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These Are Real Lives We’re Dealing With

by
Carmen Hudson
Jul 28, 2011, 12:52 am ET

I received some sad news yesterday. A friend committed suicide. He was despondent because he had been unemployed for over two years. He likely had other emotional problems. After years of looking for work, getting rejected or ignored, and financial difficulties, he gave up.

This isn’t uncommon. Joblessness increases the risk of suicide.

And yesterday, the New York Times ran an article about companies that discriminate against the unemployed.

As recruiters, our routine actions can be a direct blow to the emotional health of hundreds — even thousands — of people we’ll never meet. Our inaction, our silence, our casual attitudes, can add to someone’s set of worries. Our decisions impact families. Lives.

Stop. Think. Before dismissing entire categories of people. Our economy, this job market — they are complex. Simplistic thinking (e.g., “all the good ones are working”) doesn’t hold up. “Unemployed” is an easy filter to apply. Just like “years of experience.” Only junior recruiters and rookie managers rely on such criteria to assess talent.

Real recruiters and real managers ask:

  • Has this person done this job successfully in the past?
  • Does this person have the attitude and the will to get the job done?
  • Will this person help the company save money, achieve goals, serve customers, or improve products?

I’ve said it before. Unemployment is getting worse because of advancements in technology and improvements in worker productivity. Companies experiencing record revenue and profit growth are laying off workers by the thousands. We are going to continue to see perfectly good workers among the ranks of the unemployed. As recruiters, we can’t do much about the shrinking number of available positions. But we can ensure that the process is fair, transparent, and respectful.

We can remember that our work directly impacts the lives — and livelihoods — of real people.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Maureen Sharib

    I’d venture to say that many of us know someone who has committed suicide in the last few years w/ out-of-work related despondency. I know one.

  2. Lisa Doorly

    No one should be shocked that the unemployed face discrimination. While legislation to protect the unemployed is great – where was this when the crisis started – where is the legislation subsidizing COBRA (while our legislators continue to enjoy FREE medical coverage). Ideas are great – enforcing them is a whole different story – ask the guys on Wall Street about oversight and enforcement.

  3. Megan Stanish

    Carmen – Thank you for so sensitively sharing your personal sorrow (I am so sorry for the loss of your friend) and for so eloquently making a critical point. I think we all need the occasional reminder that these are not just “candidates” with “work histories” but human beings, people who are not always 100% in control of the forces around them that influence their careers (e.g. company management, the economy, etc.). Wonderful article. Well said.

  4. Eric Putkonen

    Great article.

    It is not right to exclude people because they are unemployed. Being unemployed really should not be a factor in the hiring decision. Do they have the skills, can they do the job, are they a fit for the company’s culture? This is more valid.

    I know this partially stems from the old idea of “passive candidates”. Everyone wants the passive candidate…and not an active job seeker. We need to let this concept go.

    Even in better times, I have seen horrible decisions made because of this. A top candidate I recruited several years ago had all the requirements and preferences in the job description…and all the interviewers loved him…he was rejected by the CEO (without meeting him) because this person was unemployed. The CEO wanted a passive candidate. The guy was in Michigan when the car industry crashed. He was willing to move to Ohio for this job. It made me sick. Throwing away someone who had all the requirements, preferences, a proven track record, and someone who all the interviewers loved…all because he happened to be not working at the time. Ridiculous!

    We are not only hurting people…we are doing a harm to our companies. Not only could we be passing up excellent workers (who probably would not cost as much), but also we are damaging the brand of the company. I don’t feel very good about companies who exclude people just because they are unemployed.

  5. Carmen Lopez

    Bravo to you Carmen! Employees have no power nor say-so when company loses clients, loses vital vendors or closes it doors altogether. Being in HR I would think we would know better than anyone that when the discussing who to let go there is no rhyme or reason to the decision. If you can’t find it in your heart to be sympathetic at least have the business accumen to understand that companies do what is best for companies and it’s our jobs to find the game changers caught in the turmoil

  6. Jim Bisbee

    Empathy is an important part of our dealing with candidates. We’ve all been “between jobs” and know what it’s like to have no response or be rejected. I can’t tell you how many people have thanked me for getting back to them, even though I’ve just told them we don’t have a job for them. It’s the right thing to do and it has the added benefit of building goodwill for you and your firm. We can’t do it for everyone who applies but where you have direct interaction with candidates it’s an opportunity to treat them like you would want to be treated.

