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by Vault Careers | January 14, 2011


Another disturbing dispatch from the front lines of the job search: The Huffington Post once again raises the specter of recruiters weeding out job applicants who aren't already employed. But that's not all: according to sources quoted in the piece, "there are more secretive and systemic forms of hiring discrimination." And if the words "secretive and systemic" evoke images of spies embroiled in cloak and dagger operations, then you're not too far from what HuffPo claims in the truth—companies using "codewords for whites and codewords for blacks," or to specify whether an employer is seeking a male or female for any given position.

The need for such codes arises, obviously, from the fact that it's illegal to select candidates based on their race or gender. And it would appear that some recruitment firms are desperate enough for business that they're willing to help clients flaunt those laws. One recruiting veteran sums up the situation as follows in the piece:

"As a recruiter, you get an HR director on the phone, and they tell you point blank, 'We want somebody in this age bracket, or this particular gender, currently has a job. We don't want to see a resume from anyone who's not working.' It happens all the time."

As disturbing as the allegations about racial and gender bias are—and reprehensible, if true—the part of that quote that most jobseekers should be concerned about is the sentence about weeding out applicants who aren't currently working. The reason: it's the only one that isn't illegal—and therefore the one that's most likely to directly affect you or someone you know.

At a time when 14.5 million Americans are unemployed—many of whom are simply victims of economic circumstance—it's completely absurd that companies would discriminate against those without jobs. Sure, you want to hire someone whose skills and experience are current. But the recruiter in the piece—himself someone who ranks among the unemployed seeking a job—lays out a rationale from companies that seems illogical at best:

"It's nearly impossible to get a job unless you already have a job. Companies will view you, especially people over 50 like me, they view you as somebody that's gonna require more money, that's not gonna be productive, or that might have some personal problems, because if you were a good employee you would have never lost your job in the first place."

Leaving aside the ridiculous notion that unemployed people are "gonna require more money" or be less productive than a headhunted prospect, consider the unjustness of that last piece: that good employees never would have lost their jobs in the worst economy since the Great Depression—a recession that wiped entire companies, and millions of jobs, off the map in a matter of months. It’s hard to tell what job seekers should feel more in relation to that notion: whether they should be insulted by it or relieved that, when they do find a job, it won't be at an organization populated by the type of person who would believe such a thing.

In that respect, at least, candidates should be glad to be getting screened out.

Read More:
The Huffington Post: How Employers Weed Out Unemployed Job Applicants, Others, Behind The Scenes

--Phil Stott,