Does your employment status affect your chances of getting hired?

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Recently we wrote about a report that claimed unemployed job seekers were more likely to land work than employed job seekers. We were skeptical, and according to comments on Facebook, job seekers had their doubts, too.

Some reactions to the study:

“Maybe it’s just possible that fewer currently employed people are willing to risk letting go of their jobs, for fear that a new employer might lure them away, then end up dumping them after a few weeks or months.” – Dana

“You get more interviews if you already have a job… They want to see that you’re still marketable.” – Jan

“I’m certainly not seeing that. I’ve been out of work going on two years.” – Cyndi

Well, job seekers are the ones going on interviews and not hearing back, so they know best. And a story on NPR’s Morning Edition confirms their suspicions. From the segment:

This is a common complaint from unemployed workers — that employers only want to hire people who already have jobs and that there’s a view that there must be something wrong with you if you’re unemployed.

The CEO of West Coast Careers, Chris Shablak, is interviewed, and his response to the news? He doesn’t think it’s terribly surprising because employers assume no company is going to lay off their best workers. In other words, not only were you laid off, but the most sought-after workers are the ones who still have their jobs.

According to other staffing and recruiting experts interviewed for Morning Edition, that logic isn’t necessarily solid in today’s economy. Think back to the fall of 2008, when hundreds of thousands of jobs were being shed each month. Certainly companies let go of some low performers, but they also made cuts deeper than they wanted to. Workers who weren’t delivering results probably would have been laid off long before the recession began if they were really performing that poorly.

Also, once the economy began to sour and employers were forced to let go of workers in order to save the business, no single line of reasoning was used to lay off workers. Each company had its own method. Some companies decided to lay off workers with the least seniority or who were newest to the company. Others might have had to lay off some of the biggest earners because their paychecks were equal to multiple workers lower on the totem pole. And others were forced to reduce headcount so severely that workers of all levels and skill sets were affected.

But employers aren’t necessarily thinking in those terms, and job seekers are forced to deal with this extra hurdle in their search. The article explains that employers aren’t legally forbidden from including employment status in their criteria, but it could eventually change.

What can you do if you’re unemployed and on the hunt for a job?

Use your former employer as a reference, if possible

If you’re asked why you’re looking for a job and you are unemployed, explain that the company laid off workers due to the recession. Also mention that you had a great experience with the company and that you weren’t laid off due to performance issues and that the employer can verify this.

Don’t make excuses

Be honest. If the interviewer is biased against unemployed job seekers, arguing probably won’t change his or her mind. Instead explain why the company was forced to let you (and other workers) go, but don’t dwell on it or start making up reasons. If the interviewer has more questions about it, he or she will ask them.

Volunteer, freelance or take a class

I know, when you’re looking for a job, you want to focus all of your energy on the hunt. And any time spent doing something unrelated can feel as if you’re wasting your time. However, if you can volunteer somewhere, do some freelance work, or take a class in your industry.

Freelance work might not pay the bills, but it’s a way to stay employed in some capacity, earn some cash and hopefully position yourself well for an interview.

Volunteering can feel like you’re wasting your time because you’re doing work for free and not finding a job. However, volunteering on its own can make you feel better about yourself because you’re helping someone and interacting with others for a few hours each week. Plus, it helps you network with people, which can eventually lead to a job. And it also shows employers that you’re still engaged in some type of work and are active in your community.

Taking a class might be the most difficult route because it costs money and you’re probably looking for a job to earn money. However, if you are in a financial position to take some sort of course or work on your education, do it. It shows that you’re staying current with trends and can give you an edge above other job seekers.

Is this something you’ve experienced firsthand? Have you been asked about your current employment status while looking for a job? Have you been turned down for a job specifically because you’re unemployed? Let us know!

21 Comments
  1. I was in a rather large group, I was the most senior individual, I was making more money, I was training everyone else, and I was the first one let go. It was for the most ridiculous reason, but reiterated several times it was not for my performance. I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t even give me decent severance, they just fought it, but my performance was exceptional… I don’t get why companies do what they do, but they deserve what they get. What goes around comes around.

