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LeadingEdition: E-Newsletter for Purdue University Supervisors

Does Unemployed = Unemployable?

What do you think when you’re looking at an applicant’s resume and find that the applicant is unemployed? Do you question why, and wonder what the applicant has been doing?

Or maybe an applicant is employed, but has gaps in employment history that are not explained. Are these applicants less attractive because they don’t have a conventional work history? 

Many hiring managers have these or similar thoughts when looking at applicant resumes. You may have applicants who are great matches for your position, but you have questions about their employment track record.  

So, what do you do? Do you eliminate the applicants from consideration? Do you ask them about the issue? This situation can be very frustrating because you could tread into the dreaded grounds of discussing personal information with an applicant. (Remember the stuff you’ve been trained not to talk about during the selection process?) This understandably puts the hiring manager into a mental tug-of-war about what to do next.

Reason for concern?

Listed below are the most common reasons for unemployment and/or gaps in an applicant’s work history. Only one of them should arouse a hiring manager’s caution when considering an applicant. Can you guess which one?

  • Applicants can be unemployed through no fault of their own (e.g., company closing, moving or layoff).  
  • Applicants can be unemployed by choice (e.g., elder care, child rearing or returning to school).
  • Applicants can be unemployed for good cause (i.e., they were fired).

If you chose the third bullet, you’re right! However, to determine if the applicant truly is not viable for your position, we recommend finding out the reason for the applicant’s termination.

Overcome intimidation

Address unemployment and/or work history gaps without fear by using the techniques described below.

  • Refrain from using unemployment status or gaps in work history as a tool to narrow your applicant pool. Don’t make assumptions about an applicant, and avoid viewing unemployment status and employment gaps as negatives.
  • When addressing these issues, focus on verification.
    • Be direct in your questioning, and keep the inquiries job related.
    • If your position requires it, you may ask the applicant about his or her current knowledge of the profession, software tools, etc.
    • If the applicant shares a personal reason, such as a medical condition, elder care or child rearing, don’t use this specific information in your selection process. Don’t document the specific reason, and don’t continue questioning into the details of the situation. Your job is done; you verified the validity of the unemployment status or gap.
  • Check references! While you should do this for all top applicants selected to receive an offer of employment, this step can be of particular help in verifying reasons for leaving previous employers. Reference checks also serve as a backup to your direct line of questions to the applicant.

Remember, always select the best applicant for your position, keeping in mind that the best applicants may not have the conventional work history that traditionally has been considered attractive. Your talent specialist can help you with specific questions related to this and other employment topics.

- Melissa Martin, talent acquisition specialist
  Talent Acquisition Team

May 2012 issue


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LeadingEdition is an electronic newsletter for Purdue University supervisors.  It is produced and distributed by Purdue University Human Resources four times annually.  If you have questions, comments or suggestions relating to the newsletter, please call 49-41679 or email us.  Thank you.