Do Unemployed Candidates Stink?

Holding your nose because the candidate your considering stinks or has a stigma attached to them

What’s your bias regarding unemployed candidates? Do they have a stink or have a stigma attached to them?

I’ve been doing executive search for 25 years and the bias of the vast majority of hiring managers/executives is to consider a candidate who has been out of work (especially one with long-term unemployment) to be “damaged goods”. Something must be wrong with them if they’ve been out of work for so long. Do you subscribe to this theory? Many of my clients who have been out of work for an extended period of time apply a different standard to the potential members of their team.

Why do we have this bias?

I’ll admit I have a pretty powerful biased and judgmental approach to candidates who have been out of work – even during a recession. Historically, I’ve always felt that a top caliber candidate should have an extraordinary network in place, and bring the same passion, initiative, and energy to their job search that they bring to work everyday. The last 3 plus years of this recession have rocked that assumption a little – and I’m trying to reconcile it (but I’m not being very successful changing my historical bias).

I’m always willing to make an exception to the rule. I try to be open and not run my search business on a series of “absolute” rules. Unfortunately, my bias toward out of work candidates – perhaps based on some tribal myth – is hard to overcome. For example, I recently placed a VP of Sales and Marketing with one of my clients where the specification for the job was so narrow, the very best candidate had been out of work for a year (by the way, I cannot remember the last time I placed a candidate that was not currently working). The big issue was if he can’t put the energy into finding a job, how can we expect him to bring a high level of energy to this role.

I spent an excessive amount of time validating the candidate’s energy, passion, focus, and initiative. He was clearly the best candidate for the job. However, I still have this nagging sensation at the back of my neck as to why he had been out of work for a year. When I dug really deep with him, I discovered that he conducted a terrible job search as if it was 1970 – which unfortunately is the strategy most executives apply when they’ve been forced to look for a job for the first time in 15-20 years. Is that an appropriate excuse or rationalization for conducting a terrible and ineffective job search?

That raised a number of other questions for me about the candidate. If he didn’t know how to conduct a job search, shouldn’t he have done research to discover current best practices, methods, tips, and techniques in this “new normal” of job searching in a digital age with tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter? 90% of this information is free on the internet on blogs (like the one we write for executive job search candidates), and wide range of other sites, such as I believe Steven Covey called this being “unconsciously incompetent.” We don’t know what we don’t know. Should my candidate have realized he was unconsciously incompetent in conducting a job search, and focused on learning everything he could about an effective executive job search?

The answer is YES!

Just attending a few networking meetings with other people who are up to speed on an effective job search should have given him a clue that he was not conducting a job search that would generate an abundance of leads and opportunities. Most executives and managers spend the vast majority of their job search applying to open positions advertised on job boards. This is the same technique as reading the want ads in the paper 30-40 years ago. The result is pretty much the same now as it was back then. The Florida unemployment office is helping out the people of its state by helping them live through their unemployed period by giving them the opportunity to apply for an unemployment insurance.

The vast majority of jobs are not advertised. They are buried in the hidden job market. Studies show that the hidden job market is probably 80% or more of all open managerial and executive roles. If that’s true, shouldn’t a job search candidate at this level conduct a search focused on the hidden job market and uncovering those opportunities vs. the passive approach of answering ads?

What does this say about my candidate? Can we extrapolate that he’s passive? Would a top caliber candidate bring a different level of energy and initiative to their job search vs. their on the job performance?

What do you think? I’d love to see your thoughts in the comments to this blog and the experiences if you’ve had being unemployed, and your experiences of interviewing or hiring candidates that were unemployed.

Barry Deutsch


P.S. Download a FREE version of our famous e-book You're NOT the Person I Hired if you would like to learn how to improve your hiring accuracy and success.

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Why Skills And Experience Are Irrelevant When Hiring

One reason hiring fails is because people focus on the person's skills and experience, and then if everyone likes the person, they are the right person and will be successful. This is not true.  I have asked thousands of CEOs and key executives if they have ever hired someone with an excellent resume, that had all the right skills and experience, that the interviewing team really (I mean really) liked and once that person came on board the person fell flat on their face within 6 months. Usually about 99% reply, “Yes.” How could this happen if skills and experience are so relevant? The fact is, just because a person has all the right skills and experience and everyone likes them, that doesn't mean that they will be successful. These things are important but having the right skills and experience isn't what is relevant when making a good hire. What is relevant when making a good hire is whether or not the person can apply these skills and experience in your organization. Can they apply them to achieve the results you need? Can they apply them effectively in your culture? If they can't, they are not the right candidate for your organization.

Skills and experience are simply tools every candidate brings to the job. The ability to use them effectively is what matters. I know many people that have golf clubs in their car and have been playing golf for 20 years, can swing the club over 100 miles per hour, and have taken so many lessons that if an MBA in golf existed they would have one. Even with all of these skills and experience they still aren't on the PGA tour. Why? Because having skills and experience is different from applying them. When hiring, it is important that the person you choose can apply these effectively in your organization and your culture.

One problem is that when we define things around skills and experience the interviewing process often becomes focused on these rather than the real job. For example, if you were hiring a CFO, most job descriptions would define the ideal person as a CPA, 10+ years experience, 5 years industry experience, knowledge of GAAP, financial reporting, cash management experience, good leadership skills, etc. All of these are important, but not what you really want to hire. What you really might want is a CFO that can improve cash flow by 10%, implement a cash management system, reduce overhead costs by x% within x number of months and have accurate financial statements within three days of the close. This is the real job and requires the person to  have the right skills and experience or they could not achieve these goals. When you are ready to make your next hire, instead of focusing on the person's background, focus on how they would apply those skills and experience to achieve the results you are seeking. Ask yourself this, “If you hired someone with all the skills and experience listed above, what are the odds they could achieve the results listed?”

Just because a person has the skills and experience you seek doesn't mean they can deliver the results you need.  But if they can deliver the results you seek that means they have the skills and experience you need. I don't know if that is 10 years, 8 years, or 15 years, and it doesn't matter, they have enough to deliver the results.

Join the other 10,000 CEOs, key executives, and HR professionals who have downloaded a FREE copy of our best-selling book, “You're NOT The Person I Hired.” Just CLICK HERE for your FREE eBook.

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I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Brad Remillard