Important Career Advice: Stop Stereotyping the Unemployed

Fighting economic hardship and finding a job is an undisputed uphill battle for many Americans, and the numbers prove it. No career advice is enough to fight the epidemic. In May and June the United States Department of Labor projected that that the national unemployment rate was 9.1 percent, but in actuality, the official unemployment numbers fail to capture the entire story of underemployed and dejected Americans who have left the workforce altogether.

According to some economists, the United States is looking at a more realistic picture with 16 percent of its citizens experiencing severe hardship due to furlough days, pay cuts, or job market rejection. The best career advice that people are hearing? Take what you can get, even if it’s a temporary or part time gig. That’s tough to hear.

Making the job hunt tougher is the stigma associated with not having a job. Just recently, Tom Corbett, the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor made the claim that extending unemployment benefits would discourage people from finding job opportunities. His career advice? Cut unemployment benefits. In an interview with reporter Scott Detrow, Corbett explained, “If we keep extending unemployment, people are just going to sit there…I’ve literally had construction companies tell me, ‘I can’t get people to come back to work until – they say, ‘We’ll come back when unemployment runs out.’” Regardless of the factual accuracy of Corbett’s claims, his perspectives capture a chilling trend— that some authorities make blanket generalizations that the unemployed are lazy. These decision makers aren’t just politicians. In fact, they are hiring managers, recruiters, business leaders: all people at the ground level with the power to kick-start the stagnant careers of many dejected Americans.

In June, CNN reported a chilling trend: that some hiring managers require candidates to already have a job when finding a job. Companies including Sony Ericsson and Latro Consulting are two example companies specifying that applicants be employed. As if the fine print isn’t demoralizing enough, some recruiters explain that this same policy applies even when it isn’t explicit – if you don’t have a job, don’t bother. Despite unemployment figures, widespread hardship, and an unhealthy American economy, the unemployed – even the hardest working—are wrongfully perceived as lazy. Unemployed job seekers— some of the most important career advice for your job search is to understand that people perceive you in this light.

In a competitive economy that’s stretched thin, job seekers are doing everything they can to build connections. For people without a strong network, especially recent graduates, the struggle revolves around looking good on paper to open one door to any opportunity, big or small. In a down economy, more people pursue fewer spots, so any resume-blips can put applicants at an immediate disadvantage. As CNN reported, if you’re unemployed, some companies won’t even look at you, no matter how good you are.

In order for society to see substantial change, hiring managers, recruiters, and decision makers must make an effort to defeat these stereotypes and set their judgments aside. On the one hand, American businesses boast their commitment to American capitalism’s prosperity and pursuit of profit. At the same time, these companies overlook a darker side to the market that is leaving Americans unemployed and dejected in hardship.

In reality, even at the smallest level, every sector and every decision maker has some ability to influence change, large or small. When the unemployed are working as hard as they can to find a job, perceiving them as lazy and as commodities is irresponsible. After all, a common American adage says that finding a job is itself, a full-time job—career advice that I have heard since I was in junior high. Employers: instead of asking questions that cast an unemployed candidate in a negative light, assess how hard they are really working by asking about their extensive job search. Instead of asking, “why haven’t you been doing anything for the last six months,” ask a question that is more constructive and tangible – “what kind of work are you putting into your employment search?” After all, good employees are people who persevere, work hard to meet a tangible end goal, and feel grateful to be part of a professional team. Look beyond the stigma, and see people as more than just commodities.

What career advice would you give decision makers and the unemployed? What have you experienced?

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