Help Wanted – Must be currently employed.
It's the fine print that can kill many job seeker's hopes and it doesn't seem to be going away any time soon. Over the past few years, there has been a huge increase in the number of companies who have stated, in no uncertain terms, that they won't hire anyone who is currently unemployed. For the 14 million or so Americans who are unemployed, this type of discriminatory hiring practice isn't anything new. If you search any job board or even the help wanted ads on Craigslist, you'll see so many listings that say “unemployed need not apply.”
It's a controversial practice, but unemployment is not a protected status, so discrimination based on employment status is still perfectly legal. However, the Equal Opportunity Commission has held several hearings about it, trying to determine if the practice should be illegal because it unfairly targets older workers and minority applicants, both of whom have lost jobs in greater numbers. Although several states, like New Jersey, have decided to make this practice illegal, it still happens, even when it isn't specifically stated. In fact, discrimination against the jobless has been going on for a very long time. Here's why:
Employers have always preferred to hire people who already have jobs – The best way to find a job has always been to already have one. The preference for applicants who are currently employed is nothing new. The problem is that in previous decades unemployment was very low, so the bias wasn't nearly so noticeable. Now, with so many people being out of work, the preference seems unnecessarily harsh.
It's an easy measurement to narrow down the applicant pool – Because it's an employer's market right now, most hiring managers receive many more resumes than they can possibly sort through. In order to make their job easier, they use different standards to rule out large groups of people. Requiring job seekers to be currently employed eliminates a large number of applications and the company can still be confident that they will find someone who can do the job.
There's a stereotype about the unemployed – Even though we have been going through a tough economic time, there is still a stereotype that people who have been unemployed for longer than a month or so are less desirable than those who are currently employed or who have only just lost their jobs. The thought is that bad employees are the first ones to be laid off and, that if they haven't been able to find a job yet, then there must be some reason for it.
Skills do deteriorate without use – If you've been out of the workplace for several months, your skills have probably gotten a little rusty. It's just the way these things go. You can't keep your skills sharp when you aren't working everyday. Job seekers who have been unemployed for a long time should take a class or find a volunteer opportunity in order to stay at the top of their game.
Being out of work increases health problems – Being out of work for a long period of time is really difficult and not just from a financial perspective. It can destroy relationships, cause extreme hardship and cause problems like depression. In addition, people who have been managing their mental health issues with medication may have been unable to afford treatment once they lost their employee provided health coverage. Because of this, unemployed people aren't always going to make the best impression at an interview and may not be as enthusiastic and motivated as people who are currently working.
Although it's wrong to discriminate against people who aren't currently employed, it happens every single day. Knowing this, it's important for every job seeker to take steps to overcome this prejudice and even address it in a cover letter. Taking classes, volunteering and even accepting an internship are all great ways to keep your skills sharp and to show that you are doing something productive with your time.
Have you encountered this sort of prejudice? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
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