Don't apply for this position if you need a job

Today I read an article about how employers don't want to hire laid off workers. Apparently, some are even putting this is their job ads. Language such as "unemployed candidates will not be considered" or "must be currently employed" are being used in listings and the consensus seems to be that if you were laid off, you must have been let go for performance issues. I won't mix words here, this is just downright wrong and it makes me angry.

As someone who has worked in internal communications for some well-known companies, I have been privy to many privileged conversations pertaining to RIFs (i.e. layoffs). I know how and why decisions are made (frankly, more than I'd like to know). Although there may be a rare instance here and there where it's an opportunity to get rid of an under-performer, the primary reason for someone being let go is financial.

The person's salary is either disproportionately high by today's standards, the company is hemorrhaging money and has to start cutting people to remain solvent, management has found a cheaper way to do a job via outsourcing, the employee isn't in a revenue-generating position (e.g. sales, development, etc.), or some wise guy on the leadership team thinks he can save money by letting go an experience professional and having a junior employee take on the duties (with no change in quality, of course).

The career path I've chosen usually puts me in the last two categories and, unfortunately, I have been part of two massive layoffs in my life. Not because I was some deadbeat slacker who drooled and shopped on eBay all day, but because I cost money--money the company no longer had. And, unfortunately and erroneously, people think that anyone can write so why not lay off the gal who writes on behalf of the company?

I am shocked and dismayed that while our country is in the biggest recession and financial crisis since the Great Depression, that employers would discriminate against displaced workers. As for myself, I can say that both times I was laid off, I used the time to enhance my professional skills. I attended seminars and webinars, I read countless books to learn new skills and stay current, I actively networked to grow my list of professional contacts, I maintained my writing, and I seized every opportunity to improve myself. You know, that stuff you're too busy to do when you're working 60 hours a week. And, you know what? I knew more than my happily-employed peers did and found myself frequently teaching them new things. 

Unemployed candidates will not be considered? That kind of thinking is misinformed, short-sighted, flawed, and downright un-American. Shame on any company that embraces this kind of unwarranted discrimination, especially in this economy. 

Who's with me? Let's hear it!


  1. As someone who has experienced the 'you cost too much' dismissal, I find this article particularly insightful. I worked at one company observing the incessant hemorrhaging of funds as a direct result of the CEO's utter and complete mismanagement. Worse yet the ones who kept their jobs after the layoffs were the individuals who sat and plaid on Facebook or online gaming all day long.

    In any event these companies that are ignoring the golden talent pool of unemployed are utterly deluding themselves. People who have been laid-off are in my experience more likely to be highly productive workers because it is an experience that no one wants to go through more than once.

    Mikel King

  2. It's quite a shame because your employees are essentially the building blocks of any great organization. Some of the most qualified and intelligent people I know were laid off during the recession.

  3. Mikel: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your personal story. I, too, sometimes can't believe the people who are given pink slips, while slackers or chaos makers keep their jobs. To insinuate that there is something "wrong" with someone because they've been laid off is incredibly ignorant. Thanks so much for adding to the conversation!

    Claudia: Thanks for adding your insight. I'm with you. I know some amazingly talented people who have been laid off. It is no reflection on them in the least. It's all about the almighty dollar. Thank you for commenting on this outrageous practice.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your personal story.

    It is so refreshing to know that there are other people out there who realise that searching for an alternate job whilst being employed 60 plus hours per week is near impossible, and that sometimes being 'laid off' is in fact a wonderful opportunity to update ones skills.

  5. It's also about politics.

  6. PatternMakingOnTime: Funny, but being laid off CAN be an incredible opportunity to update your skills, learn a new niche, and improve yourself. Instead of discounting all laid off workers, employers should, instead, look at each applicant and their overall qualifications. To discount smart people because of a circumstance that was beyond their control is completely unacceptable in my book. Thank you so very much for chiming in and adding to the discussion.

    Anonymous: Politics does seem to weasel its way into everything work-related, doesn't it?

  7. Amber,

    Slackers play politics and kiss up to keep their jobs focusing on the subjective, while the high performers usually are the ones that get stuck doing all the work. They work long hours and focus on getting to the detail of what needs to come out.

    Then when the high performer submits their objective and truthful work, they appear threatening to the sly political play or subjective decision makers who are afraid of the truth. They would rather paint a pretty picture that LOOKS GOOD for the organization because 9/10 of what can be perceived by the leadership IS THE TRUTH, but sadly is not, (BP for example).

    Some employers, (managers) would rather rid the high performer in favor of the one who will align with them to remain in favor of executive leadership through false prophecy. This is the work we live in today and everyone is paying for it, (economic crisis for example).

