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Excluding Unemployed Candidates is a Bad Recruitment Strategy

Posted by Aaron Green  June 21, 2010 08:07 AM

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I feel the need to comment on a recent recruiting trend, which is that an increasing number of companies are only interested in hiring people who already have a job. My feeling is that this strategy is misguided and results in missed opportunities for top talent.

Let's start by looking at the reasons why companies might take this approach. In general there are two reasons why companies exclude unemployed candidates:

1.  Companies believe that most unemployed candidates are not working because they are less qualified than employed candidates.  

Making this blanket assumption is simply off-base. While some candidates may be less qualified, many are highly qualified. There are many reasons why people end up unemployed that have nothing to do with the person's talent, work ethic, and overall value as an employee.

2.  Efficiency: Since there are so many people unemployed, recruiters get bombarded with applicants for job openings. Screening out unemployed applicants makes the process more efficient.

While I'll agree taking this approach might make the hiring process more efficient, it does not make it more effective. This approach is a short cut, and there is a cost to this short cut; excluding unemployed applicants potentially eliminates top talent from consideration. On certain searches you might be able to get away with the short cut approach, but I would suggest you resist the temptation. Instead raise your standards and look at a wider candidate pool which includes unemployed applicants.

I'll provide two more reasons why considering unemployed applicants is beneficial:

  • The Federal government has been making it more enticing for employers to hire unemployed workers. A 2010 tax break just took effect stating that employers who hire an unemployed worker are exempted from paying that worker's FICA (social security) contributions for the rest of the 2010 calendar year. Firms that hire unemployed workers and keep them employed for one calendar year are also eligible for an additional $1,000 credit. 

  • Unemployed top talent may be more willing and eager to start work and come with fewer strings attached than someone who has to leave their current employer. If you are looking to move quickly to fill a role, you will likely end up saving time by finding a qualified applicant who may be available to start sooner and with less reservation.

While it's not illegal for recruiters or hiring managers to require candidates to be currently employed, it is an unproductive practice for employers interested in hiring the very best talent available.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

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Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.