July 1, 2009, - 3:11 pm

New Catch-22 of the Current Recession: Employers Who Are Hiring Prefer the Already Employed

By Debbie Schlussel
I feel for the unemployed in this bad economy. As we know, many who’ve lost their jobs have been laid off or terminated not because they were incompetent or bad employees, but because the economy is just rotten.
Well, now, they have another problem, something of a Catch-22–a double whammy. They can’t win for losing.

With unemployment at 9.4% and rising, it’s a buyer’s market for employers that are hiring. But many employers are bypassing the jobless to target those still working, reasoning that these survivors are the top performers.


“If they’re employed in today’s economy, they have to be first string,” says Ryan Ross, a partner with Kaye/Bassman International Corp., an executive recruiting firm in Dallas. Mr. Ross says more clients recently have indicated that they would prefer to fill positions with “passive candidates” who are working elsewhere and not actively seeking a job.
The bias extends from front-line workers to senior managers. Charlie Wilgus, managing partner of executive search for Lucas Group, based in Atlanta, says a manufacturing client looking for a division president recently refused to consider a former divisional president at Newell Rubbermaid Inc. whose department had been eliminated. The client doesn’t want candidates who have been laid off, Mr. Wilgus says.
Bobby Fitzgerald prefers to hire the already employed even though he gets two dozen or more unsolicited resumes each day at his White Chocolate Grill.
Employers’ preference for the employed adds another hurdle for those who have been laid off. Job seekers frequently are competing with dozens of other applicants for the few available positions.
Bobby Fitzgerald, a partner in five restaurants in three states. . . . He currently has 50 openings across his five restaurants and has told recruiters to bring in only people who are working. Mr. Fitzgerald’s preference for the employed can be time-consuming and expensive. . . .
“We are always looking for the very best of the industry, which happens to be people who are still employed,” he says. . . .
Many employers consider the employed more valuable and worth the extra effort.

So, what do you do to overcome this prejudice? Well, I think it’s only going to encourage job seekers to lie and fabricate phony current employers. Hungry, destitute people do what they have to, to get a job.
The Wall Street Journal gives this advice:

Calm an employer’s biggest worry about out-of-work applicants: that your termination was the result of poor performance.
Arming yourself with strong letters of recommendation from your previous employer, stating that you were laid off for economic reasons. . . . If you can’t obtain formal letters, get references from senior-level employees at your prior company. . . .
And if you lost your job when your department was eliminated, make sure to tell prospective employers; that will be considered more benign than selective layoffs

Yes, you wouldn’t want a serial terminee or otherwise undesirable person running your business or working there. Chances are that employee will end up in the same position with you. Just as you wouldn’t want a person who went to six different colleges in six years and barely graduated to be the country’s Vice President. It shows a pattern of incompetence and lack of commitment or direction.
But if someone is laid off in this economy, it’s not necessarily a sign they aren’t a hard worker. And, sadly, many employers take it that way. Frankly, many of the unemployed will work that much harder because they don’t want to be back in such a desperate position again.
And I’ll bet some of these employers who won’t hire an unemployed worker are the same people who voted for a President named Obama who didn’t stay very long in a single job of late. Yes, he was always “employed”–including as the nebulously described “community organizer.” But he didn’t stay anywhere very long. And that’s a better sign of trouble than whether someone is out of a job in a sour economy.
And yet, they didn’t have the same kind of qualms, despite the stark signs.
It’s a free country and business are free–and should remain free–to hire whomever they want to hire for whatever reasons. But they’re missing out on some of the best job candidates if they take this tack.
I’m not usually a fan of zero tolerance policies. Sometimes, people remain employed because of whom they’re sleeping with or related to, not because they were the most qualified candidates and thus avoided the chopping block.
And, if I were an employer, I’d rather have an experienced employee who might have been temporarily down on his luck than a hot chick who simply doesn’t know the biz but is pleasant to look at or a slacker guy who is a frat brother of the right guy at work.

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7 Responses

Or, as is the case with some friends of mine, you get laid off because the economy is bad and there isn’t enough work for everyone. Then a few weeks later you find out, quietly, from your former foreman that the company has replaced all the laid off people with illegals at half the salary.
After seeing the massive influx of illegals in just my apartment complex over the last couple of months, I feel that this is a common tactic, at least in the construction industry here in Charlotte.

