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Blacklisted! Unemployed Face Bias

When the unemployed need not apply, older workers may suffer most

Job seekers who have been unemployed a long time need not apply.

Companies not seeking longtime unemployed, a bias that spells trouble for 55-plus. — Jupiterimages, Kevin Peterson, Jack Hollingsworth, Jose Luis Pelaez, Altrendo Images, Gabrielle Revere, Image Source (Getty Images), JLP/Sylvia Torres, Jetta Productions, Stock4B (Corbis)

Talk about adding insult to injury: Unemployed workers face yet another hurdle in the post-recession job hunt.

See also: A winning job interview.

Some online listings at Careerbuilder, Craigslist, Monster and other websites flatly state "must be currently employed," or "the unemployed will not be considered at all."

Some with a bit more flexibility say that applicants can be unemployed for up to three months, a caveat that spells trouble for 55-plus job hunters, who on average are out of work for one year.

Although there are no statistics on the exclusion of the unemployed from the hiring process, such language is easy to find in online listings and is not specific to any industry, says Judy Conti, a lobbyist for the Washington-based National Employment Law Project (NELP).

"We've found 60 such listings in the last month for jobs ranging from restaurant manager to engineers," she said. "Older unemployed workers tell us they feel like they have been blacklisted."

Some companies, she adds, even use code words such as "vibrant work history" or "current skills" to signal their preferences to recruiters for young, employed, tech-savvy workers. "Must have small hands" could be code for an attractive young female candidate.

'Must be young or young at heart'

Requirements in a recent Careerbuilder listing for a $60,000 restaurant manager job at an unnamed casual-dining chain in Shreveport, La., include "must be currently employed in restaurants or recently unemployed (1-3 months)" as well as being "young or young at heart."

"Our searches are confidential because our clients don't want to be bombarded with résumés," says a recruiter at the Minneapolis-based firm that handled the listing and requested anonymity. "With the bad economy, employers can be more picky."

Indeed, employer bias against the unemployed may be worse than explicit job postings indicate, says John Sullivan, professor of management at San Francisco State University.

"Human resource departments are telling recruiters and staffing agencies not to waste their time sending applications from people out of work six months or longer," he says. "Recruiters are getting chastised for it, no matter how perfect the individual's qualifications for the job." Companies' primary concern, he adds, is that unemployed individuals' skills are out of date and retraining would cost money.

Companies bolder about bias

Employer bias toward hiring current workers is nothing new, says Phil Rosenberg, president of, a career coaching service.

Next: A success story. >>

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