Since the pandemic began, there have been a record number of layoffs across the country. Unemployment shot up from 3.8% in February to 14.7% in April. Thankfully, the jobless rate dipped to 10.2% by July, but unemployment remains high, and some economists worry a continued weak economy could spur more layoffs.
Some industries — including construction, grocery, delivery services, and home improvement — are thriving. Others — such as airlines, hotels, and restaurants — are struggling. More than 40 million Americans have lost jobs and filed for unemployment since the pandemic began.
With some sectors prospering and many people looking for work, this is a good time for employers to reexamine their preference for hiring people who are presently employed.
Historically, there’s been a negative feeling or bias against hiring laid-off workers. Some job postings even included requirements that applicants be presently employed. As a result, many hiring managers excluded applicants who lost jobs through no fault of their own. There remained a perception that laid-off workers were less hardworking or persistent than employed job-seekers.
There’s also been a perception that such candidates were not as qualified, given that they weren’t deemed essential enough to be kept by their former employers, or that their skills weren’t as good as others who remained employed.
Short- vs Long-Term Unemployed
In weighing whether to hire laid-off workers, companies should consider the distinction between short-term and long-term unemployment. Short-term unemployment is very common now. Long-term unemployment extending back to before the pandemic began is more concerning.
When unemployment was at low levels in late 2019 through early 2020, most motivated workers would have been able to find new positions. So it’s understandable that hiring managers might be wary about hiring applicants who spent six or more months unemployed during that period.
The Case for Hiring the Unemployed
Never have so many employees been laid off in such a short period of time. Just about everyone knows someone who has lost a job. This situation should create more empathy toward laid-off workers — but there is also a strong business case to be made for hiring these workers, including:
Undiscovered talent. Some unemployed candidates were laid off as a result of a “last-in, first-out” formula that prioritizes seniority over growth potential. These candidates, particularly younger ones, may have a tough time landing interviews due to the short tenure listed on their resumes. Some recruiters might interpret this as a lack of competency — and miss out on potentially great employees. It’s worth assessing the abilities of these workers before making a hiring decision.
Compensation impact. Laid-off workers may be more flexible when it comes to their compensation. This could allow you to hire a more senior person than you expected, while still meeting the salary parameters of the position.
Rapid onboarding. Laid-off workers are often ready to start as soon as possible and do not have to go through the customary two-to-four-week separation notice process with a current place of work. They also don’t have to fulfill tedious time-consuming obligations to an employer, such as wrapping up final projects or exit interviews. They can make an immediate impact on the organization.
Versatility of experience. Top performers usually have a deep level of experience in their industry or function. During normal times, this may limit their job searches to the same industry or function. But if they are laid off and presently unemployed, they may begin to look at all available options across industries and functions. This can allow a company in a less-than-glamorous industry to nab an employee that they wouldn’t have a chance to get under regular circumstances.
High morale. It can be hard to keep employee morale high during challenging times such as these. Laid-off workers tend to be excited about getting back to a normal employment schedule and being able to prove their worth again. Accepting a job offer and starting on a new path can be both a relief and a source of soaring optimism. Hiring applicants who are full of positive energy can breathe new life into your workplace and stimulate productivity.
This Is Not About Charity
There are many strong reasons for hiring job-seekers who are presently out of work, but charity is not among them. Laid off or not, applicants must still prove they are the right fit for the job. Workers who have been laid off from a previous job can become great assets. It’s not that they warrant special consideration in comparison to employed workers. It’s that you should not overlook them considering the advantages and value they can bring to your organization.
Ken Crowell is founder and CEO of EmployTest, a pre-employment testing platform that’s helped more than 7,000 corporate and government organizations across the United States and globally to remotely pre-screen applicants for the best hiring choices. EmployTest administers more than 60,000 tests to job applicants each year. Learn more at www.employtest.com.