3 Questions to Ask When Considering an Unemployed Candidate

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As the economy continues to improve, more small businesses are hiring. However, there is still a large pool of candidates who have been unemployed for months or even years. The question becomes, should employers consider candidates who are currently unemployed less desirable than those who have a job and are seeking greener pastures?

Employers should hire the person who will create the most value for their organization. To do anything else would be to destroy shareholder value. Theoretically, a candidate’s current employment status shouldn’t impact his or her ability to create value for a new employer. With that said, hiring is an inexact science. Therefore, hiring managers will look for any clue as to a prospective employee’s future performance.

One line of thinking is that a perspective employee who has a job is desirable, at least to one employer. A prospective employee who was laid off is not a desirable employee, at least to one employer. Based on this thinking, some hiring managers tend to favor prospective employees who have a job. Such thinking is overly simplistic.

Related: How Small Businesses Can Ease America's Job Shortage

When considering a prospective employee who is unemployed, ask these three questions:

1. Why was the candidate’s prior employment terminated?

A bookkeeper who was fired because he or she was found to have embezzled is not likely a good candidate for a job in accounting. A bookkeeper who lost his or her job because the company made a decision to consolidate the function in another state is a very different thing. A candidate who was dismissed for poor performance may not be as strong a candidate as one whose previous employer closed its doors due to lack of sales.

Ask unemployed candidates why his or her last job ended. If the candidate becomes your top choice for the job, verify his or her response by speaking to his or her former supervisor.

2. How long has the candidate been unemployed?

A candidate who lost his or her position two weeks ago is very different from one who has been unemployed for three years. For the long-term unemployed, why has it been so long between jobs?

Related: 4 Reasons Why You Should Hire for Attitude Over IQ

The economy matters. Higher unemployment rates may justify longer periods of unemployment. Also, it is an unfortunate fact that older candidates have a much tougher time finding employment than younger candidates. Long-term unemployment can be, but isn’t necessarily a sign of lack of ambition. If a prospective employee has been unemployed for a lengthy period, prospective employers should make sure they understand why.

3. What has the prospective employee been doing since losing his or her job? 

A prospective employee who has used his or her period of unemployment to accomplish something meaningful is a stronger candidate than one who has spent most of his or her time applying to jobs online. 

Has the prospective employee upgraded his or her skills? Has he or she accepted temporary work to bring in some cash while continuing to look for work? Has he or she spent time cultivating their network and learning about new industries? 

The more industrious a prospective employee has been during their period of unemployment, the more likely he or she is to be industrious in his or her next job.

If you are a hiring manager, rather than dismissing unemployed candidates out of hand, consider these three questions. If you are unemployed, make sure you are prepared to give truthful and impressive answers to these questions.

Related: What I Learned From Being a Broke, Unemployed Graduate