Criminally Overlooked in the Job Market?


Research suggests recruiters find employed job seekers with criminal records more employable than candidates with clean records but no job. Experts recommend HR professionals take a close look at individual circumstances when considering unemployed applicants.


Monday, November 4, 2013
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Given the recovering but still-sluggish job market, it's fair to say the average recruiter is poring through his or her share of resumes from unemployed job seekers at the moment.


So, is it also fair to say that recruiters may be viewing candidates' employment gaps a bit differently these days, taking extenuating circumstances into consideration? Not necessarily, according to recent research.


In fact, one study suggests that employed job candidates with criminal records are faring better in the job market than those who are out of work. The anonymous survey of 1,500 staffing recruiters, corporate recruiters and hiring managers found 45 percent of respondents saying it would be easier to find a position for a currently employed candidate with a criminal record than one who has been out of work for two years.


In the survey, conducted by Boston-based Bullhorn Inc., recruiters were asked to rate which of those two groups would be more difficult to put in a job, on a scale of one to five. The aforementioned 45 percent said placing someone who had been out of work for two years would rank as a five, while only 31 percent said the same about applicants with a non-felony criminal record. In addition, 36 percent of the recruiters polled noted that candidates become "difficult" to place when they've been unemployed between six months and one year.


It's worth noting that respondents to the Bullhorn survey made a connection between the duration of job candidates' unemployment and their attractiveness to recruiters, says Kim Lamoreux, senior director of research practices and principal analyst for talent acquisition with Bersin & Associates, an Oakland, Calif.-headquartered provider of research-based membership programs in human resources, talent and learning.


"Two years is a long time [to be unemployed], even in today's market," she says. "Recruiters may feel bad for a candidate in that situation. But, putting those feelings aside, there are concerns about development of new skills and familiarity with changing technology in that time, for example. Now, there's a learning curve when and if these people join the organization."


A perception that the unemployed are inherently less desirable candidates may indeed exist, says Lamoreux. "Organizations have more talent to choose from right now, but there's a belief among some out there that the best talent is already employed. It's not necessarily that companies are in a pinch because there aren't enough people [to fill jobs]. It's that some may just be looking at a segment of the market."


The Bullhorn survey findings come on the heels of a UCLA research paper suggesting that employers think less of unemployed job seekers, regardless of how long they've been out of work or the circumstances that led to them leaving their last position.


In a poll of 47 HR professionals, researchers asked participants to review a pool of resumes that were identical apart from one detail: half of the resumes specified the candidate was currently employed, and the other half indicated the applicant had been out of work for one month. Presently employed candidates consistently scored higher in terms of competence and hireability. In addition, a separate, similar UCLA experiment found a group of students made no real distinction between job candidates who had left their jobs voluntarily and those who had been let go.


By and large, employers aren't necessarily biased against unemployed job seekers, but the current job market does allow HR professionals to be a bit choosier in identifying candidates, says Fran Luisi, a principal at Rumson, N.J.-based retained-search firm Charleston Partners.


"It's a healthy marketplace, but a very selective marketplace," says Luisi. "But, I don't know if there's a thought process among employers that says, 'This candidate's resume has [an employment gap] here; we're moving past them.' Everything is, or should be, looked at on an individual basis."


"HR professionals know that prior experience is the best predictor of future success," adds David Ulrich, professor of business at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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"When the supply exceeds the demand for key positions due to economic conditions, they can be more selective about whom they hire."


And, while being out of work doesn't necessarily carry the same stigma it used to, resumes with extensive unemployment gaps or a pattern of joblessness are likely to set off alarms for many recruiters, says Ulrich, who is also a co-founder and partner at the RBL Group, a Provo, Utah-based consulting firm.  


Such concerns underscore the need for HR professionals to take time to delve into candidates' individual circumstances before disqualifying them based simply on present work situation or past gaps in employment, he says.


"If a candidate can explain the unemployment, and if the candidate has productively used the time while unemployed, recruiters often don't have a bias," says Ulrich. "For example, did the employee leave [his or her last job] by choice? Did the candidate make choices that caused the unemployment? While unemployed, did the candidate work to improve skills -- [returning to] school, [undergoing] training? And, was the candidate quick in job seeking versus using unemployment benefits as a paid vacation?"


Former employers, of course, can provide even further insight into how a candidate became unemployed, and how likely they are to succeed within your organization, says Luisi.


"Good referencing and thorough assessment is critically important," he says, "whether it's done through a third party or as part of the interview process. It's a time to cross the t's and dot the i's, and organizations are trying to do everything they can not to make a hiring mistake."


Indeed, thorough referencing and interviewing processes are paramount when considering an out-of-work applicant, adds Lamoreux, noting that HR professionals prematurely excluding such candidates do so at their own risk.


"The bottom line is that HR shouldn't discount anyone simply because they're currently unemployed," she says. "HR professionals owe it to themselves to find the best talent, and that talent can come from a lot of different sources."


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