September 1, 2015

Maybe Employers Don’t Actually Care Whether or Not You’re Unemployed

SeagullAt, we’ve written pretty extensively about the discrimination that unemployed job seekers face. Heck, in my very early days with the company, I wrote a righteous screed all about how our fetish for passive candidates unfairly puts unemployed candidates at a disadvantage, and it’s still one of my most popular articles.

Problem is, new evidence is beginning to suggest that maybe employers aren’t terribly concerned about whether or not a job seeker is employed.

Very Few Employers Are Thinking Hard About Your Current Employment Status

According to the 2015 “Emerging Workforce Study” from staffing company Spherion, a scant 8 percent of employers believe that whether or not a candidate is currently employed is the most important factor in hiring decisions.

According to Spherion Division President Sandy Mazur, there once was a time when many employers looked unfavorably on unemployed candidates. They saw employed candidates as far more loyal, the idea being that someone who gives up an existing job in favor of a new one must be a committed employee, whereas an unemployed candidate isn’t making any sacrifices to gain a new job.

A few factors have played a role in making employers care less about candidates’ current employment statuses.

To start, the Great Recession drove a lot of highly talented workers out of their jobs through no fault of their own.

“Since the recession, many companies have probably hired a lot of people [with histories of unemployment] who ended up meeting the needs of the organization,” Mazur says.

Not only do more people have gaps in their resumes thanks to the Great Recession, but also, a fiercely competitive talent market is forcing employers to drop some of their arbitrary preferences in order to fill roles. A sizeable chunk of companies report having a hard time finding the right talent in today’s market, and that means employers have to get creative.

“The majority of HR reps today say that the biggest issue facing their organizations is finding highly skilled talent,” Mazur explains. “As a result, they’re taking a different look at the people interviewing for the jobs they have open, and they are being more open-minded as to [candidates’] employment statuses.”

That being said, Mazur warns job seekers that the stigma surrounding unemployment may have softened a lot, but it isn’tMountain totally gone.

“It’s still important that the candidate, if they are unemployed, be ready to address the reasons for that,” she says. “They’re really going to have to bring their resumes to life — but I think being unemployed is not the major hurdle that it once was.”

Presenting Yourself in the Best Possible Light

If employers are less worried about a candidate’s employment status, what are they concerned about?

According to Spherion’s study, “The top two criteria employers say most frequently shape their decision-making process are interview performance and potential fit with a company’s culture.”

To take advantage of this information, Mazur suggests that job seekers really “do their homework.”

“Really understand not just what the company does, but also what [the company] stands for — what [its] greater purpose is,” Mazur says. “It’s so important for organizations that they’re hiring individuals who fit into their culture. Doing a little extra homework is important — and pretty easy to do, with all the websites and social media channels nowadays.”

Another important piece of advice Mazur offers is that job seekers should be sure to “highlight their most relevant experience on their resumes.”

“Tailor your resume based on the skills the company is looking for, with a particular emphasis on problem solving and strategic thinking,” Mazur says. “Tell stories and bring your expertise to life; [make it] more than just bullet points on a resume.”

And last but not least, Mazur reminds job seekers not to “overlook networking.” Seventy percent of all jobs are found through networking, so it’s important that job seekers take every chance they get to network, network, network.

“Take your networking opportunities,” Mazur says. “You may know somebody who knows somebody who can help you understand an organization or give you a good introduction and get you an interview.”

Read more in Job Market

Matthew Kosinski is the managing editor of