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Redundancy and Bias Against the Unemployed

unemployment discrimination


Career transition tactics to win the job when it seems like a stacked field. 

Career change is hard at the best of times. But if you are affected by redundancy it can feel like a double whammy when you're forced to launch into job search mode only to find a market that favours the employed.  People tell me time and again it feels like ‘it's easier to get a job when you have a job’. The reality is that's probably true but don't lose heart, there is plenty you can do to overcome any market bias.  

Unemployment Bias Exists.

Unemployment bias definitely exists. I’d love to say otherwise but we all know it's true and there is no point pretending. I hear it every day in the frustrated voices of talented professionals previously poached at every corner only to find post-redundancy the market seems suddenly a little quieter. 

In fact, sadly the research backs this up. A 2011 study* by a research team led by Geoffrey Ho from the UCLA Anderson School of Management revealed that this bias does occur. They conducted a study of 47 HR professionals who all received the identical resume except for one small difference, half had a resume where the applicant was listed as currently employed, and the other had the applicant listed as unemployed for a month. Disappointingly, the employed applicant received better scores for competence and hireability.

Read Also: Redundancy Sucks. The Fastest Route Back to Happily Reemployed

Apparently even job market technologies favour the employed. For example on LinkedIn, if you don’t list a current position, your ranking will drop slightly in their search results. 

Of course, this bias for most hirers isn’t intentional, and I'm hopeful in today’s market that this bias is slowly changing as we begin to recognise that periods of unemployment are going to be the norm in the new world of work and no reflection at all on the individual. 

Overcoming Unemployment Bias

So how do we overcome it?  

  1. Firstly, don’t bow your head to it.  Be confident in the value you bring. Employers, recruiters and your network will respond positively if you present with confidence and can clearly articulate your value to potential organisations.  
  2. Don’t let the gap get in your own head.  When you are preparing for interview or designing your resume put your energies not into worrying about the gap but in grabbing the employer’s attention by really showcasing the value you have brought in past roles.  Nothing captures attention like telling an employer you saved money, increased sales, improved service or the many other incredible achievements you have under your belt.
  3. Be strategic.  Whilst you don’t want to be caught up in the “gap” mentality you also need to be pragmatic and deal with the reality that this bias exists.  Do your best to minimise gaps in your resume by using years rather than months in your dates and looking for ways to highlight valuable activities during this time.  This may be other part time work (paid or unpaid), study or development activities.    
  4. Don’t let it catch you off guard. Be ready with practiced responses to any questions by recruiters or friends about why you left your last position.  Remember redundancy is incredibly common today – in fact it's a by-product of the times we work in. Simply let others know your organisation experienced workforce changes and your position was subsequently affected.  Most people now understand that redundancy is just an unfortunate but sometimes unavoidable part of business.

My final point is to not let the thought of unemployment bias derail your job search.  If you are confident, prepared and active in the market you will get another position.  If you are worried about unemployment bias and have been given outplacement support, make sure to talk with your career coach about strategies to address this so you can move forward with confidence.

Mentioned Research Study: *The Psychological Stigma of Unemployment: When Joblessness leads to Being Jobless," Geoffrey Ho, Margaret Shih and Daniel J. Walters of UCLA Anderson and Todd Lowell Pittinsky of Stony Brook University, 2011


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