    Thanks for raising the subject and I am sorry for your loss.

  7. Josh Jones

    My deepest sympathy for your loss. Thank you for sharing this article.

    My life has also been touched by a handful of suicides over the last few years.

    As if that weren’t enough – on the recruiting side, I’ve been present as a coworker struggled to find a way to assist a suicidal candidate. It was one of the hardest situations I’ve ever had to witness in this industry.

    As we grow in our recruiting careers, and our networks grow, we are put in a position to witness many amazing situations and professionals – but with that opportunity to witness greatness comes the exposure to the trials of those who are suffering tremendously.

    In closing, I must say that the ability to significantly improve lives is why I love my job so much. We owe it to our candidates to treat them with the respect we would expect if we were in their position.

  8. Jari King

    Hi Carmen and “thank you”. What a well thought out and timely topic. When I read the title, I was intrigued. When I read the article I was touched. The reality you wrote about impacts the majority of people involved in recruiting as we face a growing number of candidates with lengthly unemployment records. Often there is a tendency to judge that long unemployed person too harshly, but in reflecting on today’s market, it’s easy to recognize why so many people stay unemployed for so very long regardless of how anxious they may be to return to work. And as you pointed out, the results can often be tragic.

    Your words provide excellent food for thought…thank you again!

  9. Robert Dromgoole

    Howard Adamsky’s book ‘Employment Rage’ speaks to this topic. The Talent Board where Gerry Crispin and others have made a personal investment to improve the candidate experience speaks to this. I challenge recruiters to do more outreach in their communities to help the unemployed. Many are scared, despondent, don’t know what to do and your phone call/guidance can make a huge difference. I look at this awful tragedy as a reminder that the entire RECRUITER community can help America in this time of need. Reach out to your local unemployment office. Do mock interviews. Speak on social media and recruiting. Conduct resume writing classes and talk about the process. You’ll be amazed at what your outreach can accomplish. Thoughts and prayers to that family who lost a loved one, and to you Carmen for losing a friend.

  10. Jerry Miller

    Carmen, very sorry for your loss. But you have channeled that loss into a very positive message for all of us involved in recruiting and the hiring process. We should never lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with the lives of fellow human beings and the well being of them and their families on a daily basis. They deserve to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect.

    And Robert, thank you for some great ideas on how we can proactively help our fellow citizens in this time of need. Well said.

  11. Jeffrey Keene

    Good article. If one recruiter/manager would have looked for reasons to hire, instead of reasons not to hire possibly your friend, and others like him would still be with us. Unfortunately, many companies are under the misconception that because someone is out of work they are not a good candidate. We all know people who may have floundered or not fit in at one organization and thrived at another.

  12. Rick Gillis

    Carmen, my deep condolences for the loss of your friend. I am not a recruiter but a job search expert/counselor. I follow ERE and other staffing/HR sites in order to remain current in my live presentations. I was speaking to my editor just this week about suicide and job search. I was telling her that I honestly do not know how many people I may have talked back from the edge. She was astounded when she realized how tough what I do can be (on me).

    I personally know of two suicides related to the inability to obtain a job. The first note said “this way you can keep the house and the kids can stay in college…”–the 2nd, just 3 weeks later was, in my opinion, a copy cat (they both attended the same job networking group). It is not right when it comes down to the Life Insurance vs. Life.

    I am deeply grateful to you for bringing this very real and tragic insight to the recruiting community. It’s not something you can do anything about but a little smile in your voice and a personal touch and guidance can make all the difference.

    Rick Gillis.com

  13. Bill Bargas

    Carmen
    I’ve taken the liberty to share with members of our Linkedin group – Diversity A World of Change. Our group is comprised on international membership and unemployment discrimination is alive and prospering in the UK,Canada and Australia.

  14. Keith Halperin

    Carmen, I am very sorry to hear of your friend. I know what it is like to lose a good friend to suicide.

    To my colleagues:
    1) What percentage of your companies’ hires have been from the long-term (>1 yr.) unemployed? If some, what percentage of these hires were for $40k+ positions? (I woud guess: “few” and “very few”.)

    2) We’ve talked about the companies that discriminate against the unemployed. Consider this:
    A company makes this statement: “Because we are proud to be a member of our community and wish to help our local unemployed, for the following positions, we will only consider as applicants those who currently do not have FT positions in the field to which they are applying.”

