Life can get messy. Families grow. Caretaking responsibilities evolve. Physical and mental health issues can impact someone’s ability to work in certain roles at specific times in their lives. As we’ve seen recently with the COVID-19 pandemic, global crises may shake up economic landscapes.
Factors like these are just a few circumstances that could cause gaps in employment. The best potential talent for your company could be out of a job right now.
But unconscious bias toward unemployed applicants could be hurting your recruiting efforts. Learn the definition of unconscious bias, and discover how to eliminate bias for unemployed candidates.
What is implicit bias in hiring?
unemployment bias becomes more severe the longer an applicant remains jobless.
The University of California San Francisco has defined unconscious bias as social stereotypes that form outside of one’s conscious awareness. Their research found that unconscious biases:
- Typically aren’t in line with a person’s conscious values.
- Biases have real-world effects on behavior.
- Bias may be more prevalent when working under time pressure or multi-tasking.
Within hiring, unconscious bias can take many forms. The National Bureau of Economic Research published a landmark labor market discrimination study that illustrated unconscious bias. The study found resumes with White-sounding names received 50% more callbacks for interviews compared to those with African-American-sounding names.
Other factors related to unconscious bias include:
- Skin tone
- Physical ability
Unconscious bias due to employment or unemployment may also affect hiring. A UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment study confirmed unemployment stigma exists. It can lead to a hiring bias against those who are jobless. The study found employers rated employed candidates significantly higher on hireability and confidence compared to unemployed candidates.
Another study from Northeastern University found unemployment bias becomes more severe the longer an applicant remains jobless. Long-term employment gaps could hurt talented candidates’ ability to get a job.
What is the state of the unemployed today?
In May 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor reported there were 6 million unemployed people. That includes 1.4 million long-term unemployed, which amounts to around 23.2% of all unemployed people.
In November 2021, The Washington Post reported that less-educated Americans as well as Black Americans are disproportionately likely to be long-term unemployed. Those with arrest or felony records, along with older Americans, are also more likely to face struggles during hiring.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, other groups experienced unemployment challenges. For example, White women with college degrees had unusually high numbers of long-term unemployment due to factors like new caretaking responsibilities.
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Why is finding a job harder when you’re unemployed?
In addition to unconscious bias, applicant tracking systems (ATS) and other forms of technology-based applicant screening play a role. Hiring automation can hurt candidates’ likelihood of moving forward in the process.
With ATS and the like, employers can input specific criteria that screens applicants including details like employment status.
An October 2021 study by Harvard Business School and Accenture found that more than 90% of major employers use automation to screen job applications. Nearly half of businesses quickly reject candidates who haven’t worked in more than 6 months.
Algorithms can also become more biased over time. For example, one of Amazon’s artificial intelligence-powered recruiting tools became biased against female applicants. The tool ranked applicants lower if they had the word “women” on their resumes. Quartz reports another resume screening tool’s algorithm started to favor applicants named Jared and who played high school lacrosse.
From initial job applicant screening to decision-making later on, unemployed bias can impact candidates throughout the hiring process.
How to combat unemployment unconscious bias in hiring
There’s good news: you can address and transform your employees’ unconscious biases. “Automatic attitudes” driven by unconscious bias can evolve with strategies such as unconscious bias training.
Human resources managers and other business leaders likely aren’t aware of their unconscious bias. University researchers created Project Implicit Health to provide free implicit bias tests online. These unconscious bias test topics include race, gender, and age. Your employees can take these tests to uncover their potential unconscious biases so they’re more conscious of them at work.
Businesses should also be aware of how hiring technology like ATS may perpetuate unconscious hiring bias. If you use applicant screening software, work to ensure you’re not preventing unemployed candidates who have the right skillset from moving forward. Constantly analyze any resume algorithms you’re using. Make sure they’re not facilitating bias and eliminating worthy candidates.
During hiring, it’s important for hirers, managers, and HR pros to lead with empathy to reduce bias. A gap may have been due to a candidate’s uncontrollable circumstances, such as the loss of a loved one during the pandemic. Some candidates may not be working because they’re pursuing activities that will help them on the job, such as higher education.
Hirers should focus more on candidates’ unique skillsets and whether or not they fit the criteria for the job. Be open-minded about job seekers’ career journeys. Each career path has unique properties that could lead to greater contributions to your company.
A gap may have been due to a candidate’s uncontrollable circumstances, such as the loss of a loved one during the pandemic. Some candidates may not be working because they’re pursuing activities that will help them on the job, such as higher education.
Be aware of unemployment bias and work to address it
Unemployment bias can be found at many of the world’s leading companies. Sometimes it’s unconsciously perpetrated by employees; sometimes the technology a business uses to screen candidates discriminates against talent.
- The first step to combating unemployment bias is to recognize it exists. Work to train employees to eliminate it from their workflows.
- Use implicit bias training to help hirers understand their own unconscious bias. Be conscious of its potential effects during hiring.
- Rethink the use of hiring software. Make it less restrictive so you avoid preventing talented, qualified candidates from reaching your hirers’ desks.
- During the interview stage, hirers should lead with empathy. Look at the whole person and their skills. Interviewers can ask about unemployment to give candidates the opportunity to explain their circumstances.
Being unemployed could be a great thing for your company. It’s up to your people to uncover the reasons why.