Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Warning! Long-Term Unemployment Hurts Everyone

I just finished reading “The Terrifying Reality of Long-Term Unemployment,” which looks at how hiring managers and recruiters routinely put aside resumes from applicants who’ve been out of work for more than six months. According to the article, a recent study shows that the length of unemployment matters more to companies than just about anything else, including overall credentials. In fact, companies will call back applicants who are less qualified or who have a history of “job hopping”more often than applicants who’ve been unemployed for longer than six months.

I urge everyone who depends on a job for a living to read the article. This trend truly is terrifying, as the comments after the article will attest.

Author Matthew O’Brien suggests that it’s time for the government to do something, because companies apparently aren’t going to change tactics without incentive to do so. O’Brien writes, “We can do better, and we need to start doing so now. We can't afford long-term thinking in either the short or the long-term.”

O’Brien is not the only bearer of bad hiring news. Last week, a friend of mine, a college professor who teaches HR, told me his students are reporting that companies are now wanting to know in what year an applicant graduated from high school. Huh? Is this a thoughtless inquiry or a sly way of roughly calculating someone’s age? (You already know what I think.) And then another friend told me that a mutual friend, a recruiter, works in an agency where her twenty- and thirty-something coworkers habitually dismiss anyone over the age of forty as “too old.” So, you can kind of understand the angry comments after O’Brien’s article. Workers who’ve been unemployed for more than six months and are older than forty are feeling particularly vulnerable.

While O’Brien says the government should step in, I say hiring managers and recruiters should check their biases and stop harboring this ridiculous notion that if you haven’t found a job quickly there must be something wrong with you. Maybe there is something wrong with you, but it’s just as likely that you’re experienced and competent and therefore aren’t the cheapest candidate available. It’s simply easier to find a job paying forty thousand a year than one paying eighty thousand, so if you’re seeking the latter you probably will be in the market longer. That doesn’t mean you’re a dud.

Compounding the problem, and I’ve written about this before, is that some employers have gotten downright crazy with their requirements, wanting two or three years of experience for skills that can be taught on the job. For example, in one of my Linkedin groups, a debate arose as to how many years of experience someone should have for an entry-level HR job, and I’m telling you things got heated, quick. Some people apparently believe that HR is so highfalutin’ there’s no such thing as an entry-level position. Others, wanting to break into the profession, were getting frustrated as all get out, a stance I certainly understand. When I entered HR, I had nearly ten years of work history, and I do believe those years were helpful in forming my overall maturity. However, I have trained people with no experience. It can be done and often you get great employees when you do.

So it seems to me that something in the hiring industry is seriously broken, it’s affecting younger and older workers, and we’re never going to get out of this recession if it isn’t fixed. That’s bad news for everyone, including employers, who keep complaining that they can’t find qualified workers.

O’Brien says that ‘The worst possible outcome for all of us is if the long-term unemployed become unemployable.” I couldn’t agree more.

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