    Thanks,

    Keith

  15. Paul Basile

    It’s tough to lose a friend, or anyone, and like others I can relate. One person I fired committed suicide.

    Joblessness is bad, for the individual and the economy. New technologies and economic growth create new jobs… and destroy others. That requires transition for some people and that can be hard.

    Your questions are good ones, but there are many others equally good. Use science to get the right people in the right jobs – because it works best. We can dramatically reduce dis-engagement (and ultimately the causes of job-related suicide) if we use science.

  16. Stephanie McDonald

    While I agree that there is discrimination going on at some companies, why can’t I find as many job postings as these articles claim there are? I probably look once a week, as I’m curious and a recruiting geek. I might find one or two, but not the hundreds that I keep hearing about. Am I missing something?

    I agree that we as recruiters need to share of our knowledge and experience to those who are less fortunate. If each of us helped just one or two people, the impact would be huge.

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  18. Kelly Blokdijk, SPHR

    Very poignant post reminding us how severe this prolonged recession has become. Such a tragic outcome that your friend reached that level of despair. Sorry for your loss.

    Even though media coverage about blatant examples in job postings has increased awareness recently, it seems that the underlying theme of preferring employed people is not at all a new concept. Frankly, I don’t remember a time when that wasn’t the case.

    The major difference now is that some employers (very few) have actually stated this preference in writing. But the unwritten bias has always existed and sadly probably always will to some degree.

    Most of us agree that the idea that everyone with a job is superior to everyone without a job is foolish and short-sighted. Yet there are people who truly believe that the unemployed are undesirable. I’m not at all convinced that a law forbidding employers from stating that “only currently employed people will be considered” will solve this issue.

    However, imagine the priceless PR a company would receive if they ran a campaign encouraging those between positions to come work for them. I don’t mean they should develop artificial screening to exclude employed people, but actively pursue those who need jobs the most right now.

    Incidentally, I find it ironic that the majority of employed people in my network are incredibly reluctant to seek employment, even if they despise their present situation. There are few who have been repeatedly contacted for new opportunities, but they feel that the market is too risky to make that leap.

  19. Jerry Miller

    Stephanie, one is too many.

  20. Kelly Park

    Just this week I recruited and hired a person that had spent the last 2 years unemployed. He has 7 children – 1 on a full-ride scholarship to a major university. For the past 2 years he has been telling his children – “You can’t give up. You can’t just stop”. I didn’t hire him because of his children or the length of time he was unemployed. I did hire him because of his attitude, his experience and his skill. But I won’t lie – that hire made me feel good.

  21. Jerry Miller

    Good on you Kelly! I think we all know we can’t hire someone just because they’re unemployed. But when an unemployed candidate is the best candidate it’s a great feeling.

  22. Keith Halperin

    Really good, Kelly!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  23. Carmen Hudson

    Thank you everyone for your condolences and thoughtful comments. I really appreciate it. Carmen

  24. Howard Adamsky

    Carmen, I love you for writing this article. Simply the best.

    I have always believed that those who discriminate against the unemployed will go to the warmer parts of hell.

    Know a company that discriminates against the unemployed? Do not buy their stuff – simple as that.

  25. Stephanie McDonald

    @Jerry – I assumed people wouldn’t take my question as a sign of support of this sort of behavior, but I guess I should say that I find it deplorable. My point was, this has been going on for years and I personally haven’t seen any spike in these types of postings, but they are just getting more visibility. I agree, one is too many.

  26. Tim Advent

    This is a very sad story, and unfortunately for recruiters this is a part of the job no one ever told us about.

    To be honest, we (recruiters) are a big part of the problem. In most cases we run the applicant tracking systems, we submit the candidates to the hiring managers and we make reccomendations on who should be hired.

    In my own experience I have witnessed recruiters not disposition candidates in the ATS even when they know the candidate will not get the job. The candidate will never get a notification saying they are not being considered.

    Every day I hear from family and friends “the manager sent my resume down to HR and I never heard anything”… Did anyone in HR reach out to the candidate to explain the hiring process?

    How about the person who knows of a job, has the skill set, applies to it and three months later sees on linked in that someone they know of, with lesser skills, got the job! They didn’t even get a phone call or an automated response regarding their status?

