Monday, December 10, 2012

Unemployed? Don’t Bother Applying Here

I just read Employer Explains Why He Won't Hire the Unemployed, which honestly left me dumbfounded. Before I tell you why, let me first thank the author, Claire Gordon, and her interview subject, Alex Comana, who runs The Comana Company, in La Mesa, California. Apparently Mr. Comana was the only business person willing to speak to the writer on this topic, and for that I’m grateful.

But that doesn’t let Mr. Comana off the hook completely—some of his ideas are naïve at best. He states that employed candidates “are proven to be valuable” and “will adjust quicker to a new job.” He seems to think that being employed is evidence that an applicant must be a great employee, because she wouldn’t be employed if she were bad at her job, right? Hah! In my twenty-five years in the workplace I’ve learned that nothing could be further from the truth. There are lots of mediocre workers and many flat-out incompetent ones, too. Some are great political animals, others are skilled at flying under the radar, some are skilled at knowing when to do a good job and when they can slack off, others work in organizations with low standards, and still others work for bosses who hate conflict. Shoot, I just rattled those reasons off the top of my head. I bet you know more. But the point is, none of these screams “high-potential employee.”

Mr. Comana states that an employed candidate has fresher job skills. Well, maybe. I’ve known plenty of workers whose skills weren’t current, not necessarily because of any fault of their own, but because their employers had outdated equipment or were wedded to stale processes and procedures. An employee in such a workplace might take the initiative and make sure to keep her skills up to date by exploring and taking advantage of opportunities outside of work, and guess what? She’d do the same even if unemployed—perhaps especially if unemployed.

It seems to me that employers with Mr. Comana’s viewpoint are looking for a hiring shortcut, and there is none. There’s simply no substitute for thorough hiring practices. If an employer wants good workers, he’s going to need to learn how to assess talent, period. He’s going to need to learn how to ask good questions and listen to the answers, do a thorough background and reference check, and perhaps even develop an arsenal of tests to measure technical competency in certain workplace skills, like the ability to perform basic math functions, or write a sentence (or two) devoid of grammatical errors, or think critically. Making assumptions isn’t going to cut it, and I bet a lot of good workers—and the businesses that need them—are losing out as a result.

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