By: Jack Kelly
It’s a terrible feeling when you lose your job. To make matters worse, it is awful to be discriminated against because you’re out of work.
Government data touts that we have broken records of having the lowest level of unemployment in decades. The statistics conveniently leave out those who have exhausted their unemployment claims and still haven’t found a new job. These people, who need the most help, are conveniently ignored and treated as if they don’t exist, especially since it ruins the narrative of full employment.
Society shies away from discussing the unemployed—and especially the long-term unemployed (someone who is out of work for 27 weeks or more). In December 2018, there were 1.3 million long-term unemployed individuals. Yet, it is still one of those touchy taboo subjects that we all feel could happen to us and would prefer to avoid talking about it.
Rationally, you’d believe that with full employment (and the accompanying challenge for companies to find qualified candidates), they would quickly scoop up anyone out of work. Sadly, this does not happen. There is a discrete, unspoken thought process amongst corporate executives that if someone is unemployed for a certain length of time, there must be a problem and they’d rather just pass on the candidate. An unrealistic expectation exists in which hiring managers feel that a person should have found a job within a reasonable time frame after being unemployed—and if they haven’t, something may be wrong with him. The bias against the unemployed is as common and pernicious as age discrimination.
One of the biggest challenges that happen to the long-term unemployed is that they tend to isolate themselves and withdraw from social and business settings. In our culture, people strongly identify themselves—and are judged by others—based on their job, career and earnings potential. When a person loses her job and is out of the workforce for a certain amount of time, it can become mentally, emotionally and physically draining and sometimes even debilitating. The unemployed person is beset by worries, anxiety and fear. Understandably, they are concerned about their future, miss the social aspect of being in the office with other people and feel a loss of self-worth.
They have legitimate worries about paying their mortgage and children’s college tuition, burning through all their hard-earned savings, the possibility of having to sell their home and an uncertain future.
One obstacle that the long-term unemployed face is when interviewers use excuses not to hire like, “Let’s find someone else who is more up to date. We need a person who has job stability with an upward trajectory”. With long-term unemployment, the discrimination is out in the open. Hiring managers will blatantly ask, “Why didn’t someone pick this guy up by now?” It’s the same mindset if you are dating and meet an eligible person in their late 30s or 40s that hasn’t been married and is still single. If the person is attractive, polite and seemingly wealthy, they’ll inquire, “What’s wrong with him? There has to be a catch.”
Also, to keep with the dating reference, people tend to want what someone else has. If he has a girlfriend, then he is more enticing. If he is single, what’s wrong? And so it goes with hiring. If she is working at a prestigious firm, then she is highly desirable. If she is unemployed for a length of time, we are not interested.
When asked about your employment status during the interview process, the best thing to do is have a candid, concise and prepared message about what happened. Don’t feel guilty about anything. You want to convey confidence and assuredness to combat their possible prejudices. You may want to remind them that if you are hired, there is no worry about a counteroffer; nor do you have to wait for a bonus. This is highly attractive for this time of year.
If there was a problem, openly discuss it, but do your best to put a positive spin on what transpired. You could acknowledge your mistake, let them know that you have learned from it and that you will be a better person and employee because of the lesson learned.
While you are searching for a job, try to make sure that you are engaged in activities. Hiring managers don’t want to hear that you are just sitting at home and sending out résumés. You want to be prepared to offer something when the interviewer asks what you’ve been doing. If it’s nothing, this will confirm their bias. I would suggest that you take on some volunteer work, do some consulting, take additional higher education classes or attend conferences. Go out and connect with people. Make sure you stay relevant in people’s minds. Networking could position you to pick up on leads about different job opportunities.
You want to keep mentally, physically and emotionally engaged. The worst thing you can do is sit home and brood over your bad luck. It’s easy to become a recluse. I strongly suggest enacting a daily schedule as if you are still working. Wake up early, go for a jog, go to the gym and eat right. Do things to stimulate your mind and spirit. Be regimented by keeping your mental, emotional and physical health in check.
Long-term unemployment may pose a challenge, but you will overcome the hurdles. It is important to remain confident, continue searching for a new job in a disciplined manner and remember that you are not alone. In my experience, I have seen many people bounce back after being unemployed for a long period—and find even better jobs with more money and greater growth potential.