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  10. I’ve noticed that the longer a person is out of job the more the tendency for the employer to not favor the candidate. It’s unfortunate for those who are experienced but unemployed to not be able to find jobs, ‘cos these are the ones with larger families and dependents to support. Fortunately, I have been able to retain a decent job with a multi-national company. I have been working towards enabling new job opportunities across the US. I’m offering free resources and my time to motivate people in these down-times with new opportunities, especially during the upcoming holiday season when some people might have a greater tendency to get depressed. Check out the opportunities enabled… something might click for you: http://www.sharedmall.com/flyer.html.

  11. I’ve been unemployed for nearly 6 months now. I’m beginning to think that my lack of employment is what is stalling my next move. It seems ridiculous that someone wouldn’t hire you because you aren’t currently working but it’s certainly feeling like that’s the way it is.

  12. Worked twice for Census-but been laid off since 12-31-09-along with over 300 of my colleagues from my prior position of in-prison drug & alcohol treatment counseling. The state also cancelled contracts for the field across our state at the same time! I have a pretty good track record with both employers, and a good resume’, but all that has been offered so far has been limited training opportunities ( welder, truck driver, psych tech) and jobs that relate (job coach,carreer counselor, etcetera) are limited in my area.Even though I put out resumes and get interviews I do not get jobs.

  13. Regardless of what one’s job status is, work is always available, but people do not want to take the work that could be beneath them,or their pay grade, like package handler for UPS, FED-EX, Labor Ready which is available in every state, a simple grocery clerk, if a person speaks more than one language, check hotels, and the immigration office for work in translations. Most people have become comfortable with the amount un-employment disburses; which I have been told countless times disburses more than what an individual would earn in one of these occupations.
    Lucky Leechers or Unlucky?

    • True. There seem to be jobs and opportunities everywhere… just not what we have gotten accustomed to. We all have worked hard to grow in our career paths, so it’s not easy to accept failure and give up the hard earned reputation for a lower paying job. I personally would have the hesitation to even try a lower paying job if had I lost my current job. But, there’s always a point beyond which any job would be good enough.

    • Queen,Regardless of what one’s job status is, work is always available, but people do not want to take the work that could be beneath them,or their pay grade, like package handler for UPS, FED-EX, Labor Ready which is available in every state, a simple grocery clerk, if a person speaks more than one language, check hotels, and the immigration office for work in translations. Most people have become comfortable with the amount un-employment disburses; which I have been told countless times disburses more than what an individual would earn in one of these occupations.
      Lucky Leechers or Unlucky?

      You are very much misinformed! Depending on one’s background, which is reflective on their resume, a candidate for these positions maybe considered “over-qualified”; or perhaps they are unable to do heavy lifting, which is usually a requirement for the UPS, Fed-ex type of positions. Perhaps someone must stay local to their area due to family obligations, etc. There are many situations where your statement is not applicable, and many where it is. Sometimes contract jobs are available, however, most are looking for younger workers, so if you are an seasoned, veteran worker, these positions are hard to obtain…and a lot of them request someone with less than 5 years experience, which again rules out the veterans (those job seekers 40 and over). So before you decide to label us “Lucky Leechers”, get your facts correct.

      • I applied for a seasonal job with UPS which paid minimum wage and only lasted a month. They never called me even though I was well qualified for the job. I’ve applied at every grocery store, big box store, and every customer service position available and I never get a call or even a rejection notice.
        I have a Bachelor’s degree and was at my last job for 5 years. I was laid off along with the rest of the staff due to budget cuts. I’ve been looking for work for the past year and a half. It’s incredibly disheartening to be turned down for a job anyone can do.

  14. Companies are looking for people who are not working. They get a nice tax credit for hiring someone who’s unemployed. Therefore I think they discriminate do to this. I’m always asked if I’m currently working when called about jobs and sometimes I get an “oh” and they never call back.

  15. I found a job after looking for about a year and a half. It is the same job I had when I was 18, but it is better than nothing. I wish I was paid more, the hours were different, etc. of course, but the point is I’m employed and able to look foward by allowing myself to start over at the bottom.

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  17. I am currently employed and taking a HR Management course.am almost finished with certificate level.i intend to go all the way to advanced diploma or even masters.however the company i am working for there is no room to move forward and if i leave next year when i fin my certificate level,what would i say to the next employer who i would like a job with? i believe that my current employer will try to sabotage me when i do start looking for another job.

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