    Who hasn’t interviewed, thought it went well only to never hear anything from the company.. or the recruiter that set up the interview?

    How may recruiters here pick up their telephones or let it roll right into voice mail?

    To the unemployed person sitting at home, hours can seem like days… The least we as recruiters can do is give them some sort of feedback.

  27. Keith Halperin

    @Howard A:
    Well said.

    @Everybody:
    Time for “the rubber to meet the road”. I encourage everyone who has seen a notice that says “Unemployed need mot apply” or something to that effect, send the notice’s hyperlink to me NO LATER THAN 11:59 PM PDT AUGUST 14TH.
    (If it’s just “a F-of-a-F said…” type of thing, that doesn’t count- it has to be in online print.) I’ll re-check it online, and if it’s still there, I’ll compile it into a list and post it here on ERE and also send it over to Glassdoor.com. I won’t put in any criticisnm, ranting, etc. just a headline which says “The Following Companies Ran These Employment Listings” and list the hyperlink, the ad itself, and the company.

    Send this and my email to whoever you think will respond, and to half the people you think won’t respond, just to be sure.

    Thanks,

    Keith keithsr@abcglobal.net

  28. Jerry Miller

    Right on Keith! Thank you.

  29. Krista Bradford

    Carmen, thank you for reminding everyone of the real human cost of unemployment. I am so sorry to hear about your friend.

    When the downturn began, almost every day, my daughter came home from high school with news of someone’s father being laid off. What struck me then is how the problem is hidden behind closed doors. Sadly, there is shame and fear that the stigma of being unemployed will keep one from getting one’s next job. And so, many times, the jobless are isolated at the very time they would benefit from friends and family gathering around. Neighbors really do want to help their neighbors, if they only could . . . if they only knew. So back then I set up a Facebook group Westporters Helping Westporters where local citizens came together and made a difference. (You can try this in your home towns . . ) It was a safe place for the jobless to go for support, encouragement, and introductions to employers. Once, six months or so later, I received a call from one of the unemployed members who thanked me for helping and reported that he’d gotten a job. As we spoke, it became clear that he had gotten the job himself, and not through any of our leads. All I had really done was check in regularly with him and listen. So I asked him why he was thanking me. He said, “You don’t understand. You were there for me at my darkest hour . . . my darkest hour.”

    Now, its nearly 2 years later. While some of the jobless have returned to work, others are not so lucky. I get calls every month or so from a candidate at the end of his rope, asking for any work any where any time, his voice trembling. Often, the person sounds inebriated, as if he had to down liquid courage before picking up the phone for the millionth time to try to catch a break. This downturn, this unraveling, isn’t their doing.

    We must always try to remember that.

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  31. Michaela Chapman

    Carmen,
    I, too, extend my condolences to your friend and their family. The practice of not hiring the unemployed is atrocious at best. I have thought about putting on the web a comprehensive list of companies who say they will not consider hiring the unemployed. The friends of mine who have recently secured positions were already employed. Is that “creating” new jobs? No. Is it blatant disregard of the high unemployment numbers? Yes.

    A case I made in a comment on another post was about my sister. She was the victim of a layoff 2 years ago. She no longer has any unemployment benefits and she had to give up her apartment, her car and move in with me. She has been very proactive by taking advantage of free classes aimed to help those unemployed keep up with the rapid changes in technology to remain employable. She volunteers for non funded organizations in her spare time. All of this is for her to show on her CV that she is not lazy but diligent. In her opinion (and mine) volunteering is one of the best ways to give back. It is not only rewarding to her, but very appreciated. She’s not sitting around doing nothing. Many unemployed aren’t but they are wearing what she calls the “Scarlet E”. She feels kicked in the teeth every time she sees an ad that says the unemployed need not apply. She thinks if she does apply it will convey that she doesn’t read or pay attention to the job listing requirements. There are some companies out there that are doing themselves no favors by their refusal to even look at what could be a very skilled and good employee. Is working as a volunteer to both give back and stay up to date on technical skills not worth the time of day? Apparently. Perhaps it is recruiters out there who are the lazy ones and not the millions of people who need a job and are willing. Many recruiters are also unemployed and I pray that each of them can relay to employed recruiters the idea of compassion and put themselves in the shoes of someone unable to find a job.

    Some days it is very tough to keep my sister motivated and very hard to convince her that what she is doing is worthwhile.. and smart. I feel she is the better person.

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