Discussion: February 9, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s Q&A column a reader wonders whether it’s better to be unemployed and job hunting full time, or to explain why he’s underemployed and jumping ship so quickly for the job he really wants. Do managers care? Does it make a difference?

I outline three different risks in my reply. But what do you think?

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  1. In one of the networking e-lists I’m on, a person posted that they saw a job that EXPLICITLY called out the company was seeking ONLY employed people, and ONLY people who have worked at one job for a long time…. no job hoppers.

    My own experience when I was searching confirmed that – there is a bias against people who are unemployed, especially if you have been unemployed for some time. It doesn’t matter that the economy sucks, the perception “out there” is that if you don’t have work you aren’t as good.

  2. As in the Miss Universe pageant, being voted the most talented won’t win the competition for any of the contestants. The decision is based on multiple categories.

    It’s the same thing in the world of hiring decisions. Whether one is employed or unemployed is only one of numerous factors that hiring managers take into account.

    As an executive recruiter I can recall a recent placement that I made in which one of my candidates said that one of the major facets of his candidacy was that he was gainfully employed. He didn’t get the job, it went to an unemployed candidate.

  3. Having been laid off that lowest point of the dot.com bust, I explained that I took an entry level position, and I stayed one year out of respect for my boss and the position. I was able to land a great gig.

  4. The questioner should read http://www.workforce.com/archive/feature/26/93/97/index.php. Some employers are still fixated on the so-called passive candidate, but “…companies have cut so deeply now that they have surplused some top performers. Employers who don’t consider active candidates are missing out on top talent.” Much of the article will sound familiar to ATH readers and offers hope that sanity and pragmatism may be gaining a small foothold in the world of recruiting:
    “Recruiting methods need to change,” Selewach says. “The current method is focused on who can write the best résumé, not who can perform the job. Résumés look at what the person did in the past and force companies to read between the lines about whether the person has specific skills.”
    “Our secret weapon is that 36 percent of our total hires are from employee referrals.”

    It’s a good read.

  5. An interview with a HR person on NPR recently confirms what the others have written. She [the HR person] had been recently laid off and was working part time for one of her former clients. She said that some employers have told her specifically not to send any unemployed candidates. Sheesh! talk about how biazarro our world has become.

  6. I agree with Nick’s priorities. In the purest sense of what scenario is best for job hunting, ..if you can afford it, unemployed is best. Because hunting for that Right job IS A FULL TIME JOB. If you want best results you give it your full time. Discounting dumb luck, and luck is out there, the less time you put in the less likely you’ll get the results you want, certainly in a timely manner.
    Good comments back on passive vs active candidates, the true worth of “passive” candidates etc.
    In my case as a recruiter and when I was a hiring manager, I follow a simple rule “Never Assume” Find out. If done you’re chance of finding good candidates is maximized.

  7. Thanks Nick for featuring my question this week! And thanks to everyone else who posted for their viewpoints and ideas.

  8. Managers care, but I’m not sure I’d want to see the split of how many care deeply one way or another. In a sad way this reminds me of romantic relationships where someone that is in a relationship is seen as more valuable than someone that is single.

    I’d wonder how many places that are looking to hire people would be prepared for someone to start in the following timeframes: The next hour, the next day, the next week, the next month, the next quarter, the next year, the next decade. It may be surprising that some places may want a little break to get everything ready for someone to jump into the saddle, to use a western metaphor.

    As for explaining about the underemployed and jumping ship, I’d be tempted to be defensive about how money isn’t everything and that it isn’t like I’d be starting in the next 5 minutes, right? There are some manners and proper ways to do things and each of us has to live, right? I have bodily needs that have to be met and not all of us have a family that could support us until we find that dream job, as nice as that would be.

  9. The job hunting world has been completely turned upside down, that’s for sure. But in this day and age, almost everybody has changed jobs frequently, or been hit by the recession, and possibly laid off. I wouldn’t say, “Oh, don’t worry about how being unemployed will look.” It does matter to some managers. But I think there’s less of a stigma about being unemployed and looking for a job now. In fact, in any kind of economy, you need to get your a– out there and look. Period. Don’t let being unemployed hamper your search too much. Hey, if you were ready to date again after a breakup, wouldn’t you be out there looking for love?

  10. I have been working temp/contract work for years. Not because that is the way I planned it, more because I need to work to pay bills. It looks bad on a resume because it does look like I am jumping around, but that is the way of the world these days. When I see an ad that says looking for a person with long-term employment history, I do have one, it was for 16 years at a global company, but that was also many years ago. I ask myself what the best way to present “me” and get a shrug. I have a strong belief that you should never cancel a contract because that could permanently end an excellent relationship, on the other hand it has been tempting recently because I need a “real” job for all the benefits.

  11. @Jeane. I was a contractor on a contract that was sold 4 times in 4 years. However, I stayed with the client the entire time.

    On my resume, I list 4 years with the client. At the interview, when we discuss my work history, I explain that technically, I worked 4 jobs in 4 year, but the client wanted me to stay each time the contact changed hands.

    I also have a list of each employer, contact info, etc. to make it easy to verify the work history.

    My now boss was impressed that the client wanted to keep me, change in contract owner is always a good time to dump the dead weight.

    So, are there some clients you have had a long history with? List them as employers on your resume (remember, the resume gets you an interview, not a job). During the interview, clarify that you were not employed, you had working relationship with someone who could have terminated it at any time with no negative repercussions (unemployment, etc.). That says a lot about the loyalty you build.

  12. In the 2004-2005 timeframe, I was doing contracts just to put food on the tabke – searching for a full-time gig, of course. I ended up lumping the three separate contracts I had – with different employers – under one category called “CONTRACT EMPLOYMENT”.

    Most, not all but most, employers understand that contracts tend to be short-term by nature. By collating sequential contracts you address that issue.

    At least, this seems to have worked for me.

  13. If you do contract work, aren’t you filing a Schedule C? That makes you self employed. List that on your resume, Vern’s Consulting or whatever. Prepare a separate ‘Client List’ for those employers who want to know who your customers have been. A resume is not a complete biograpy, it’s a marketing tool (Nick might say not a very effective one) designed to generate interest on the part of an employer.

  14. @JB King: There’s a profound point in what you say:

    **I’d wonder how many places that are looking to hire people would be prepared for someone to start in the following timeframes: The next hour, the next day, the next week, the next month, the next quarter, the next year, the next decade.**

    How many employers really think about this when they hire? How many consider that their hiring method should be adjusted depending on their objective. And take this a step farther – how quickly do they need a new employee to come up to speed? The tradeoff could be worth a lot of money: Do you pay high to get someone who can hit the ground running, or can you afford to let the person ramp up and thus hire someone not so expensive (but a fast learner)?

    Do managers think about this so finely?

  15. Nick: Barnes and Noble doesnt sell your book.
    Its available on Amazon and its affiliates.
    “B&N says its out of print”.
    As Uncle H used to say-No Good No Good.
    Be well.

  16. Re change of jobs and the appearance of job-hopping (Greg), this is something I had to deal with during my last search. I had been with the company for 2 years in a management position, and then was moved into another position (consultant, not management, not happy about that one!) and the entire division was sold off. Just as the economy headed south.

    So, my job history looked like 2 yrs in one company followed by 3 months in another, in an entirely different role. Not only a job-hopper but also a role-hopper (I could already imagine the rejections from the recruiter – my management skills ‘weren’t current enough’…).

    In my resume I rolled the 2 companies together and listed all the positions I had held (after about 2.5 years I got to 4). ie:
    -Company A/Company B 2006-2008
    –Position 1
    –Position 2

    ….and explained the detail in the interview.