“Long-Term Unemployed.” It’s a phrase that’s become quite common over the last several months. President Obama made it a focal point of Tuesday’s State of the Union Address, and this Friday, CEOs from some of the country’s largest corporations will be signing a pledge to avoid discrimination against those who are considered long-term unemployed. Let’s take a moment to look at what’s going on and what can be done to improve the situation.
Officially, anyone out of work for more than 27 weeks is considered to be long-term unemployed. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, that’s 3.9 million Americans! While everyone’s story is different, the recent economic downturn caused many otherwise productive and qualified workers to lose their jobs due to layoffs, closures and other reasons beyond their control. To complicate things further, about half of the long term unemployed are over 50 years old. The AARP states that it takes nearly twice as long for applicants over 50 to land a job versus their younger counterparts. In addition, various studies have shown that employers are much less likely to consider a candidate with a large employment gap when another applicant with similar, or even fewer relevant skills has a more recent work history. Since many employers are ignoring unemployed candidates, the problem is simply getting worse and more discouraging for those affected.
So, what can be done? In addition to large businesses like AT&T and Xerox who are pledging to consider unemployed workers in their hiring process, all companies should reexamine their practices when it comes to recruiting and selection. While hiring managers have been traditionally trained to scrutinize and condemn gaps in employment, the recession forced many people into gaps that were no fault of their own. It’s always a good idea to inquire about spotty employment history in an interview, but it would be unwise to put too much stock in it; especially if layoffs or other non-performance reasons are involved. Also, don’t be afraid to bring in candidates who you feel might be overqualified. There’s a good chance that their skill set is exactly what you’re looking for, and after the interview, you may find that they are a perfect fit.
One last thing to keep in mind when considering a long-term unemployed candidate: Who is going to work harder to impress a new employer than someone who has just spent several months searching for someone to give them a chance? Overall, the long-term unemployed represent a very skilled, qualified and motivated group of candidates for any business looking to grow and they should not be ignored.