Candidate Forgiveness

At current rates of unemployment, being without a job bears less stigma. It’s called “candidate forgiveness,” and companies are in the mood to practice it.


Where do you find the silver lining in the darkest economic cloud since the Great Depression?

It’s hard to think of positives. Supposedly, the roads are less crowded as fewer commuters make their way to and from work. (Although that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case here in Los Angeles!) Those of us who are employed might have a better selection of office furniture and supplies to choose from now that the competition is diminished. But all in all, there is very little to celebrate when more than 15 million Americans are unemployed.

There is one upside for current job seekers: Being unemployed has become so common that recruiters and hiring managers are less likely to consider it a negative. We call it “candidate forgiveness”; while it’s traditionally easier to find a job when you have one already recruiters today are more willing to overlook the fact that a candidate is unemployed when he applies for a position.

As a recruiter, I can attest to the difficulty I have had selling an unemployed candidate to a top-notch company when employment numbers are more robust. In a strong economy, recruiters prefer “passive” candidates — those who were employed and not looking. I’ve drawn a lot of analogies to dating in my articles about the job search ; this scenario would resemble the guy who already has a girlfriend and seems like the perfect boyfriend. If you missed last year’s dance, you need not apply for prom king.

But circumstances have changed, and so have the sentiments of recruiters. With so much great talent on the streets, finding the right candidate is more about finding the right skill set and less about whether the candidate employed or unemployed. In fact, it’s harder than ever to poach an employed candidate away from seemingly stable employment.

But this period of candidate forgiveness won’t last forever, and some of the circumstances of unemployment are more forgivable than others. Take advantage of candidate forgiveness while you can by framing your employment in the best possible way for the recruiter.

Some key points:

  • It is important to clarify that it was a company-wide layoff. It’s even better to know the numbers — “50 percent of the staff” or “over 1,500 people.”
  • Have strong references lined up (preferably supervisors) who can back up your story. Obtain their personal e-mail addresses before you part ways so you can stay in touch down the road.
  • Contact your references so that they know who might be calling and the position you are considering. Get their permission to use them as references. (If you are hired, be sure to follow up with a thank-you note.)
  • Be prepared to compromise. Decide what benefits or working conditions are important to you and which are superfluous. Set standards where you think they’re important, but be realistic, too. It’s not 2007 anymore.
  • While it is most important to get back to work, if you have a choice, pick the job that will continue to enhance your skills. This will be of value in your next job search or if you are ever laid off again.

Yes, this recession has leveled the playing field for unemployed candidates, but you should use this to your advantage while you can – before the economy recovers. Let’s hope that’s soon.