the medical and technology industries. Competition for great coders, medical providers or even medical sales professionals can be fierce, and you can’t afford to ignore talented candidates. If you’re skipping over unemployed job seekers, however, you might just be overlooking the right person for the job.

Passive candidates are a myth

Employers are always searching for the elusive passive candidate, but it’s possible these white whales just don’t exist. According to a recent survey, 77% of full-time workers are actively looking for or at least open to new employment opportunities.

This is both good news and bad news for your company. The good news is that it’s easier to lure away passive candidates. The bad news is a good chunk of your workforce might also be dreaming about greener pastures.

One of the benefits of taking a chance on a talented unemployed candidate is they’ll be more likely to appreciate the opportunity you’ve given them. These candidates will be more motivated to work hard, add value to your organization, and stick around longer. Considering the high price of employee turnover, you could do a lot worse than hire an appreciative (and potentially more loyal) unemployed candidate.

Unemployed job seekers are motivated and enthusiastic

Unemployed job seekers give employers an opportunity to gain employees who truly appreciate the work and their roles in the company. These candidates will be motivated and enthusiastic. Great candidates will have also utilized their time out of the working world to develop new professional skills and competencies.

Just like passive candidates and current employees, every unemployed job seeker is different. One unemployed person might have spent months wallowing in misery, while another saw a silver lining and took the opportunity to attend a professional class they never had the time for while they were working.

This is why it’s important use the interview process to find out how candidates used their time out of the workforce. If candidates have been building their skills, volunteering for a good cause or building up their work portfolio, they’re likely the kind of motivated go-getter your company needs.

It’s easy enough to drift from job to job, especially if the candidate is in a high-demand field like IT or medicine. It’s harder to use an unfortunate circumstance to make lemonade out of lemons. Candidates with resilience are worth just as much, if not more, than candidates currently receiving a steady paycheck.

If you’re ignoring unemployed candidates for your positions, you might just be missing out on the exact talent your company needs to thrive.

What do you think? What value have you found in unemployed job seekers? Share in the comments.

Robyn Melhuish is the communications manager at, a job board which gives members access to the most sought after medical sales jobs and pharmaceutical sales jobs on the Web. Connect with Melhuish and on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.