Whenever an employer advertises a vacancy and goes through the process of interviewing potential candidates for a job, they are engaging in a process which inherently brings with it an element of risk. Depending on employer needs, the risk they are willing to assume is either low, medium or high.
When the resumes and cover letters start rolling in, it’s either a real person or a computer that initially does the pre-screening. Applicant tracking software (ATS), will do in a fraction of a second what a person would have to do at this initial point; screen those resumes and identify which – on paper – are closest to the stated requirements of the employer. The closer you are to what they want, the more likely you make it into the hands of a person who will then look things over and create a short list of people to be contacted for an interview.
The difficulty in getting to this stage for a person who has been out of work for a long time is substantial, but let’s assume they made it through and have been brought in for a chat. Despite all the frustrations of trying to land an interview, this is where things really heat up for the applicant.
But let’s sit on the other side of the desk for a bit. You and I represent the employer. Out in reception are 3 candidates we’ve got on the slate for today. We’ve got 2 with relevant and recent experience, and we’ve got a candidate with a 6 year gap on their resume from their last job to the present. What they’ve done in the past has warranted them the interview, and their slated to be seen third in the process.
The first two candidates are friendly, smartly dressed and confidently answer posed questions referring to skills, accomplishments and progressively responsible positions they’ve held on their resume. The references they’ve provided are current Supervisors and Managers and a mix of co-workers and in one case, a current client. Deciding between the two may be a challenge, but there’s still another candidate to be seen.
So now walks in our 3rd candidate. This is the person whose been out of work for 6 years. That fact is easy to recall because it’s been written in pen and highlighted with a question mark for scrutiny. “What have you been doing for 6 years?” or “Why did you leave your last employer?” are questions this person is going to be asked on top of the questions asked of the previous two.
The challenge here for the applicant walking in from Reception, is to look equally confident, equally well-dressed in the current style, (not that of 6 years ago), shake hands with confidence, and made good eye contact. The face on this applicant needs to conceal any desperation, the hands need to be steady and relaxed and not betray any abnormal anxiety, the brows and forehead not show unusual strain.
We two interviewers, (for you and I are sitting as interviewers remember), we are challenged to ask the same standard questions of this applicant so the process is identical, but also to explore what’s been going on for six years. There’s any number of reasons this person has a gap, and without asking we’d be left to imagine it being mental illness, a physical problem, raising kids as a single parent etc. None of those imagined scenario’s are good, and that’s the problem. This applicant has to be very convincing, otherwise we’d be safer to choose one of the two previous candidates with more recent experience.
Companies aren’t in the charity business; unless of course they ARE the charity business. All companies need competent employees who will be a good fit. A good fit usually means they’ll bring skills and experience that are relevant, current and in demand. The unknown factor for interviewers is often the person’s personality, aptitude and how likely they will fit in and add to the overall chemistry and atmosphere with the people they’ll be working with. This is one of the most challenging things for the interviewer to contemplate.
The problem with considering a person with chronic unemployment is that there is a concern they may have picked up unwanted behaviours during that 6 year unemployment period. How’s their stamina? How will they hold up over a 7, 8 or 12 hour work shift? Will they react positively to being told what and how to do things? Is their brain as sharp as it needs to be in learning quickly, getting up to speed or do they need longer training which in turn will add costs to the company and drop productivity? Have they kept up with industry trends and technology?
Now of course that chronically unemployed person might just be so grateful for a chance to prove themselves (both to the employer and themselves) that they are an outstanding choice. They may work hard to justify the interviewers faith in selecting them, and the boost in their self-worth cause them to work with intense gratification and appreciation. So hiring this person over the others could be the best choice. Maybe.
People out of work for long periods need a fair chance to sell themselves. They also need to realize that the interview process is about hiring the person who will bring the most value to the company, solve a problem, work honestly without complaint and provide a return on investment.