Jobless need not apply, and less

The call went out. Maybe you saw the big “U” projected onto the Empire State Building. Maybe you heard the siren song blaring from large speakers mounted on flatbeds circling the city. Maybe you received a little note slipped into your pocket as some nondescript pedestrian brushed by on the sidewalk. RT (Russian Television) needed an unemployed person, an expert, stat, to comment on this bit of ridiculousness…

Looking for work? Unemployed need not apply

Who better than me, unofficial spokesman for the unemployed? Okay, so the call was an email. And I’m not technically unemployed at the moment. Oh yeah, and I can’t form a coherent sentence without my monkeys and their typewriters. But let’s not fuss over exactly how it all went down. I got the gist right. My blog and I were in the right place at the right time. The rest is television history.

Some employers don’t consider the unemployed for open positions. That was the story making the rounds. I wasn’t surprised to find this out. I wasn’t angry. I was, at best, slightly intrigued or, perhaps, mildly bemused. An unemployed friend posted a link on Facebook about the growing phenomenon. Anyone who’s been unemployed during a recession probably suspected this was happening. I know I did. There had to be a better reason for all the unreturned calls and emails than a simple lack of jobs. I’m not that bad of a job candidate, or am I?

Companies receive tons of resumes for every opening, many from people who aren’t remotely qualified. Separating the maybe’s from the no’s takes time and resources, both of which are in short supply these days. And let’s be realistic. Most resumes are ruled out even in a normal hiring climate; the percentage only rises during a recession. Employers can afford to be extra picky in a buyer’s market. But the short-staffed and shortsighted HR department needs a shortcut, an easy way to reduce the pile. Ruling out the unemployed is that shortcut.

Common thinking suggests someone is unemployed for a reason – they’re an undesirable employee. They don’t show up on time. They do substandard work. They wear soup-stained shirts and smell like dried cat vomit. A desirable employee would’ve found a job already, or never lost it in the first place. So failure to be employed is seen as proof that someone is unfit to be employed. I failed to win the lottery today. Does that make me unfit to win the lottery? The thinking is flawed. And any company that thinks this way is missing out.

People lose jobs for all sorts of reasons. I lost four different jobs for four different reasons, none of which had anything to do with my performance. Each of my former employers experienced some sort of financial duress and could no longer afford to pay some of its employees. People don’t find new jobs for just as many reasons as they lose jobs. During an employment crisis, one reason trumps all others: there are very few jobs.

The need to reduce the applicant pool won’t go away any time soon. Unemployment sits at 9.7%, and the ratio of unemployed to available jobs is 5 to 1. Submitting a resume is easier than ever. Ruling out unemployed applicants will continue. Companies still discriminate on the basis of race, sex, age and sexual orientation, and those practices are illegal. The unemployed can only take solace in knowing that any company that picks its employees this way isn’t worth working for. Too bad solace doesn’t pay the bills.

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  1. Jon wrote:

    Great interview! Quite frankly these companies that have this policy can go f&*k themselves and are certainly not places that anyone should want to work at. Furthermore, whoever decided on the policy probably is some old-timer who hasn’t figured out the new economy. I can’t wait until they get “fired” (why do so many people not understand the difference between laid-off and fired?) and not only suffer from their policy but age discrimination. Finally, if this crap isn’t coming from some dated folks, shame on those of the generation who should know better.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:15 am | Permalink
  2. Hi Norm, I really appreciated your perspective on NPR today, and I’m excited to find your blog. Mirrors a lot of my own experience. I’ve been spending a lot of time doing good deeds, while I keep up the job search. I’m also developing a service where I teach people social networking tools – seems to be helpful to people. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for sticking up for the unemployed and for your tips and thinking on the subject.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  3. Norm wrote:

    My pleasure, Albert. I wish I weren’t an expert on being unemployed. But if I have to be, I might as well make the best of it.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Permalink
  4. kelby2010 wrote:

    Excellent interview, you definitely made some good points that our out of touch politicians need to hear. I am currently employed in one of those “temp, probably will never be perm position”. The irony for me is that while interviewing, I am constantly defending why I am looking for a permanent position. From the prospective employer viewpoint, they look at me as job hopper, while in reality it would be nice to accrue vacation, be able to but a plant in the office that I am working and actually have health care for the first time in two years. I don’t think I am asking for a lot. However, I keep reminding myself that it is better to be in unemployment purgatory than to be in unemployment hell, so I continue to work hard and hope for the best.

