Long-term unemployed shunned by employers

The national unemployment rate for African-Americans is as frightful as Pittsburgh’s weather. Some who were counted among November 2010’s 16 percent unemployed were newly unemployed. Others have been unemployed for seven months or longer, rendering them “undesirable” in the eyes of employers.

One reason so many Americans, African-Americans in particular, find themselves still collecting unemployment stems from employers’ unwillingness to hire anyone who has been out of the workforce for longer than six months.

In an article for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dan Chapman reported that some employers state openly in their job descriptions that people who’ve been unemployed for longer than six months need not apply to the positions.

The consensus of professionals interviewed via e-mail understands the rationale behind employers’ refusal to hire the unemployed in general and the long-term unemployed in particular.

“The stigma of unemployment is related to what I call ‘Wedding Band Syndrome,’” explained psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo. “Wedding Band Syndrome refers to the notion that ‘If he has on a wedding band, someone else wants him, so he must be worthy of being wanted.’ No wedding band [means] he is not worthy of being wanted. Regarding unemployment, there is the notion that ‘If they (the last company) got rid of him, then he must not be worth keeping.’”

“When someone is working already and going on interviews, the employer feels like she is getting a ‘catch’ by taking him away from his previous company,” explained job search advisor, Lavie Margolin. “When someone is not working, it does not hold the same allure.”

“Companies may talk about risk-taking, but individuals aren’t yet buying it,” said leadership and workplace coach, Darcy Eikenberg. “It’s easier to do something exactly the way someone else did, and that means hiring the person who’s doing it at your competitor. It’s also human nature to want something someone else has, and stealing a prize asset away can be thought of as an accomplishment.”

If being unemployed in general is unattractive, then being unemployed for more than six months makes a job seeker borderline grotesque. Their characters come into question, particularly if they got laid off during the height of the recession.

Elizabeth Lions, author of “Recession Proof Yourself” (Aardvark Publishing, 2009), offered this anecdote as an explanation for why employers don’t like to hire the long-term unemployed: “Before I was an author, I was a headhunter for ten years. Each day I spoke to hiring managers, CEOs, and CFOs and asked them questions in regards to hiring. Many times I had candidates who had been unemployed for six months or longer and the managers refused to consider them, although they were well qualified. When I asked why, each time I got the same response. I was told that organizations during recession will cut out the first 10-15  percent  of their staff that has been underperforming and let them go. If the candidate was in the first round of layoffs, he is deemed an underperformer.”

“As we’ve talked with employers who shy away from hiring someone who’s been unemployed for more than  six months, their concern—a real concern—is that the person is flawed and there was a good reason she was involved in a layoff,” said Richard S. Deems, PhD and co-author of “Make Job Loss Work for You” (JIST Publishing, 2010). Sometimes they are correct.”

While many can appreciate the employers’ point of view, Gwendolyn Ward, principal at professional development company, Fish Out Of Water, LLC, sympathizes with the job seekers. “It’s unfortunate when a company decides to use a broad brush to label long-term unemployed people because some may have legitimate reasons for it (i.e. lack of networking connection, geographic restrictions, lack of current job searching skills, etc).” Ward and others offer their advice on how job seekers, whether unemployed for a short time or a long one, can improve their chances of getting hired.

Employers likely won’t change their opinions of the unemployed so the unemployed have to do what they can to make themselves more desirable. They can start with the way they present themselves during interviews. Long-term unemployment often leads to discouragement or desperation. No one wants to hire someone who either walks in the door with a defeatist attitude or with one that screams, “I really need this job.” If the candidate doesn’t exude self-confidence, he can’t engender confidence in an employer. Job seekers can also make themselves more attractive to employers by finding ways to stay busy in between their job searches.

“It’s all about being proactive,” said writer and illustrator, David Metcalfe. “Unemployed means you aren’t doing anything. If you find yourself without legitimate employment in the paid sense, you’ve got to get out and volunteer or start something up on your own to keep those resume gaps filled.”

Deems agreed, adding that taking a class or becoming active in a professional association could also help job seekers more attractive to potential employers. He also recommended that they not conduct their job searches solely on the Internet.

“Sometimes the unemployed person needs to bring a bigger perspective than being unemployed,” Ward suggested.

Racism aside, many African-Americans, remain out of work because employers don’t want to hire unemployed job seekers. If they want to improve their chances of getting hired, they will have to stay busy while they continue to look for work and show potential employers that they are ready, willing and able to rejoin the workforce full time.

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