The Unemployed May Be Better Off Not Taking Just Any Job

Here’s an unexpected discovery: women who sat out periods of unemployment fared better at job hunting than did those who took a low-level job while they searched.

The surprising results of a study in which thousands of fictitious resumes were sent in response to 4,600 job openings for administrative support jobs were published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Applicants whose resume showed employment gaps of as long as a year were more likely to be called by the employer than were those who had taken jobs at chain restaurants, groceries or big-box retailers.

Besides testing for the effect of interim jobs, the three researchers also found that the duration of unemployment had no effect on being contacted, but the age of the applicant did. Those whose years of experience and graduation dates — all had college degrees — got significantly fewer calls from employers than did younger applicants. Those over 55 had a 7.6 percent call rate, compared to younger applicants whose call rates was in the 10-11 percent range.

While employers who most frequently called applicants showed no age preference, perhaps because their need for workers was such that they were less selective, the researchers observed, “The overall pattern is clear. Employers are generally substantially less like to call back older job applicants.”

While finding age discrimination isn’t surprising, the effect of interim, lower-level jobs, is.

Workers who sat out their unemployment got called 9.8 percent of the time versus 8.5 percent for those who took interim jobs.

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“The overall pattern of results suggests that holding a job that is lower skill and irrelevant to the job for which the individual is applying reduces the likelihood of a callback, at least for selective employers,” conclude the researchers, who go on to observe, “It appears that an unemployed worker is better off remaining unemployed and searching for work rather than being employed in a low-level job while searching. Alternatively, if an applicant has taken a low-level interim job, they may be better off not listing this job on their resume.”

Pavel L Photo and Video / Shutterstock.com

John Zappe

John Zappe is contributing editor of ERE.net, and the former editor of the now closed Fordyce Letter. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. 

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

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