    As to this article, I would hesitate to support a rumor and instead recommend to those who have been out of work for as much as two years or more; it would behoove you to be sure you are keeping your skills sharp through volunteer activity to maintain your skills. Be sure you identify this activity on your resume so it shows you are still sharp and functional. I believe tis is what employers are looking at when seeking out good candidates.

  8. Mikel: That happened to my cousin! She swept clean-up behind her boss and my cousin was laid off a few months before her boss!

  9. Thanks for the info.

    I and a lot of my colleagues (highest experienced) were let go and the company stayed with a skeleton crew. We figured it was salaries, especially when the next week they mandated two week unpaid furloughs up to vp level.

    To top it off they also suggested they get unemployment for those two weeks, so I'm still basically paying for them too.

  10. Kristen: Thank you for your sharing your take on the subject. You are absolutely correct in your assessment of many workplaces and I think most people would agree with you.

    As for your other comment about supporting a "rumor", I'm not sure what exactly you're referring to, but I completely agree with you that it's smart for an applicant to outline how they've maintained (and even grown) their skills during their down time. That's always a smart thing to do!

    Thanks so much for adding some great value to the discussion!

  11. Anonymous: Thanks for commenting. I'm sorry to hear of your layoff. Yes, you're right; layoffs are usually just one aspect of cost-cutting. Unpaid furloughs are becoming more and more common.

    Frankly, I have to question the people in leadership at any company who would discount a displaced worker. If they really think laid off employees are all losers and misfits, I doubt that it is a company with smart people on the payroll. Probably not somewhere worth working anyway, but a disturbing trend nonetheless!

  12. unemployed candidates should be given preference against already employed candidates.Unemployment eats you slowly,grdually like cancer.Let this not grow and gobble you oneday.

  13. Ekadantaya: If I were a hiring manager and had two candidates of equal skill, I would most definitely hire the one who was out of work. No doubt about it.

  14. I am a 50+ writer, never more adept, flexible and experienced at my work. I feel for people who've been laid off from organizations, because you typically have little networking experience and are now faced with the wall.

    I also feel for people in my boat, particulary if you've "hit a certain age" or level of experience and compensation expectations. When things slowed down last year, I started to look for agency copywriting positions. I can't tell you how many times I heard "You're over-qualified" or "we don't think this position would challenge you." All euphemisms for "you're old." Ageism is another elephant in this room.

    So, I turn back to rebuilding my book of business--almost from scratch. The old clients are no longer there. I've done this for 30 (mostly good) years and I couldn't have stayed at it if I wasn't good at what I do. I've learned the hard way that quality is not a business driver. We do creative work in a business culture that is completely bottomline driven. If that isn't an oxymoron, I don't know what is.

    Thanks Amber, for this discussion thread. It isn't pretty but it is a reality we all face.

  15. In these days of uncertainity in employment,one is always having a sword on his neck.In such situations,it plays on the mental,physical stress of any individual.

    But what to do?.One has to earn and keep his family at ease.

    So in this above context if a person is unemployed,he sees hell daily.Such persons should be employed first.

    I wish every Govt,country makes a full fledged plan to reach out to unemployed persons and takes them in appropriate jobs.So the country is benefitted in building a fully employed country.It is not a miracle,it can be done,provided it works with will and determination.

  16. I worked in telecom for the past 15 years. There are a lot of companies that expect you to do three or four peoples jobs, which I used to but they want it at a fraction of the salary.

    I won't do that since the salary would take years to build back up again. I prefer to go the consulting route.

  17. Thanks for bringing this to everyone's attention. I have yet to actually see one of these ads. Exactly where were these ads published and when? I'd like to see one for myself. Thanks.

  18. This has gone on for years; down sizeing, right sizeing, Rif, reorganization, etc. Bottom line, you don't want to work at a company that uses that policy. I have been through several, and sometimes let go, sometimes I stayed. There is no standard formula that fits. Look it up 80% of the people laid off end up with a better job, so keep that in mind. (better does not always mean more pay, but still better). Better fit, location, benifits, pay, etc. Admittedly I ended up with all the above, your right a layoff builds charactor and strengh, don't let it eat at you. It takes time, hold out for a better job.

  19. Hi Amber:

    I would add that these folks do not have their finger on the economic pulse. This country is driven by consumers spending their money (I believe it's 70% of the GDP). If there's no money for them to spend because they are out of work, how will this recession end?

    I just landed a contract position that will employ me for four months. Just last week someone said to me, YOU'VE been unemployed?! I know you've heard that too in these months. This is an opportunity for me to shine and make new and valuable contacts, but funny enough, I'm not doing anything different. This is how I work. Clearly my being laid off was NOT a performance issue, and how anyone can think that more than 4 million people being laid off between 2008 and now has to do with performance issues clearly hasn't been paying attention.

