Unemployed? Don’t bother applying

Mitchell Hartman Sep 2, 2011

Unemployed? Don’t bother applying

Mitchell Hartman Sep 2, 2011

Tess Vigeland: So once again we find ourselves — third year in a row, actually — with a Labor Day weekend that doesn’t merit a whole lot of celebration. This month’s federal unemployment report showed no jobs added to the economy. Six million Americans are long-term unemployed, out of work for 27 weeks or longer. And as if they don’t have enough to worry about, an ugly trend has surfaced. Want ads that explicitly tell the unemployed they are not welcome to apply.

Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman reports.

Mitchell Hartman: Jared Anderson’s 28 and he’s come to the Oregon Job Center in Portland to check on his unemployment benefits.

Jared Anderson: I’ve been unemployed since Dec. 27.

Hartman: What work were you doing?

Anderson: I was doing medical device sales, kind of like a spinal fusion enhancement device.

Hartman: OK.

Anderson: Yeah, I’ve been applying for a couple of jobs. My brother’s been trying to get me to go work somewhere in Tampa, Fla.

After I spoke to Anderson, I poked around at CareerBuilder.com and I found this job: Medical-equipment sales, St. Petersburg, Fla. Only, it says in bold caps, “MUST BE CURRENTLY EMPLOYED” or you won’t get an interview and your resume will be deleted.

I found similar ads that exclude the unemployed — for restaurant managers in Atlanta, Houston and Iowa City; a service manager in New Jersey; an executive assistant at a New York hedge fund. Those listings would be illegal under legislation proposed by Democrats in Congress.

Christine Owens: The law would outlaw refusing to hire or consider someone simply because the person is unemployed.

Christine Owens of the National Employment Law Project says that would prohibit an employer from a blanket ban on unemployed applicants. But that’s as far as it would go.

Owens: It doesn’t mandate the hiring of the unemployed, it doesn’t reduce an employer’s unfettered right to limit a job opening to someone who meets qualifications.

John Challenger: I don’t think explicit discrimination, where companies out-and-out say they just won’t hire anybody who’s been unemployed for longer than six months — is a common practice.

That’s John Challenger of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. He says most companies don’t want to be caught openly dissing the unemployed. In fact, none of the employers running those ads returned my calls; several other companies flatly denied they’d ever favor employed people in hiring.

And yet, says Challenger, scratch the surface…

Challenger: More quiet discrimination or concern on the part of companies about people who’ve been out of work for a long period of time is a real factor.

Jared Anderson feels it in his job search.

Anderson: The longer that you’re unemployed, yes, the worse it is. Because they’ll start to look at you and ask, “Why are you still unemployed? Is it that you’re unemployable?”

John Challenger says even if outright discrimination in recruiting is banned, these doubts will remain in recruiters’ minds.

Challenger: Whether conscious or unconscious, they look at longer-term unemployed and they worry whether that person’s skills are current, whether or not that person has become complacent or just doesn’t have the kind of urgency to find the job and would that translate into the work environment?

Anderson at the Oregon job center has a ready explanation for his long stint of unemployment.

Anderson: Well, I took it as an opportunity to kind of explore, and see where it is that I would like to find employment.

Vanessa Rieken just got laid off from a retail job. She lost four jobs in quick succession when the economy tanked in 2009. She knows a job history full of gaps is a red flag.

Vanessa Rieken: So I found that the most effective way to thwart that is to include in your cover letter, you know, “I am a diligent worker, unfortunately, due to economic circumstances,” etcetera, etcetera…

John Challenger say that “etcetera, etcetera” should include anything you’ve done to further your career or just keep busy, while looking for a job: Training, consulting, volunteer work — even caring for a family member.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace Money.

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