Maxwell Jump on July 1, 2009 at 5:50 pm

I hesitate to acknowledge(yet)another group of victims.
Peeps who REALLY want to work WILL find work.
It may not be the exact job they want. They may take on two jobs to make ends meet…but they WILL be employed.
And probably not WHINE about their situation either.
Are tough times ahead? Very Likely.
So………When going gets tough the tough get going. America! Ruck up* and move out!
* It’s an Army term Google it.

SamAdams on July 1, 2009 at 6:46 pm

I am not sure how useful the Wall Street Journal’s advice is. If you can get a reference or a letter that is great. However, for years, many companies have instituted policies preventing their employees from issuing anything other than dates of employment out of fear of being sued (I am not sure why this is since if they have something bad to say about a previous employee can simply not say it).
I have suggested to people that they volunteer. It gives them something to do, which will help with their self esteem. Plus they can put it on a resume. Additionally, it does not matter if they get fired for missing work to go to a job interview. Finally someone familiar with their work may have connections with someone who is looking and can help out in that respect.
The above having been said, I agree with Debbie that many employees are missing out by not considering people who are out of work. I have been out of work myself (I was laid off by a major airline after 9/11. Hardly a sign I was not a good employee). I know first hand how this feels.

i_am_me on July 1, 2009 at 6:59 pm

There is definitely good talent to be found amongst the unemployed.

There is NO Santa Claus on July 1, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Where are all those jobs that were to be created by KING HUSSEIN COBRAMA? That stimulus package was going to solve it all.

californiascreaming on July 2, 2009 at 12:34 am

I would actually say that such an employer is quite foolish. What sort of worker leaves a job at the drop of a hat, unless the working conditions are bad or they know they are not going to be around very long? Hiring only the hired sounds like something out o a moronic management seminar. The poaching employer is likely to get a malcontent or a complete lemon for his efforts. Finally, if you hire someone who has no loyalty or respect for his previous employer, why should you expect any from him at a crucil moment? I have seen managers sweat bullets when their fair haired boy dumped them in the middle of a crucial project. It is even better when only hire the hired gets canned himeself as a result of his antics.

Worry01 on July 2, 2009 at 7:53 am

I am so sick of hearing that anyone who WANTS to work CAN work. I am one of the 9.5% unemployed. I was an executive at a bank that was taken over by the FDIC. I was not one of the people who brought the company to that point, being more of a support systems type. Because I am over 50 years old, because I was making over $100K per year, because I have over 30 years of experience in financial services at a time when that industry is virtually imploding, I am virtually unemployable. I spend 80% of my time looking for a job, and am able to get interviews, but have been told repeatedly that I am OVERQUALIFIED for pretty much every job. When I have the opportunity to meet the person they hired (which I do through professional associations) it is almost always someone 15 – 20 years YOUNGER than me, with far less experience. So then I’m advised to look in other industries, which I have done. But at my level, the other industries prefer candidates with experience in THAT industry. And there are enough people out there looking, that companies can be very choosy and find someone in the industry – preferably someone who is already working for a competitor. Then I am advised to lower my salary expectations. Which is fine until the prospective employer calls for a reference and finds out you LIED. Immediate refusal. The next advice is to apply for lower level positions. OK, then you’re OVERQUALIFIED. Even if you’re willing to work at the lower level. Even if you’re MORE than capable of doing the job. Even if you have fantastic references.
The next piece of advice is to work part-time at Barnes & Noble or Starbucks. Once again, GETTING hired is not as easy as it sounds, and from people I know who have done this, they are looked down upon by prospective employers who no longer consider them executive material. Plus, those companies are not as open to hiring the “temporarily” unemployed because they (rightfully) assume that as soon as something full time comes up, you’ll leave.
I know a LOT of people who are in my position, and are entering Year 2 of unemployment, with no relief in sight. I am fortunate that my husband and I are very financially responsible and can afford for me to not work for a while. So have a little sympathy for people who are unemployed through no fault of their own. And employers, don’t assume that just because someone’s company made bad business decisions, that makes them a bad employee. And don’t just hire the “passive job seeker.” Other posters are correct. If they will dump their current employer for a better offer, they will dump you too.

DG in GA on July 4, 2009 at 11:59 am

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