Unemployed isn’t unqualified: 3 stigmas that scare recruiters (and how to squash the bias)

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Starting the job hunt while you’re employed full-time can be draining. But doing it while you’re unemployed can be downright exhausting.

That’s because unemployment tends to carry several stigmas.

After speaking with thousands of hiring managers while working to improve the recruiting process, I’ve become intimately aware of the biases that recruiters have toward unemployed candidates. They’re often seen as lazy, lacking talent, and out of touch.


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Recruiters are told to go out and find the “best talent,” but they aren’t given a very good definition to guide them. Instead, they rely on indicators, like how long a candidate was at their last job or the number of months someone has been unemployed.

But those facts can’t tell the full story. And many qualified applicants never hear back simply because they’ve been out of work for too long.

When skilled candidates can’t find jobs, there’s clearly an issue. That’s why I want to squash a few of the stigmas unemployed candidates face and offer advice on how both recruiters and candidates can do a better job of overcoming the bias.

1: Diversity Of Age

People who are younger or older than the workforce average often struggle with unemployment because no one wants to take a chance on them.

If a candidate is older, recruiters think they’ll be set in their ways or won’t fit in with a younger culture. If they’re young, recruiters worry they lack experience. Unfortunately, these candidates often stay unemployed because they never get the opportunity to prove they can be a great fit. Recruiters simply move on to someone they consider age-appropriate.

To help combat this stigma, both parties need to communicate better and focus on the right indicators.

Candidates: If you feel that your age may negatively affect your job search, the most important thing you can do is advocate for yourself. Figure out what the company is looking for, and show them you can do the necessary work.

For instance, if you’re a younger candidate applying for a marketing role, do a project that shows the recruiter you can handle the email marketing or social media analysis the job requires. For older candidates, advocate for your up-to-date skillset by presenting the company with work that demonstrates your ability to thrive in the role.

Recruiters: If you’re concerned about whether or not someone will be a fit due to their “experience level,” have a conversation about their skills and experiences. Ask more behavioral and scenario-based questions. If they showcase the right soft skills and knowledge, then bring them into the office and see how they mesh with everyone.

If you see accurate signs that they won’t thrive in the environment, then it’s fair to pass on them. But it’s a mistake to forgo the conversation in the first place just because someone is outside of the usual age range.

2: Gaps In A Candidate’s Experience

Recruiters tend to view any employment gap that’s longer than three months as a red flag. This stigma exists for two reasons:

  1. Some recruiters think, “If this person is so talented, why are they still on the market?”
  2. Others believe that a candidate’s skills have atrophied, so they won’t be up-to-date with industry trends.

For many candidates, neither of those points ring true. In fact, a lot of candidates spend their unemployment brushing up on industry research and learning skills they didn’t have time for while working. A gap in work experience shouldn’t always be a red flag, especially if the candidate can clearly articulate the cause.

Candidates: If you have a gap in your work history, do your best to explain how you spent your time off. For instance, I work with a lot of candidates who are taking classes and learning new skills while unemployed. I’ve also met plenty of people who have spent time traveling and clearing their head before diving back into the job hunt. Both of those scenarios are totally acceptable.

So when applying and interviewing, you just have to showcase what you did, where you went, and most importantly, what you learned. It’s about communicating why you made those choices.

Recruiters: My advice here is simple—ask about the gap. If a candidate looks promising, but it’s been a few months since they were last employed, ask what they were doing. They might have been traveling, adding new skills to their repertoire, or even taking care of a family member. You’ll never know unless you ask.

3: Unwillingness To Settle For A Job

Many candidates use their savings to sustain them while they look for something new. They’ve made the decision that their next job needs to be a sustainable, long-term fit, and they aren’t willing to take the first opportunity that comes their way.

They’re not unemployed because they’re unqualified. They’re unemployed because they’re refusing to settle.

Candidates: If you’re being proactive and thoughtful about your job search, explain that. When you message recruiters, tell them how you came across the company, why you’re interested, and what you’ve been doing during your time off.

Recruiters: Understand that times are changing and people are more careful when it comes to choosing a job. An amazing candidate may have given themselves six months to find a new job, and they’re being picky because they know how important this decision is to their career.

There are many reasons a candidate might be unemployed that have nothing to do with qualifications. It might be easier to pass over unemployed applicants, but in doing so, recruiters are also passing over some incredibly motivated and qualified candidates.

By focusing on the outcome and being more thoughtful in communication, both parties can identify strong role fits in their search.

This article first appeared on Minutes