    Monday, July 5, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Permalink
  5. Andrew Payne wrote:

    This is a great interview! Thanks Norm! I was really surprised to hear that companies are not hiring the unemployed, although I understand the concept (and wholeheartedly disagree with the practice).

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010 at 9:09 pm | Permalink
  6. Aimlow Joe wrote:

    I stumbled across your interview on You Tube by searching unemployed.

    Where is your anger my man? You ought to be pissed! We’ve been left to dry by greedy Visigoths!

    I added your site to my blog roll.

    Anyway, best of luck to you.

    Aimlow Joe was here.

    Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Permalink
  7. Norm wrote:

    Some days are angrier than others, my friend. I’m trying (and often failing) to keep a good attitude. But my anger usually manifests itself as sarcasm. Here are a few of my favorite posts for your reading pleasure…

    Friday, July 9, 2010 at 12:05 am | Permalink
  8. Susi wrote:

    I actually asked my headhunter about this phenom. He said he’s not seeing this. Yet there are a couple of what I’d call “slam dunk” organizations where I know that there are openings and my skills and experience are so needed. Yet they cannot seem to return my emails or phone calls. It’s rather unfortunate. If companies don’t wise up and hire the unemployed, we are going to have 20% or higher unemployment, no matter what the govt says unemployment is.

    Friday, July 9, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink
  9. Norm wrote:

    The unemployment figure doesn’t include a lot of people who are in need of work (discouraged and under-employed workers, for example). So I think the figure is actually up around 15% or so already. Here’s something I wrote about the unemployment rate awhile back…

    Friday, July 9, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink
  10. Leslie Drew wrote:

    This is an odd way of trimming down the applicant pool. It seems like these companies would be trying to pick off the best available talent from a company that just laid off its staff rather than excluding them altogether.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 4:07 am | Permalink
  11. Cary Bayer wrote:

    Loved your blog. Maybe, however, a job isn’t the answer. Self-employed since 1984, and a full-time life coach since 2001 helping others to become as well, I just blogged on turning a livelihood into what I call a “lovelihood.” If you want to check it out, I think you’ll like it a lot. FYI: it’s at

    Friday, July 16, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink
  12. Justin wrote:

    Hey Norm! I would like to compliment you on your blog. The conclusion you draw about these companies is probably right. Not hiring …ahem… not even looking at a potential employees’ resumes or interviewing folks because they are unemployed is a bit flawed and callous. This situation is a catch-22 for the unemployed which can be heart breaking and extremely frustrating to voters who have been raised to exist within one institution or another and suddenly find themselves out in the summer heat with no water cooler or AC. When you play solitaire you check the deck for 52 cards and set aside the jokers right? Most companies who instigate this type of practice will eventually suffer a brain drain of sorts i.e. new talent and fresh blood as oppossed to the exhausted, overworked, jaded yet gainfully employed. I mean the one person who is extended an offer of employment must eventually leave their previous employer, and perhaps another person who has employment must replace them and so on? No, I think what’s happening is that the companies that lost the talent just don’t hire anyone else. How much longer can these companies be profitable before their skeleton crew loses steam? My guess is forever. I was also amused by your candor in the interview. I’ve been unemployed almost three years this coming August and think it would be cool if I could sell my college degree back to my university for cold hard currency. My only hope is that a flu epidemic will infect the employed population thus creating job openings for all.

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010 at 3:51 am | Permalink
  13. Hi Norm – I just discovered your blog today on Open Salon and I’m hooked. Congratulations for taking on this topic and doing it brilliantly. I am a Self-Employed/Under-Employed/Unemployed Copywriter and the frustrations of searching for work in this environment are are many. As for employers stating that they won’t even consider hiring unemployed candidates…wow.
    You have confirmed something I always suspected, but I had NO idea companies were actually saying this in their ads.
    In fact…shouldn’t this be illegal?
    I applaud your TV interview – but where was the outrage? And now, with Obama urging companies to hire again, how do they get away with this heinous policy? I think the companies who are guilty of this practice need to be outed even more aggressively. It should be considered un-patriotic!

    Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Permalink
  14. Norm wrote:

    Hey Marcie–Thanks for reaching out. I enjoyed your tuna fish sandwich post. The constant upselling on everything I attempt to buy drives me insane. The only thing that saves me in my neighborhood is that no one speaks English.

    I also wondered about the legality of ruling out candidates based on employment status. But it’s perfectly legal. Stupid, but legal.

    Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Permalink