In Times of High Unemployment, Overlook Laid-Off Candidates at Your Own Risk

That's not a valid work email account. Please enter your work email (e.g.
Please enter your work email


The pandemic has changed so much about how we live and work, which makes this a good time for recruiters to reevaluate how they look at currently unemployed applicants.

Many employers have traditionally favored employed applicants over those who are out of work. This preference has long driven employers to focus on luring top performers away from other companies, while fueling a bias against applicants who are unemployed, even through no fault of their own.

Before the pandemic, workers in departments or units that were cut were perceived as less hardworking or persistent than employed job seekers. They were sometimes viewed as less qualified or skilled because they weren’t deemed “essential.”

Now, however, the pandemic has jolted our collective understanding of what “essential” means. Whole industries are staggering from the combination of quarantines, social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and remote-work requirements. Displaced from jobs eliminated in the pandemic’s unprecedented economic upheaval, millions of unemployed job seekers are on the hunt for new work.

Companies need infusions of motivated and talented workers to retool themselves to become more agile in the days ahead. With more than 40 million Americans having lost their jobs since the pandemic began, employers can’t afford to overlook this vast pool of talent. Here are some things to consider as recruiters and hiring managers take a closer look at unemployed job seekers:

1. Short-Term vs. Long-Term Unemployment

It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was only earlier this year that unemployment levels were hovering around their lowest in a half-century. Employers may naturally be concerned about hiring workers with employment gaps extending back months before the pandemic began, but shorter-term unemployment is now very common. Workers who lost jobs in the pandemic warrant due consideration.

2. Top Candidates Previously Out of Reach

Economic turmoil has uprooted many highly skilled and experienced workers, causing them to cast wider nets in their job searches than they might have previously. For instance, I know a senior executive at a construction firm who recently took a position as a local manager at a smaller company. He would not have considered this role before, and although it was definitely a step down in prestige for him, his new company now has the benefit of his senior experience.

3. Versatility and Agility

During normal times, top performers with deep experience in a single industry or function may limit their job searches to that same industry or function. Today, many of them are looking at a wider range of positions. These workers can bring the new perspectives, adaptability, and agility that companies need in challenging times like these.

4. Untapped Potential

Many people now searching for work, particularly younger candidates, may have been laid off from their previous jobs due to lack of seniority. Recruiters may overlook these candidates because of their short tenures, but that can be a mistake. Many of these candidates have high growth potential. There are methods and assessments you can use to help spot these diamonds in the rough.

5. Accelerated Onboarding

Workers who are presently unemployed don’t have to give notice or fulfill obligations like wrapping up projects or conducting exit interviews before joining your team. Most are ready to start right away, allowing companies to quickly fill vacant positions. This can help employers rapidly respond to changing market conditions.

6. More Bang for Your Buck

Workers who have been laid off may be more flexible about the compensation they are willing to accept. This can allow companies to hire employees with more refined skills and greater seniority than they might have otherwise been able to afford, while staying within the salary parameters allotted for each position.

7. Energy and Morale

Employees who have gone through a layoff may be especially conscientious in their new positions as they seek to prove their worth. Laid-off workers tend to be excited about getting back to work and may lean into their new jobs as a result. As they seek to make themselves more essential, these workers may even take the initiative to cross-train and learn different functions. Plus, hiring these energized applicants can help boost morale, teamwork, and productivity among your workforce overall.

A worker who has been laid off from a previous job can become a great asset to your company, so overlook unemployed applicants at your own peril. This is not a matter of charity, as all applicants must prove their worth. By using appropriate skills testing and other assessment techniques, you can gauge applicants’ aptitudes and hire the best candidates, regardless of their recent employment histories.

Ken Crowell is founder and CEO of EmployTest.

By Ken Crowell