Ironically, it’s easier to find a job when you already have a job. Unemployed job seekers are subject to a “damaged goods” bias; some employers assume a great candidate would already have a job. A new study, which will be presented at next month’s Academy of Management’s annual meeting, suggests there is evidence that human resource professionals and the general public have a tendency to show a bias against unemployed job seekers.
Researcher Geoffrey Ho, a doctoral candidate at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and a researcher for the study said the bias began “virtually from the outset of unemployment,” not only after a long period of joblessness.
If you’re unemployed and looking for a job, you probably are not surprised. What can you do to help avoid being discriminated against just because you are unemployed?
Have a well-rehearsed story describing your situation. Be able to confidently explain the situation at your company in a way that showcases your situation in the best possible light. Use a succinct response to explain why you are out of a job and do not delve into details. For example, if you were laid off: “When I joined X company, their goals and my skills were aligned, but their plans evolved in a different direction, which compelled them to eliminate my (position/department), even though we were on target to make our goals.” If you were fired, try to frame your situation in the most favorable light, for example, “When I interviewed for my last job, we agreed on specific plans and approaches, but a new supervisor joined who had different ideas about how to move forward. I was no longer a match, so I agreed to move on.”
Tell a positive, matter-of-fact story without getting into your emotions. Do not lie, complain, or badmouth your past employer or organization and do not appear bitter or angry; it will come back to bite you.
Maintain your skills. From the minute you are unemployed, keep in touch with your network and find ways to use your skills so prospective employers don’t think you are eating bon bons on the couch. Attend industry meetings and volunteer to handle projects relevant to your field. Use your skills and list that work and your accomplishments on your resume. If you cannot volunteer for a professional organization, seek out a non-profit group or even a company where you might want to work, identify a problem you can solve for them, and offer to take on a pro-bono project for a set time.
When you take these steps, you can keep your resume and online profiles and updated with current activity so it’s not so obvious you’re unemployed. Even if you’ve been out of work for a while, you may be surprised by how helpful it can be to get started on a project or two to update your resume; it’s not too late.
Network effectively. Instead of asking everyone you meet if they know of a job, have a short, targeted pitch to introduce yourself and your skills. Request meetings to learn more about people or companies that interest you, and make it clear you don’t expect a job as a result: you’re doing research, which will expand your contacts and the number of people who may be willing to refer you for a position. When you know how to ask for help when you’re job searching, you have a much better chance of getting what you want.
Use social media. If you can engage online and demonstrate your expertise by posting links to news and sharing your own commentary, you will keep yourself top-of-mind with those who could hire or refer you to positions. Update your LinkedIn status for a brief (one- or two-week) period to indicate you are “seeking an opportunity in _______” or “available for a new position as _______,” but once you’ve let your network know you are looking, don’t be “the person without a job.” Secure a project, list it on your LinkedIn profile, and share updates about your work on all of the social media channels.
Additionally, you can learn what is going on at conferences, even if you cannot attend, by watching social media updates – for example, many conferences have people “live tweeting” what the speakers are discussing. You can keep up with all of this from the comfort of your home, and even participate, even if traveling and signing up to attend in person is too expensive.
Another great reason to use social media? Employers are looking there to find candidates. A Jobvite study says, “Social recruiting has become an essential HR practice, with 92% of U.S. companies using social networks and media to find talent in 2012, up from 78% five years ago.” Put yourself on social media where employers are looking, and even if you are not employed, you are more likely to gain their attention. (Read more about how important social networking is to get a job.)
It’s not easy looking for a job when you don’t have a job, but take advantage of your free time to research organizations and jobs, to network, and connect to a new opportunity that may be an even better fit than your last job. You can help overcome the bias against the unemployed by revving up your network, getting active online, and finding volunteer gigs where you can show what you know.
photo by emilyvalenza