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Ohio’s Unemployment Rate Be Damned

Are you OK with limiting your already tight candidate pool with unnecessary and irrelevant criteria?

Maybe you saw the tweet on Friday by Ohio Department of Job & Family Services:

But, unless you're an economist, maybe you're not sure what it all means. According to analyses by two experts interviewed for a Columbus Dispatch article, "Ohio jobless rate dips to 5 percent in April even as labor force grows," the report is mostly positive. Ohio’s labor market seems to be making progress. Yay!

A Sign of Optimism.

One factor contributing to the optimism is that since December more than 100,000 people have re-entered the labor force. They've started looking for work again. Because they feel good about their employment prospects. This is viewed by economists as a sign of confidence in the economy. Yay again!

Unfortunately, just because these folks are dusting off their resumes and hitting the bricks to look for employment, it doesn’t mean they’ll get hired. In fact, as these job seekers re-enter the job market, they face significant bias (whether consciously or subconsciously) among prospective employers.

dogs voiced by Don Messick

The bias against hiring people who are unemployed … who have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks … especially those who are long-term unemployed and over 50 ... endures. Yikes!

This last group is virtually unemployable. To quote Scooby Doo (or was it Astro?), “Rut-roh.”

Holy Grail or Holy Sh*t?

Somewhere along the way, recruiters developed a preference for hiring already-working candidates. The Holy Grail among recruiters is the currently-employed candidate--one who is not actively job searching. Wait, what?

So, instead of considering candidates who have the skills and work experience and are standing right in front of them, employers move these capable individuals out of the way to spend more time, effort and resources on pursuing someone who is not even looking. These employers give the benefit of the doubt to these candidates ... just because they are not on the market?

The answer to whether currently employed candidates are manifestly better than others is the topic of another article. Suffice it to say, is it relevant to use “lack of employment” as a screening tool? I think not.

The supposition that unemployed candidates are flawed—that there must be a reason why they are unemployed—is not only unfair to them and to you, it's damaging to our economy. Like the MIT-educated software engineer now working in the retail store at the mall, these individuals take jobs well below their skill sets, they earn well below what they are worth, and they contribute well below what they are capable of. They deplete their retirement savings so they can continue paying the mortgage or their kid's college tuition.

Our economy cannot grow when people are not contributing at their fullest potential.

These are not bad people. They are just like you and me. They got caught up in circumstances of the economy and, because of biases and ill-informed behaviors of some employers, they have never been given the opportunity to recover. This is where we all should be reminded of the phrase there but for the grace of God go I.

Why make the effort to change?

The tighter the labor market becomes, the more difficult it will be to find candidates. If you’re limiting your already tight candidate pool with unnecessary and irrelevant criteria, it is self-defeating.

Be intentional about your hiring process. Ensure you are hiring people because of their skills and their experience and not simply rejecting them because of dates on their resume.

Take a hard look at your hiring practices. Dig into the data. Assess applications received vs. screened vs. interviewed vs. offered to identify trends. Also, discuss this subject with your team. While you, personally, may not exhibit the behavior associated with this bias, what about the people who work for you? Help change people's attitudes and behaviors about the unemployed and the long-term unemployed.

If people re-entering the job market is a sign of the strength of the economy, but those people never get hired, has the economy actually improved?

Andrea J. Applegate is a talent strategist who consults with clients on transforming their workforce into their competitive advantage. Applegate has nearly 20 years of experience in workforce and talent in the Columbus region and has particular expertise working with small to mid-sized businesses.

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