Steve Smith, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

Steve Smith, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

Steve leads content development, thought leadership and public relations activities as a partner at Starr Tincup. Steve received his B.A. in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Since 2001, Steve has specialized exclusively in human resources and human capital-focused communications consulting after nearly a decade as a newspaper journalist. He has earned numerous awards for his business writing and his blogging and believes that most of life is just showing up and not being a jerk. Full Bio…

Three Myths About Hiring the Unemployed

By Steven Wade Smith

Sometimes life imitates art. For example, let’s look at one of my favorite movies, The Best Years of Our Lives. It’s a classic that covers the return of three servicemen to civilian life after the trauma of World War II. One of these veterans is Fred Derry, played by Dana Andrews. He’s a bright, energetic Army Air Force officer who becomes disillusioned as he’s unable to find a job and build a new life.

In true Hollywood fashion, Fred finds a job at the moment when he has just about given up hope. When Fred’s prospective employer asks him what he knows about construction, Fred admits that he doesn’t know anything about it. What he does know, Fred says, is how to learn. Willing to take a chance, the boss-man tells Fred to get started. Job search over.
Steve Smith - Three myths about hiring the unemployed on HRExaminer
As Americans recover from the trauma of the Great Recession, these types of Hollywood endings aren’t playing out the same way for today’s unemployed. Many of today’s long-term unemployed are running into a new challenge: Job postings that ask them to not even bother applying.

Illegal? Not necessarily, depending on where you live. However, new laws won’t end this practice. Let’s just call it what it is: a lazy and unimaginative talent management practice.

Myth No. 1: The Unemployed Are Out of Work for a Reason

Discrimination against the unemployed isn’t anything new, really. Hiring managers have always had a bias against the unemployed. The implicit value judgment: How good can a candidate really be if they are out of work? Pass all of the new laws you want, but you will never be able to change this bias.

There’s a simple reason for this: it’s a hiring shortcut. If you have 30 applications, it’s easiest to knock out the 10 résumés from the unemployed before doing any critical evaluation.

The basic flaw is this simple assumption: Companies never terminate qualified people. This just isn’t the case when companies are letting people go by the tens of thousands. High-performing and high-potential employees get let go because their division is closing, their position is eliminated or just by accident. Lots of deadwood gets retained because of seniority or an innate instinct for survivability.

The takeaway: Don’t make value judgments about the unemployed. Be sure that your recruitment technology isn’t filtering them out. Instead, look for opportunities to take advantage of another company’s firing mistakes. There is talent and potential out there, and it’s not even hard to find.

Myth No. 2: The Unemployed Are Unqualified

Technology hasn’t necessarily helped with this problem. With applicant tracking systems and online career portals, it has never been easier from someone who isn’t remotely qualified for a position to apply for a job. Hiring managers, who are bogged down with mountains of résumés from unqualified and unemployed applicants, simply have their biases confirmed.

Certainly, employers can also use technology to handle increased candidate volume and sift through applications to separate the qualified from the unqualified. But what about the qualified and unemployed? How does your talent acquisition process screen for this?

The takeaway: A well-calibrated talent acquisition process can screen-in these candidates. As a hiring manager, don’t trust your intuition about a candidate. Pre-employment personality, competency and skills assessments, that are mapped to proven top performers and high-potential employees, can help you find the gold in your applicant database. Even my small company is able to do this. Yours should as well.

Myth No. 3: The Unemployed Aren’t an Exact Fit

One of the paradoxes about the current economy is the lack of available talent for key positions at a time when unemployment is at its highest level in a generation. What’s happening is a structural economic change. The skills that most employers need simply do not exist in the workforce to meet the demand.

Although most employers would prefer to hire an exact fit, more companies will find that impossible to accomplish. The reality is that companies will be more likely to hire for potential, attitude and cultural fit, then will train new hires so that they meet the requirements of the job. Like it or not, that’s the future for most employers.

The takeaway: For your hardest-to-fill positions, look for opportunities to “hire for attitude and train for aptitude.” Hiring a great culture fit with a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn may be a better strategy than looking for an exact fit- someone who possibly doesn’t exist. However, this approach requires seamless integration between recruitment, onboarding, training and development processes.

Hiring the Unemployed: How HR Can Help

Anyone who has been unemployed and looking for work in the middle of a career knows how difficult and frightening the process can be. I’ve been in that situation myself, and I know how much it sucks. Now, as a business owner, I’m proud of the fact that my company has been able to hire people who were unemployed (or under-employed) and then watch them flourish in our organization. It requires time and effort, but the results are worth it.

How can HR help?

  • Re-evaluate hiring practices: HR can set the tone for a company’s hiring practices. Are you screening out the unqualified or are you screening out the unemployed? This goes beyond creating humane hiring practices, there’s also a compliance aspect. If you are screening out the unemployed, are you sure that this screening is not disproportionally screening out older workers or other protected classes?
  • Train your hiring managers: Give your managers the training and tools to effectively screen and interview candidates. Communicate the message that unemployed does not necessarily equal unqualified. Help them understand how to recognize an acceptable “close fit” when an “exact fit” is not available.
  • Use assessments: Traditional interviewing techniques are only about 50 percent effective at predicting success on the job. Using some type of pre-hire assessment can give you insight into a candidate’s abilities and make your hiring process less subjective.
  • Make the business case: If you aren’t swayed by any other argument, consider this: A number of Work Opportunity Tax Credits (WOTCs) exist at the federal, state and local levels. Hiring the unemployed can ease your company’s tax burden.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of hiring for fit: Some employees who are a “cultural fit” or just a good team player may be a better hire than a candidate who is an exact fit in terms of experience and qualifications. Changing the way you look at candidate fit will open up more opportunities for unemployed candidates. 

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