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Hiring Managers: Here's One Secret to Winning the War for Talent

August 02, 2021 Leadership
Virginia Backaitis
By Virginia Backaitis

Hiring managers, we need to talk. The way some of you have been screening resumes? It's got to change. Stop seeing the gap some folks have in their employment histories as a red flag and start recognizing it as an opportunity to hire top-shelf talent, an invitation for empathy, or at the very least curiosity.

Work with me here. But first, retrieve those resumes you’ve rejected from the recycling bin. “Why?” you ask.

Four million people in the U.S. had jobs before the global pandemic hit, but are now considered long-term unemployed. Imagine classifying a top orthopedic surgeon who was furloughed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as undesirable, just because her hospital was so overloaded with patients that optional surgeries were cancelled. Can she no longer replace a hip? What about the airline pilot who lost his job because there wasn’t much demand for traveling in 2020? Has he suddenly become incompetent? Of course not.

And don't forget those talented marketers, accountants and executives who put their careers on hold to care for their toddlers when daycare centers closed. Never mind the parents of kindergarteners and first graders who needed supervision while going to school via Zoom. Does caring for family during a global pandemic transform a good employee into someone who is unemployable?

Unemployment: Tragic for Some, Bad for All

"Being out of work for six months or more is associated with lower well-being among the long-term unemployed, their families, and their communities. Each week out of work means more lost income. The long-term unemployed also tend to earn less once they find new jobs. They tend to be in poorer health and have children with worse academic performance than similar workers who avoided unemployment," wrote Austin Nichols, Josh Mitchell and Stefan Lidner in a research paper for the Urban Institute.

The damage from the pandemic is disproportionately worse for women. According to an article written by Eleni X. Karageorge and published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “COVID-19 recession is tougher on women .... The coronavirus shutdowns have closed schools and daycare centers around the country, keeping kids at home and making it even harder for parents (especially mothers who tend to provide the majority of childcare) to keep working. Childcare poses an additional challenge to working mothers during the pandemic.”

Not only that, but fewer women have jobs that allow them to telecommute — at 22% of female workers compared with 28% of male workers. As an aside, it’s worth noting that working mothers are less likely to get promoted and get raises as compared to men according to research by Qualtrics. A McKinsey study from February predicts that it could take two years longer for women and people of color to recover jobs lost during the pandemic.

You, dear hiring manager, are partly responsible for creating these problems. But you can also play a role in fixing them, and even win as a result.

Related Article: Let's Not Go Back to 'Normal'

Recognize Your Hiring Biases

Let’s first consider why hiring managers steer clear of the unemployed.

Unemployment bias: There’s a belief that companies guard their top employees as if they are gold and view many others as expendable. “There’s the perception that those who are out of work or laid off are not the top performers within an organization. The perception from a potential employer would be, 'If a company really wanted somebody, if they had their best employees, they're not going to be laying those folks off,” wrote Ofer Sharone in a Harvard Business Review article "A Crisis of Long-Term Unemployment Is Looming in the U.S."

Parent bias: Research conducted by The Women and Public Policy Program’s Gender Action Portal (GAP) at Harvard’s Kennedy School found that “both men and women face repercussions for briefly stepping away from child-care or professional responsibilities, regardless of the reason for doing so. However, male employees are viewed as more dedicated to their job and as less risky for their workplace than their female counterparts.”

Overqualification bias: Hiring managers often shy away from jobseekers who are overqualified. "They might be concerned you’ll get bored in the position," Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a senior adviser at Egon Zehnder International and author of "It’s Not the How or the What but the Who," told Rebecca Knight of the Harvard Business Review. He added, “The manager might think you’re not going to stay, so it is a waste of time and effort. Or the hiring manager might look at you as a threat.”

Underqualification bias: “To avoid the overqualification trap, some jobseekers consider switching to a new field in which their prior work experience will not be held against them,” wrote Sharone. He gave the example of a worker who "had been in marketing for 10 years. Senior level marketing positions are rare and when applying for lower-level marketing jobs, Cindy was told she was overqualified. So, she decided to 'break into something entirely different — event planning' where she was deemed to be underqualified."

Time to Reexamine Old Beliefs

While all of the above is bad news, the leadership at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) believes employers might be turning a corner. “If there is one time that employers might be more generous to unemployed workers, it’s now. The context of this crisis should speak for itself,” said Johnny Taylor, president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

John Dooney, a researcher at SHRM told Reworked that hiring managers might have to set their biases aside and open their minds out of necessity. “Not only does HR (human resources) need to be somewhat sympathetic to those who lost work through no fault of their own (because it’s a decent thing to do), but they don’t have much choice because people are resigning and resumes aren’t coming in,” he said.

So, dear hiring manager, if your HR department calls you in for training about letting go of your biases toward the unemployed, listen. They may be unlocking the door you need to walk through to win the war for talent.

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