Excluding the Unemployed is No Silver Bullet

by Jennifer Miller on August 3, 2011

in Human Resources, Leadership

In recent weeks The New York Times, NPR and Slate have covered what I see as a very disturbing trend for job seekers: the practice of stating “only the employed need apply” on job postings. I wrote an op-ed piece about this from a human resources perspective called Unocverting Unemployment Bias on the Women of HR blog.

Besides the HR angle, there’s a management issue a play here as well. I see it as yet the latest in a series of attempts by hiring managers to find that “silver bullet” that will ensure they don’t make a hiring mistake.

News flash:

There is no silver bullet when looking to hire a new employee.

No matter how well-written the job description, how sophisticated the pre-employment assessment, or how fantastic the interview questions, managers looking to find the “perfect” candidate will not do so. 

Why? Because there isn’t one.

Job applicants (both employed and unemployed) are humans who are amazing, yet imperfect beings. Add to the mix everything that’s going on at the hiring company—a complex web of still more human beings (none of them perfect either), all of whom are navigating the dynamics of an ever-changing list of customer demands and market conditions.

Even if a manager does by some miracle find a job candidate that lines up perfectly with the “walk on water” job description he’s written, guess what? The job will have different demands six months from now. Also possible: the company will restructure or eliminate that job position altogether. When it’s all said and done, all the control-freak measures at the front end of the hiring process won’t really gain managers appreciably more assurance that yes, this is The One. The Perfect Candidate.

So does it really make any sense to add yet one more screening device to the hiring process? Especially one that, in my opinion, is discriminatory and just downright morally corrupt.  To my way of thinking, there’s no upside to this practice.

In my career, I have been both a frontline manager and a human resources manager, so I get it—filling an open position is a huge psychological and resource drain. I clearly remember the days of trying to cover staffing shortages while interviewing for an open position. It’s stressful and time-consuming. 

Having been on both sides of the HR/Management equation, here’s my advice to managers for filling job vacancies in their department:

Come to grips with the fact that whomever you hire may ultimately not be a great fit. The employee-manager-organization configuration is a relationship. Like any type of relationship, it can be said that sometimes things just don’t work out. It doesn’t mean that the hiring manager was a bad manager or the job applicant was a bad candidate.

No amount of exclusion on a job posting is going to make that fact go away. So how about we put some humanity back in the hiring process and eliminate “must be employed” from the job posting?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lydia August 22, 2011 at 1:10 am

Hello Jennifer,

Thank you for this article. I completely agree with you; discriminating against unemployed applicants is morally corrupt. It’s refreshing to hear an HR and Management expert take a stand on this.


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