  20. Wow, I am so thrilled with the quality comments that everyone is adding to the discussion. Thank you all for contributing such value to the conversation!

    Richard: Funny how ageism is the only "ism" that is still socially acceptable, isn't it? Racism and sexism are condemned publicly, but someone's age is still an open discussion. And, yes, I know what you're talking about with the added challenges that older workers face. While I was at the LA Times, there were many people who had worked there since college. Now, 20 or 30 years later, they were laid off and faced with writing the first resume of their lives. I think many people would echo your story and I see many folks taking the self-employment route, like yourself. Thank you for leaving such a thoughtful comment and sharing your story.

    Ekadantaya: I agree with you. I think everyone plays a role in helping to get us out of this recession. We're all in it together!

    Anonymous: Employers are definitely taking advantage of the situation. I have seen the lowest wages I've ever seen in my life. Even Director level jobs that pay what I made in entry-level positions when I started my career. I think the workplace is changing and doing multiple jobs is going to stay around. However, to expect someone to do three jobs and only offer the salary you'd offer an intern is ridiculous.

    Keith: From what I understand, when the media reached out to the companies with such anti-unemployed language, the verbiage came down off the sites. I'm sure this practice is alive and well in many companies, but most just aren't so bold as to put it out there so blatantly.

    Anonymous: Finding a new job can certainly be an opportunity. Hopefully that 80% figure you've given stays true and the bulk of people will end up with a better circumstance in their new positions. The one thing I am seeing, however, is that desperate people are taking jobs with inappropriately low pay. They need the money and that is understandable. That, however, in my opinion is setting new lows for salaries. I am dumbfounded by some of the wages I'm seeing out there and it is definitely an employer's market. Thanks for adding great insight to the conversation!

    Theresa: When you look at where the country is, it is really quite insane for any company to have such a thought process as to dismiss displaced workers. You are absolutely right, it's a circle. If only the employed switch from job to job, and the unemployed remain unemployed, this country will never recover! Thanks for sharing your story and best of luck with your contract position. I hope a full-time, permanent role is in your immediate future!

  21. Politics, politics, politics. I worked for a company where a signficant downsizing provided the "cover" to get rid of those who had been closely aligned with the old boss when a new one came on board. And, I've spoken with headhunters who have specifically said: Our clients prefer employed candidates. In the current environment there are fabulous people employed and unemployed. Refusing to consider candidates based on individual skills rather than employment status is just another indication of how self-focused -- and self righteous -- the corporate world has become.

  22. Anonymous, you're so right as far as to sometimes getting laid off is a positive. I was worked to death and should have quit a long time ago but didn't have the time to look for fresher pastures since I was always traveling.

    Nowadays I'm utilizing all of my skills as well as building even more. I was speaking with a recruiter who told me "some managers may be afraid to hire you since you may take their jobs."

    When I managed people I loved to have personnel that knew what they could do because it made me look better upon job completion and I knew their skillsets, but the mentality seems to have changed.

  23. when it comes to employ or not to employ
    with so many qualified people out there the situation comes down to do the most with the least has become do the most for the the least.
    when a big box store employee starts to realize this after time, like myself, and then becomes more eager to be a outside the box person and take on the ability to live up to a more true potential with the internet and home busineses on the rise,thus this forces the intelectual academics to become the most discriminated because we refuse to become victims of the employers who live with the concept power is knowledge where the reality is knowledge is the power. for this reason we find ourselves with don't apply for the job if you want the job.
    Thus Might is not always right rather insight is more the right.

  24. This unfortunate practice has generated plenty of discussion here at Jobfully. Disturbing though it may be, it’s good for job seekers to be aware it is out there and work to combat the preconceived notions that can come with being out of work. Job seekers should be sure to keep skills sharp and contemporary. Equally important, networking allows job seekers to develop meaningful relationships with people who can help them tap into the hidden job market and dispel any negative perceptions around being unemployed. For activities that will build resume items and your network while out of work, read today’s Jobfully blog:

  25. I'm so thrilled with the great comments you all are contributing to the conversation! You'll have to forgive me for not addressing the last few anonymous comments directly, as there are now a quite a few anonymous comments and it's a bit confusing to know if there are multiple people talking or the same people conversing with one another. All great input, though. Thank you!

    Carrie: Thanks for contributing the tips! All good reminders to help people in their search.

  26. I thought it was bad enough being over 55, now this! After my lay-off, I earned my MBA but hardly anyone will give me a second look. I always heard that it was easier to find a job if you already have one, but thought with the depth of the recession and the lay-offs of talented people simply due to financial issues that the old thinking had changed. Unfortunately, it has not!

  27. ChemE75: I'm sorry to hear of your layoff. I, too, thought given the economic picture, that employers would realize how much great talent was out there looking for work. And, unfortunately, ageism is alive and well in this country.

    My good thoughts are with you during your job search. You were smart to continue your education and my sincerest congratulations on earning your MBA. That's super. I hope you get to apply your wealth of knowledge in a challenging new job very soon!

  28. I agree this is ridiculous. In my opinion, someone who needs a job may very likely be a better opportunity for an employer than someone who doesn't need a job. It is easy to seed out the under-performers, that's what a probation period is for.

  29. Jini: As with all things, employers need to look at the big picture. A bump in the road shouldn't automatically disqualified a candidate. And, in this economy, companies should realize that it's in their best interest for the economy to improve. The way to do that is to get America back to work! Thanks for leaving a comment and adding to the discussion, Jini.

  30. Yeah, it's sad. Yet it's a fact. I see the companies reasoning although I think it's wrong. I've been out long enough to know I'm missing a few steps in my game. It will take me a little extra time to ramp up, maybe as long as a week or two. I can see why employers think this and don't want to spend time on an unemployed worker. Because let's be honest here, no matter how much you try and keep up with what you knew it's different than when you were working at it each day. It's like pitching a baseball, you can and should practice everyday but that is no substitute for playing a game in front of a live audience. At least that is true for me. But there are also positives and I think this is how we need to approach and dismiss their concerns.

    1) We are like star athletes who were out for the season with an injury. Yes, we may have to spend a little extra time in the gym and at practice to get back to 100% but then again, we were stars. We were the guys making so much money because we were worth it. Most of the people left in the companies were often the lower salary / less experienced (read talented).

    2) We have learned new skills while we've been out. Again using the sports analogy, we've had more time to study the playbook, to strategize more (in my particular case as a technical writer it means learning more software packages, reading about upcoming trends, reviewing some program languages, and improving my graphic skills).

    3) Unlike some of my employed colleagues, we're not burned out. An unfortunate consequence of those that were "lucky" enough to keep their jobs is that they are now being pushed longer and harder than ever before, sometimes doing the work of three people. It's like being banged up all season with no time to rest or heal while we've been recovering and recharging. If the employed are looking to change jobs in this economy there are only two reasons. They see the writing on the wall and know they will soon be out or they are just so worn out and fed-up that they are ready to jump ship into something that may be worse just to get out.

    4) We are eager to get back on the field. "Send me in coach!" Most of us are missing working so much that we just want to do it. I mean it will always be about the money (because if you were independently wealthy what would you be doing?) but now it really is also just for the love of the game. We want new challenges, we want to show what we can do. While here the sports analogy fails, because the roar of the crowd is non-existent, we still at least want to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done and hear the roar in our own head.

  31. Kirk: I think your sports analogy is effective and I love your four points. Really thought out.

    I guess this is why I said in my follow up post on unemployment benefits being suspended that I think of this crisis as a humanitarian issue. At this point, our citizens are in such dire straights that everyone, in my opinion, should be trying to help America out of this recession. That means hiring managers looking at displaced workers, employed people sending their unemployed friends job leads if they hear about them (especially ones that haven't been advertised yet), and everyone realizing that this isn't just an issue affecting those without jobs, it is something that has a negative impact on our entire country.

    I wish you the best of luck in your job search. I can tell by the comment that you've written, that you must be a great technical writer! Those are not skills that go away despite being out of the game for awhile.

    Thanks for adding your thoughts to the conversation, Kirk. I enjoyed reading them (and now I have the desire to go to a baseball game!). :->

  32. What a terrible thing to put out there in today's climate! Any fool should be able to see that the downturn has put tons of capable, valuable, qualified people into the job market. It's dismaying to see recruiters being so shortsighted. Maybe they are trying to avoid the 1000s of resumes that pour in any time a job gets listed nowadays.

    There are psychological reasons recruiters feel better about hiring currently employed people:
    1. they like the idea of acquiring a valuable resource and taking it off someone else
    2. If you're in a job, you will come across as more of a 'peer' and have a bit of power to be choosy (rather than come across as desperate/eager)
    3. It's riskier to hire someone unemployed as you just don't KNOW whether they were laid off due to performance issues or due to other corporate issues.

    One way to have some sort of employment is to get on the board of an organization - even for no pay. It's a great way to build your network, build your skills, have something current on LinkedIn to bridge the gap. We have several Board Members at IABC Los Angeles who are in this position - it worked very well for one member who landed a job with another member's company, based on a referral.

    The caliber of her work showed up loud and clear through projects she led for the board. When the role came up and they were asking around, her name came to mind.


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